Kubiak points finger at himself for Manning's slow start
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP) Despite their many offensive blemishes, the unbeaten Broncos insist they're not in the doldrums.
''There are some teams right now that are probably running the ball great or catching the ball great but they've got like two wins,'' running back C.J. Anderson said Wednesday. ''I think we're fine.''
That's the same phrase coach Gary Kubiak used earlier this week to describe his quarterback when he insisted Peyton Manning ''is doing just fine'' even though Denver's offense is averaging just 1.6 touchdowns a game.
That's less than Tim Tebow's scoring-challenged teams, which averaged two TDs per game and were also bailed out by a stout defense and a strong kicker.
The difference was ''Tebowmania'' took the league by storm while Manning's struggles have Broncos fans befuddled, wondering if age has caught up to the NFL's 39-year-old icon.
That has led to Kubiak's impassioned defense of his QB.
''I see us as a group just having to play more consistent and better and I'm going to go back, I tell you guys all time: I look at one guy, I look at myself,'' Kubiak said Wednesday. ''We're out there battling. Guys are playing hard. It's my job as a coach to make sure that everybody on this team is in the best position they can be to be successful.
''So, when that's not going on at one spot or another, you look at yourself and say what can we do to help this guy? I know as a group we can play better. He's battling his tail off. Some of the plays that he's made have been tremendous and there's some plays we can help him make. I'm always looking at the big picture. It's not about one guy. It's about the football team.''
Thanks to the league's best defense, one that has 22 sacks and 14 takeaways, and its best kicker in Brandon McManus, the Broncos (5-0) have twice won games without the benefit of an offensive touchdown.
That's something that happened just twice before in Manning's first 17 years in the league. Both of those came at Cleveland, where the Broncos play the Browns (2-3) Sunday.
Manning's Colts beat the Browns 9-6 in the 2003 opener on Mike Vanderjagt's three field goals, including a 45-yarder with one second left. Indy won there again in `08 when Robert Mathis had a 37-yard fumble return in the fourth quarter for the game's only touchdown in a 10-6 snoozer.
This year, the Broncos beat Baltimore 19-13 in the opener when McManus kicked four field goals and Aqib Talib had a pick-6. They're coming off a 16-10 win at Oakland where McManus kicked three field goals and Chris Harris Jr. returned an interception 74 yards for a TD.
It came down to their defense again Sunday because the Broncos had two dropped touchdown passes and Manning threw an interception in the end zone.
''It'd be one thing if we weren't getting down there at all and had zero chance,'' Manning said, ''but we are moving the ball down there and making some good plays.''
They're just not finishing off drives, forcing McManus to trot on for field goal attempts instead of PATs.
The offensive struggles are all the more striking given that Manning averaged 44 touchdown throws and 4,954 passing yards a season since joining the Broncos post-neck surgery in 2012.
This year, he has just six TDs to go with seven interceptions.
The reason isn't rust, Kubiak said. He's giving backup Brock Osweiler the bulk of the work on Wednesdays and asked what role the rest days might have played in Manning's slow start, Kubiak said, ''I don't think any. I think it's helped or we wouldn't be doing it.''
The Broncos' biggest problems are third down conversions (they rank 28th) and red zone efficiency (29th). Their 13 offensive flags include nine pre-snap penalties.
Manning has been sacked a dozen times already and his 30th-ranked ground game isn't taking any heat off him. ''I've got no excuse for you,'' Kubiak said when asked why his running backs aren't hitting the holes better.
The key to getting third downs into more manageable distances is ''probably running the ball a little bit better,'' Kubiak said.
Cleveland ranks next-to-last in the league against the run, so maybe the Broncos can break out this weekend.
''Regardless of who we play, we've got to play better,'' Kubiak said.
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