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Onus for a win on Saturday falls on the Broncos’ offense

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Despite the defense’s pitfalls against the 49ers, let’s not forget which side of the ball couldn’t overcome just 20 points total.

Pittsburgh Steelers v Denver Broncos Photo by Dustin Bradford/Getty Images

Good morning, Broncos Country!

It seems much of the discussion and hand-wringing the past few days over the Broncos’ loss to the Niners has been about the poor defense - the 210 yards given up to one tight end, the early 20-point deficit, the penalties...oh the PENALTIES, PENALTIES, PENALTIES (sorry, go read “The Grinch” and you’ll get it).

But little criticism has gone to the offense. An offense that did this on Sunday:

Drive 1: three-and-out, gain of 1 total yard

Drive 2: five plays, 19 yards, punt

Drive 3: six plays, 19 yards, punt

You know where this is going because you remember...it was ugly.

Not only was there not a single score by the Broncos in the first half (nor their first drive in the second half), they couldn’t even get out of their own territory, punting six times during the two quarters and doing nothing else.

Compare that to rookie Baker Mayfield’s Browns who beat the Panthers last week 26 - 20 and scored 17 points in the first half with just one punt in the first two quarters - and just three in the entire game. Mayfield has also been great when his team is in the lead, logging a 113.2 passer rating and throwing seven touchdowns and no interceptions. But when the Browns are behind, the rookie QB’s rating drops to 88.5.

Vance Joseph has said in recent weeks he’d like the offense to “start fast,” and this week Bill Musgrave elaborated on how that looks for the Broncos.

“We don’t want to get out, get crazy and turn the ball over and put our defense in a bind on short fields, but we also want to be productive,” he said. “We’ve done a nice job of making adjustments as the game goes along, whether it be in between series or at halftime, and ultimately getting it cranked up. That’s what happened the other day.”

In fact, of the Broncos’ 13 games played so far, the offense has had to punt the ball on its first possession nine times. NINE TIMES! (cue the Ferris Bueller clip).

The Broncos offense has also gone three-and-out on five of its last six opening drives, scoring just 17 opening-drive points the entire season - 28th in the NFL.

So while it’s appropriate to sling some mud the defense’s way, it’s not too hard to understand how an athletic tight end could run 85 yards on players who had BEEN ON THE FIELD most of the half - or how Von Miller could get multiple offsides penalties while trying to make a game-changing play - when the offense was doing it ZERO favors with time of possession as well as field position.

An interesting article about how the current NFL game is stacked against defenses points out that the way a defense has any chance against today’s high-flying offenses is with game-changing plays - sacks, tackles for a loss and turnovers.

When it comes to points given up per drive, the Broncos’ defense ranks a decent 10th in the NFL (Browns are 9th, by the way). But when it comes to those game-affecting plays, the Broncos rank in the bottom third at 22.

And it’s a cyclical. When an offense goes three-and-out and has to punt, the defense is given a short field to defend. If it is playing behind, then it’s at an even bigger disadvantage and can’t play as aggressive to go for those game-changing plays.

So all of that is to say that while the Broncos’ defense is going to have its work cut out for it once again with a young, smart, mobile QB in Mayfield and a powerful running back in Nick Chubb - and cannot afford the mental mistakes and lack of discipline play it showcased Sunday - it’s the Broncos offense that needs to win this game.

And it’s mostly on Case Keenum to get his act together and throw a catchable ball.

The Broncos are averaging 5.9 yards per carry on first down, so the run game is doing its part. The Browns struggle to cover first down runs, allowing an average of 5.2 yards, so the Broncos have a chance to get back to a dominant running attack on Saturday, giving Keenum and the Broncos’ offense an opportunity to be more aggressive with downfield throws as coach Vance Joseph wants him to be.

Keenum apparently understands this.

“We’re at that point in the season where we’ve got to make plays and we’ve got to score points,” Keenum said on Tuesday. “I think that’s our best defense, us going out there and scoring points—it’s when those guys are on the sideline.”

I’ve got news for you, Case. We were at that point 13 games ago.

Horse Tracks - docllv’s pick of the week

How do NFL defenses survive in a game that favors offense? - SBNation.com
The deck’s stacked against defenses in today’s NFL, so to have an impact, teams are having to reassess what they want a defense to do.

Horse Tracks

Numbers That Matter: The key stats for #CLEvsDEN
The Broncos may be able to generate pressure on Baker Mayfield as they look to get back to .500.

Vance Joseph raves about Baker Mayfield – ProFootballTalk
Baker Mayfield knew before the draft that he wouldn't go lower than No. 5. Maybe that's because he sensed that the team that owned the fifth pick would have taken him, if he'd been there.

Broncos were absolutely right about Baker Mayfield - Denver Broncos Blog- ESPN
The Broncos' coaching staff experienced Baker Mayfield's big arm and intelligence firsthand at the 2018 Senior Bowl, and they liked what they saw.

What's possible for Baker Mayfield over final three games - Cleveland Browns Blog- ESPN
With Baker Mayfield's rookie numbers conjuring Otto Graham, Dan Marino and Peyton Manning, the Browns believe they hit big on their No. 1 pick.

Broncos Injury Report: WR Courtland Sutton returns to practice
Head Coach Vance Joseph also provided an encouraging update on defensive end Derek Wolfe.

Battling for the Denver Broncos, With Some Siblings in the Way - The New York Times
Beth Bowlen Wallace, Pat Bowlen’s daughter, says she is ready to take control of his N.F.L. franchise. The ailing owner’s trustees, who control the team, disagree.

The Intrafamily Squabble For Ownership Of The Broncos Is Only Getting Uglier
Since 2014, the Denver Broncos have been operated by a three-person trust, set up after longtime owner Pat Bowlen was forced to step down from his post due to advancing Alzheimer’s disease.

Denver Broncos news: Team signed WR and worked out a CFL QB
The Broncos signed wide receiver Shay Fields to the practice squad and worked out a Canadian Football League quarterback.

Both Austin Ekeler and Melvin Gordon appear likely to miss the Chiefs game - Bolts From The Blue
After another wonderful win against the Bengals, the Chargers are gearing up for what looks to be their most important and pivotal game of the regular season. While most Chargers faithful had this...

NFL True Power Rankings: NO Saints, KC Chiefs and LA Rams on top - Arrowhead Pride
With their win against the Ravens on Sunday, the Chiefs move back into the second spot.