The Denver Broncos offense has fallen a great distance since their record-setting 2013 season. Their average yards gained per play has fallen from 6.3 to 6.0 in 2014, 5.4 in 2015, 5.1 in 2016, and is currently an ugly 4.9 in 2017. Their touchdown rate in the red zone dropped from 76% to 63%, 48%, 47%, and currently sits at 44%.
They have morphed from one of the best into one of the worst and while the disappearance of an NFL caliber quarterback is the biggest problem, it’s not the only issue according to MileHighReport.com’s Tim Lynch.
“I thought [Brock] Osweiler played well in his return,” Lynch writes about the Broncos recent change at quarterback. “The stat line and narrative disagrees, but according to Pro Football Focus, Osweiler was pressured 22 times on 41 dropbacks. That's Tom Brady in the 2015 AFC Championship Game kind of pressure the Philadelphia Eagles put on the Broncos in that game. Despite that, Osweiler still performed better than Trevor Siemian did in his last two starts when Siemian was pressured on just six and seven dropbacks in each of those two games. As much as it pains me to say this, Brock - the Texans and Browns dumped me - Osweiler is the best quarterback on the Broncos roster now.”
Broncos quarterbacks are on pace to be sacked 56 times, a huge increase over the 20 sacks allowed in 2013 and 17 sacks allowed in 2014. The offensive line is doing the Denver signal callers no favors and the quiet Patriots pass rush needs to be able to take advantage of that weakness.
Beyond simple protection, the Broncos offensive line is also committing far too many penalties that simply end the Denver drives.
“The problem in 2017 is discipline,” Lynch adds. “I asked a friend last week trying to figure out when these Broncos players became such a sloppy group on the field. With pre-snap penalties, holding, and all sorts of ‘let's beat ourselves’ kind of plays. Despite all of the struggles on offense, the Broncos are actually 18th in total yards which is a big improvement over 2016. They just kill any and all touchdown scoring opportunities when they have the chance. That has to be a coaching problem more than anything and it's a bit late in the season for some magic fix to materialize.”
Denver has 13 offensive holding penalties (4 dismissed) and 11 false starts, setting the offense behind on drive and distance. When you combine the accepted and dismissed calls, the Broncos average 3.50 of these negative plays per game, tied for the third-worst mark in the NFL. For comparison, the Patriots average 2.25 per game, the seventh-best mark.
Of course the Broncos also lead the league with an average of 12.5 drives per game, so on a drive-ending penalty per drive rate the Broncos rank 23rd with 28.0%; not good, but certainly not like the Seattle Seahawks that average a drive-ending penalty on 33.3% of drives. The league-average is a holding or false start call on 24.0% of drives.
The Patriots need to force as many of these errors by the Broncos offense as possible to set up long down-and-distance for Osweiler and hopefully that will provide the New England offense with favorable enough position to put enough points on the board to win against a tough Denver defense.