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Broncos desperate for offensive lift as team faces do-or-die stretch to reach playoffs

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Posted at 12:45 PM, Dec 12, 2016
and last updated 2016-12-12 15:06:59-05

CENTENNIAL, Colo. -- The contradictions could be rationalized if accidental. They are the result of nine weeks of nosediving, leaving the Broncos scrambling to reach the playoffs.

Denver owns one of the league's best defenses. But the Broncos have lost five of their last nine games after a 4-0 start because of an unbalanced offense that continually false starts. 

Trevor Siemian played well in his last two starts, both losses. Let's get that out of the way right now. While absorbing endless punishment, Siemian threw for 500 yards in the combined second halves against the Chiefs and Titans.

The problem is he had to because the Broncos boast a non-existent running game, and a numbing lack of first quarter production. Denver ran only 24 plays in the first half.

"Trevor’s numbers are excellent. His numbers were big. But it’s about winning. And if you don’t stay on the field and don’t get snaps, those numbers aren’t going to come. We have to start faster," Kubiak said. 

The Broncos rank dead last with 23 first quarter points. They have produced one lengthy first quarter touchdown drive this season. The Patriots, this week's opponent, lead the NFL with 94 first quarter points. Denver ranks 30th with 45 three-and-outs, almost a third of their drives.

"It's really frustrating. We missed on pass protection. Had a couple of busts, a pass on the ground. Why is it the detail not there?" Kubiak said. "That's what we have to find out."

They continually fail on third-and-1, leaving former Broncos Pro Bowler and 104.3 The Fan host Mark Schlereth to say Monday, "the offensive line doesn't deserve to run. They haven't earned the right."

This is where it leaves the Broncos: They can throw endlessly, subjecting Siemian to hits, or stubbornly stick with an ineffective running game. During their last nine games, the Broncos are averaging 3.55 yards per rush. Dig deeper and the problems grow more alarming. Since C.J. Anderson hurt his knee at Houston, requiring surgery, the Broncos are collecting 2.95 yards per attempt compared to 4.11 with him. They cratered against the Titans, posting season lows in yards (18) and attempts (nine). 

Kubiak lamented the inability to convert on third down. At one point, the Broncos failed on 17 straight conversions, inevitably putting the game's outcomes at risk. A miss go-ahead touchdown pass dropped by Bennie Fowler and two turnovers crippled the Broncos. They had no margin for error or time left when tight end A.J. Derby fumbled with 53 seconds left.

"I had a sleepless night," said Derby, who will face his old team this week. "I can't let that happen."

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Want Broncos news? Denver7 Broncos insider Troy E. Renck is your source. He talks to the players, covers the games and reports scoops on Denver7 and the Denver7 app. He is a CU grad who has covered pro sports in Colorado since 1996, including 14 years at The Denver Post. Follow him on Facebook, Twitter and TheDenverChannel.com’s Broncos page. Troy welcomes most of your emails at Troy.Renck@kmgh.com.