CENTENNIAL, Colo. -- The Broncos arrive in Kansas City Sunday needing a telescope for Christmas.
It is required to see the teams in front of them in the AFC West.
How did the five-time defending division champion fall to third place? It is a reasonable question when examining meaty statistics. The Broncos' defense is better than Oakland -- way better -- and Kansas City. The Broncos allow a league-low 4.57 yards per play. Their 18.4 points yielded per game ranks fourth best in NFL. They sit eighth in red zone points given up. Their only flaw is stopping the run. But viewed through a wide prism, the Broncos easily own the best defense in the division.
And yet, here they are desperate, scrambling for a playoff berth, needing to fix their own flaws and requiring help to reach the postseason.
We all know why: the offense has underperformed. The thinking going into the season? Denver could win again with a mediocre unit based on last season. The Broncos quarterbacks, Peyton Manning and Brock Osweiler, threw interceptions at an alarming rate a year ago with little consequence.
The Broncos' defense scored six touchdowns last season. They have delivered three this year. There's been no complete cover for the Broncos' offensive woes. It starts and ends with the offensive line.
"We have been inconsistent," offensive coordinator Rick Dennison said. "We are not getting it right and we need to get it right."
I asked Dennison if the performance of the group was puzzling in this context: last year was a feeling once Michael Schofield settled down at right tackle the line would be OK. For the most part, it proved true over the final five games. There's no easy answer this season. Plates continue to spin. Four players execute. One doesn't. Three do, two don't. Other than center Matt Paradis, a Pro Bowl alternate, no one has proved predictably good week in and week out.
Pro Football Focus, which grades every play of every game, bears this out. This group of analysts has attempted to provide an independent measure of performance. It's not the equivalent of baseball's WAR -- wins above replacement -- but follows the same road map to establish value. The marks are not kind to Denver's offensive line, and represent an area where improvement is necessary for the Broncos to win their final two games.
LT Russell Okung:
50th overall (among tackles), 62.3 grade.
57th in pass block, 44.9
27th in run block, 77.4
RT Donald Stephenson:
71st, 27.7 overall
75th in pass blocking, 26.0
71st in run blocking, 40.3
C Matt Paradis:
3rd overall, 89.5
8th in pass blocking, 84.8
3rd in run blocking, 87.8
LG Max Garcia: 46th, 71.1
49th 76.8 in pass blocking
46th, 57.7 in run blocking
RG Michael Schofield:
41st, 72.5 overall
39th, 80.9 in pass blocking
48.6, 61st in run blocking.
Broncos hurting with Wolfe, Ward sidelined
Safety T.J. Ward joined tight ends A.J. Derby and Virgil Green in the concussion protocol. ... Linebacker Brandon Marshall told Denver7 he hopes to practice Thursday, but there's no guarantee his left hamstring will be ready for Sunday's game. ... Defensive end Derek Wolfe, one of the league's tough guys, suffered two stingers in last week's loss, placing his status for Sunday in jeopardy. He admitted to Denver7 on Wednesday that he's no longer sure if he will be ready.