ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Broncos players don't want to talk about it. They are aware of the issue. Third down conversions and second-half points continue to anchor this team to the statistical ocean bottom. The numbers point to a problem that fans have been howling about for weeks: the Broncos start fast and end furious.
They outscore opponents 64-30 in the first quarter. Then the Broncos lose their foothold on a slippery slope. The numbers are eye-opening:
1Q: 64 30
2Q: 55 64
3Q: 39 65
4Q: 40 78
The Broncos have scored 79 second-half points. Only the Dolphins (75) are worse. Since week 5, they have been one of football's best teams in the first quarter. They also rank dead last or close in points, passing yards and overall yards after the second quarter. I asked coach Vic Fangio the key to maintaining traction.
"I think third down is a big part of it, obviously. Eventually, even if you are moving the ball you are going to get to a third down," Fangio said. "You have to convert to keep the ball. I do think that's part of it. And we have to keep varying the calls."
The Broncos have hinted at loosening the reins on the offense this week for Drew Lock, though they might need to use a heavy dose of runs to set up the pass this week. Lock is attempting to become only the third Denver rookie quarterback to win his first two starts, joining John Elway and Craig Penrose. Lock has been more comfortable this week, the certainty of his status displacing last week's unnecessary mystery. The issue with a young starter is simple: How do you balance taking care of the ball and taking chances?
The challenge is real this weekend. Getting the ball out of his hand quickly is critical.
"I think in the end, it’s a different set of circumstances now. He has to evolve with the different style defense, going on the road and different things that are asked of him. It’s a whole new set of challenges. It’s more about the second time through the routine of preparation, pre-game warmup, how you break the huddle and all those things," said Scangarello, who has incorporated spread concepts and has Lock use a wristband for playsheet to accelerate his development. "Those are the things that we’re continuing to get better at and evolve at the finer points. That’s what he has to continue to improve on as a player in this league. The Texans are going to present a whole different set of elements for him. That alone is the variable.”
In Houston, the Broncos face a team coming off its best win of the season. Defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel schemed well for the Patriots, leaving them flustered by pressure, while committing uncommon mistakes. The Broncos figure they will see plenty of blitzes and disguised coverages. The Texans, however, are vulnerable. They have allowed 25 touchdown passes, fifth most, while collecting six interceptions, which is tied for 28th overall. Former Broncos cornerback Bradley Roby (hamstring/toe), who delivered his best performance for Houston last week, is listed as questionable with an injury.
All this should give Lock a shove in the back.
"I can just kind of start being the face of these guys around here, especially in the huddle. Just being able to show them a little bit more of me as a leader. Even out there on the field in the game, not necessarily practice, but even out on the field they saw a little bit of my confidence last week," Lock said. "I’m hoping that we can come out and play extremely well, and hopefully we can keep building confidence for everyone.”
Von remains questionable
Von Miller indulged me with recruiting info Friday. I brought it up as I asked him about going to Houston, not far from where he starred in college at Texas A&M. So why did he become an Aggie? He loved the fit, of course. He said Florida, coached the by Urban Meyer, was a close second. His original dream schools, USC and Texas, weren't in the picture.
"They never offered," Miller said.
Thirteen years later, Miller remains on a Hall of Fame trajectory. His durability is part of the reason. He remains hopeful of playing this week, but remains uncertain.
"I will go through a similar pregame workout to test it out and see if I can go," said Miller, who needs to trust the sprained MCL in his left knee will remain stable enough to allow him to execute "exotic moves" while rushing the passer. "We will see."
Right tackle Ja'Wuan James is listed as questionable with sprained left knee. The expectation remains that he will suit up, while remaining on a play count. But until he's out there, he's questionable. ... Austin Schlottman is expected to start in place of Ron Leary (concussion) at right guard.