ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Following the clobbering by the Jets, the Broncos became defensive.
Criticism about the defense's performance, and specifically coordinator Joe Woods, reached inferno levels this week after the Jets amassed 512 yards, including a mind-boggling 323 on the ground. I expect coach Vance Joseph to become more involved on gameday, calling signals. Perhaps it will help, and the defenders can mirror the performance shown against the Chiefs, save the last two drives.
Joseph is not calling the offensive plays. Let's keep it fair. While eyes remain fixed on the other side of the ball, the offense cannot escape blame for the three-game losing streak.
Two issues exist to help explain a group averaging 20 points per game, a tick above last season's 18.1. The red zone continues to leave red faces. Let's start there.
Where adjectives fail, statistics succeed. The Broncos rank 27th in red zone touchdown efficiency, a slight nudge after their cellar status a year ago. However, they own two red zone passing touchdowns through five games. Only the Arizona Cardinals and Buffalo Bills have fewer. Case Keenum had 17 red zone touchdowns last season, leaning on tight end Kyle Rudolph. With Jake Butt lost for the season and Jeff Heuerman not an inside-the-20 threat yet, Keenum has not found traction. Who will become a consistent target? Emmanuel Sanders, Courtland Sutton, Demaryius Thomas? Sutton could be the X-factor on fade routes combined with Sanders on slants. Improvement is not only needed, but required if the Broncos are to prevent getting lapped by the Rams.
Another clear issue? The deep ball.
This remains true: the Broncos run the ball well. They rank first in yards per carry (5.57) and fourth in yards per game (137.7). When teams run well, it causes safeties to creep closer to the line of scrimmage. It sets up play-action strikes. Keenum has not made defenses pay. There are multiple factors at work. He seems reluctant to let it go -- the Broncos are on pace for 42 sacks allowed -- and the Broncos rank sixth in dropped passes with nine.
If this offense is going to click, Keenum must connect on a few long strikes weekly. As it stands, Keenum is 6-for-21 on passes that have traveled at least 21 yards in the air. He has one touchdown. The Broncos have a running game. They need to play complementary football. To exploit the ground game, the Broncos must punish teams with deep strikes. Until then, Denver remains a team that gobbles yards between the 20s, an empty stat.
Keenum has delivered good quarters and solid halves. He has not played a complete game. He needs help, but he must do his part with long strikes to keep defense's off-balance, while creating added dimensions in the red zone.