ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — As the Dawg Pound barks reverberated throughout the stadium last Thursday, the Broncos walked through the tunnel into the locker room, a mix of shaking heads and expletives.
It was the seventh week of the NFL season, a time when the green turns to shades of yellow in the ripening process. There should be time.
However, it remains hard to shake the feeling that the Broncos' season is dying on the vine.
Four straight losses have siphoned the goodwill, the goosebumps of September replaced by the shivers of the October. The Broncos own a 3-4 record, fans have lost patience with coach Vic Fangio and offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur, and the prospect of ending the team's streak of four straight losing seasons is diminishing.
If the team fails to reach the playoffs for the first time since Super Bowl 50, the expectation remains the coaching staff will be gone.
So how can the Broncos rebound?
Here is a seven-step plan to improve the Broncos. It might amount to chicken wire and duct tape for a few weeks, but could produce improvement nonetheless:
Design new 15-play script
If Denver begins another first drive with run, run, pass, punt, there might not be a TV remote safe in Broncos Country. It's not 1985, 1995 or 2005. The Broncos must swing bigger. Case Keenum running a bootleg on the first play of scrimmage last week is a good example. The Broncos planned to focus on first-and-second down execution in Tuesday's practice to set up more manageable third downs. Sequencing and variance matter. The stats are sobering: The Broncos rank 27th in third down conversion rate (31.8%), 24th in points (20%) and 28th in red zone touchdown percentage.
The Broncos finally began employing motion in their offense, but Kendall Hinton and Mike Boone running across the formation and passing the center before the snap isn't exactly fooling anyone. Don't be afraid to try a trick play in the first two possessions to goose the offense.
Throw to Jerry Jeudy
Jeudy represented the Broncos' best offensive player this offseason. He caught six passes for 72 yards in the opener on seven targets. Jeudy's right ankle has healed after a six-week absence. Teddy Bridgewater should target him at least eight times. Jeudy has the ability to create separation on slants and quick throws, much needed against Washington's pass rush.
The Broncos have scored a combined 17 points in the first half of the past four games. The feeling out process in the first quarter is not working. The Broncos must show a sense of urgency — coaches and players alike — especially since the defense has allowed first possession touchdowns in four of the last six games.
Slow the run
The Broncos must win at the point of attack. They don't need to stop the run, but they need to slow it. Nose tackle Mike Purcell (thumb) is expected to miss Sunday's game, and the Broncos could have two new linebackers receiving extensive snaps in Kenny Young — he should start if he picks up the scheme — and Baron Browning, if he shows no issues from his previous concussion. Curtis Robinson and Justin Strnad struggled in the run game against Cleveland. I would mix in run blitzes from safeties Kareem Jackson and Justin Simmons on early downs. The Broncos are the ugly guy in the fight. They have nothing to lose. And if they fall to Washington, it's time to consider trading Von Miller, Tim Patrick, Kyle Fuller and Melvin Gordon, though the market might be tepid for most. I would hate to see Von go, but he's the biggest piece the Broncos could move to a contender and receive decent compensation if Denver has no plans to give him a contract extension or re-sign him as a free agent. Patrick is sure-handed, a gamer. I'd keep him. But if the Broncos look to secure Courtland Sutton on a long-term deal, it might not make financial sense to pay three receivers decent money.
Get off the field
Fangio's defense allows 18.1 points per game, fourth in the NFL. However, during the current four-game slide, opponents are averaging 25 points. It can be traced to issues on third down. Teams are converting at a 49% rate this month and 45% overall, ranking 27th.
There is a fine line in sports between playing with emotion and being emotional. The Broncos are a reflection of Fangio's button-downed approach. But it's not working. They need some juice, some energy early in games. Emotion comes from big plays, too. So the coaching staff can help caffeinate the sideline with plays designed to produce a big pass or a defensive turnover.