Josh McDaniels once called plays for the highest scoring offense in league history -- the 2007 New England Patriots, who set a single-season record with 589 points -- where his chief problem may have been sifting through plays Tom Brady could use to score touchdowns.
Now on the doorstep to his first regular season as the Broncos head coach, McDaniels still has decisions to make. It's just a whole different set of problems on offense right now.
"We've got to fix some things," McDaniels said following last week's loss to Chicago. " We have a lot of work to do."
The numbers aren't pretty. The team's offense, with the majority of the expected starters on the field, threw more than twice as many interceptions -- five -- as it has constructed touchdown drives -- two -- in the three preseason games to feature the starters.
Only one of those touchdown drives came with Kyle Orton at quarterback. The team has also lost a fumble and had a bevy of penalty flags. The Sept. 13 regular-season opener in Cincinnati is approaching fast with a long to-do list remaining.
"I don't want to say concerned, but there are some things we've got to get fixed," Orton said. "And we've got to get them fixed reasonably quickly; we can't say we've got lots of time right now. Time's running out."
And while there may not be the comfort level in the team's new playbook yet with so many new faces on the roster, simple football physics also factors in to the team's struggles.
Moving the ball, long-time offensive coordinators will say, between the 20-yard lines can be improved by an effective scheme. But once inside the opposing 20-yard line an offense has to win matchups to score.
Make a catch in traffic, break a tackle, make a crease up front, has to beat defenders 1-on-1.
And without receiver Brandon Marshall (suspension), running back Knowshon Moreno (sprained knee), receiver Jabar Gaffney (fractured thumb) and now Orton (finger), the Broncos have limited options down in tight to the goal line where the offense doesn't have the space to create the traffic to free its receivers.
Pile on some ill-timed turnovers and the ingredients are all there for the current scoring woes.
"We have taken ourselves out of game with the mistakes, like the turnovers and the penalties," said tight end Tony Scheffler. "You have to put yourself in position to score and take advantage of those chances when you get down there."
With just one rushing touchdown by the regulars -- from Peyton Hillis Sunday night against the Bears -- the Broncos have not run the ball with any consistency.
Moreno has just three carries in the preseason because of a sprained knee he suffered in the preseason opener; Correll Buckhalter doesn't have a touchdown carry in the preseason after being the short-yardage back of choice in many of the goal-line drills in training camp; and LaMont Jordan is averaging 2.6 yards per carry.
But it hasn't been all the backs. Sunday night the Broncos had three holding penalties on running plays -- two by left tackle Ryan Clady.
The team also has opened the formation plenty, using three- and four wide-receiver sets with Orton back in the shotgun, yet Orton's 6.3 yards per attempt is among the lowest in the league for starters who have thrown at least 14 passes in the preseason.
Against Seattle the Broncos threw on three consecutive downs from the Seahawks' 1-yard line, a drive that ended with a left-handed toss by Orton for an interception as he was trying to avoid a sack.
"When I was in there we only had three points [against Chicago] and were pretty much ineffective the entire night," Orton said. "That's a sign of playing sloppy football, [but] we've got a chance to score a lot of points and do a lot of the right things we'll be fine."
Or as McDaniels put it: "Sloppy, certainly. We got to get better."
Date Opponent Time (MT))
|Sept. 13||at Cincinnati||11 a.m.|
|Sept. 20||Cleveland||2:15 p.m.|
|Sept. 27||at Oakland||2:15 p.m.|
|Oct. 4||Dallas||2:15 p.m.|
|Oct. 11||New England||2:15 p.m.|
|Oct. 19||at San Diego||6:30 p.m.|
|Nov. 1||at Baltimore||11 a.m.|
|Nov. 9||Pittsburgh||6:30 p.m.|
|Nov. 15||at Washington||11 a.m.|
|Nov. 22||San Diego||2:15 p.m.|
|Nov. 26||NY Giants||6:20 p.m.|
|Dec. 6||at Kansas City||11 a.m.|
|Dec. 13||at Indianapolis||11 a.m.|
|Dec. 20||Oakland||2:05 p.m.|
|Dec. 27||at Philadelphia||11 a.m.|
|Jan. 3||Kansas City||2:15 p.m.|