DENVER — The Denver Broncos have struggled in the red zone the last two weeks. After starting the year by impressively scoring seven touchdowns in their first nine trips inside 20-yard line, the team has regressed mightily, only going 1-for-7 in those situations against the Bills and Raiders.
As you might expect, the struggles in the red area have seen the team’s scoring output plummet dramatically. When the dust settled after a 42-17 blowout of the Dallas Cowboys in Week 2, the Broncos were averaging 33 points per game. Following two 16-point outputs in Weeks 3 & 4, that average is all the way down to 24.5 points per game.
On Sunday, the Broncos went 0-for-4 in the red zone, their lone touchdown coming on a 22-yard pass from Trevor Siemian to A.J. Derby. After that the team lined up for four field goals, with kicker Brandon Brandon McManus making three of those, his lone miss coming from just 29 yards out.
“Offensively speaking, I thought the red zone, it’s been self-inflicted wounds,” said head coach Vance Joseph. “It’s been false starts, it’s been batted balls, it’s been holding penalties. We’re at the five-yard line, and we get a false start, and now we go back to the 10, your chance of scoring a touchdown goes down. It’s more of what we’re doing to ourselves.”
The execution in the money zone has been poor for the Broncos, it cost them a win in Buffalo and nearly cost them another in Denver on Sunday.
It would have been easy for Vance Joseph to watch the tape from Sunday’s game, blame it on execution, say they have to be better in that area and move on.
That is not what the Broncos head coach did.
Early on Monday morning, when most of us were sleeping, Vance Joseph watched the Oakland game, but instead of thinking about how his players could be better he thought about how he, as a first-year head coach could be better.
So Joseph dug up more tape, but not of games. He went back to the Broncos practice tape, to see how his team has been practicing their red-zone execution. What he noticed was his own issue, not the team’s.
“Our Thursday practice is a pracitce of third downs, red zone, goal line and short yardage,” the head man explained. “Our last period is red zone. I’ve watched it for the last two weeks, and it’s not very good, that’s my fault.”
In realizing his misstep, Joseph decided to do the obvious thing that isn’t always so obvious in the National Football League—change.
“I’m going to move red zone up in practice so we can get more energy there,” he said. “That part we are going to fix. We are going to spend more time on red zone; we’re going to apply more detail and focus there as coaches and players. We’ll fix that. The concepts are there, running the football is there, it’s just more self-inflicted wounds, and we just need to give it more attention, in my opinion.”
Joseph could have said, “I’ll make sure our guys pay more attention to detail in that period,” and kept things the same, but he didn’t. That’s something that the Broncos coaching staff has showed constantly, a willingness to change. When something isn’t quite working, they are willing to nip it in the bud. The young coaching staff doesn’t have many—if any—preconceived notions about how it’s supposed to work. Even some of the most veteran guys they have, like Mike McCoy, are known for their willingness to adapt.
A coach’s dream is a teachable win, Vance Joseph got something even better, a teachable win and a learnable win. In the end, this is why the Broncos job was so appealing; Joseph can do some learning on the job while winning at the same time.