Broncos search for root of red zone issues

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. – When the Denver Broncos officially exit their bye week on Monday, one of the biggest issues they will have had on the to-do list is to figure out why something that was go good in the season's first two weeks has been so decidedly not good in the last two weeks.

Because in their last two games before the bye, the Broncos’ ability to score touchdowns once inside the red zone has dipped significantly. And the Broncos have spent some time this past week trying to determine how much they need quarterback Trevor Siemian to pick up the pace when the goal line is in view, how much is the receivers not winning enough one-on-one battles in and around the end zone as well as how much is just simply too many mistakes at the wrong time.

Or whether it simply has been all of the above.

“It’s the difference in one play or two plays," Siemian said. “When you have opportunities, you have to capitalize on them. I can think of a couple plays we could have turned into points."

Overall, inside their opponents’ 20-yard line the Broncos have converted just 50 percent of their trips into touchdowns and that is tied for 20th in the league. But even that figure is built on their quality efforts in the first two games while the signature play of the red-zone frustrations of the last two games may have come last Sunday.

On a first-and-goal from the Raiders’ 4-yard line, in position to turn a 16-7 lead into a three-possession game as the third quarter drew to a close, Siemian had a pass deflected into the air that Emmanuel Sanders caught for a 10-yard loss. That put the Broncos in second-and-14 and three plays later Brandon McManus missed a 29-yard field goal.

“That kind of stinks," Siemian said. “It’s just one or two plays here and there, and when you get those opportunities in the right play, you have to make the most of it."

They've had penalties -- two in the last two games in side the 20 -- they've surrendered sacks on back-to-back plays inside the 20 against the Bills, wide receiver Demaryius Thomas doesn’t have a touchdown catch this season and in four games the Broncos don’t have a running back with more than one rushing touchdown as C.J. Anderson and Jamaal Charles each have one.

It all means after the Broncos were 3-of-5 scoring touchdowns in drives inside the opponents’ 20 in the season opener against the Chargers and 4-of-4 in the rout of the Cowboys, they are 1-of-7 combined in the last two games – a loss to the Bills and a win over the Raiders.

Upon further review, coach Vance Joseph has called it “self-inflicted wounds," a combination of Siemian, penalties, bobbles in pass protection and the team’s marquee players not winning enough battles to finish touchdown plays.

“We can be better and we will be better," Joseph said. “Absolutely we can. In my mind, as I've said, it's not scheme, it’s mistakes, it’s a batted ball, a false start at the 5-yard line. We can’t do those things. I think we’ve had two penalties already this season at the 5-yard line or closer. You can’t have those. It's detail and winning those matchups. We’ve had moments where we’ve done it pretty well and we need more of those moments when we come back."

“We know we can be better there," Siemian said. “There’s an urgency there. But again, it’s four games. It’s a small sample size. So, we’re going to get better there. I trust in that."