ENGLEWOOD – It’s easy to talk about starting fast. It’s a common talking point in the Broncos’ locker room. It’s brought up in virtually every interview that involves more than one reporter. The players are probably sick of hearing the question and sick of answering it — and know there’s only one way to stop it, by fixing the glitch.
But how do you truly emphasize it?
First, you identify the problem. In this case, it’s not hard to find.
Some point to a defense that doesn’t seem to flourish until after it’s made the proper halftime adjustments. That’s shortsighted and unfair.
Of the 98 points the Broncos have allowed in the first half this season — which extrapolates to an average of 32.7 per 60 minutes of play — 20 came off short-field possessions that followed a turnover, and another seven came directly off a giveaway. Take those out and the Broncos suddenly go from 31st in the league in first-half points allowed to a more respectable, but still sub-optimal 21st.
Others point to the offense. It’s scored seven points per game in the first half; that’s fifth-worst in the league. But again, go back to the turnovers and easily preventable errors, from Demaryius Thomas’ two fumbles after long receptions against Oakland and New England to Eric Decker’s stumble at San Diego that was followed by an interception three plays later. Two of those were likely touchdowns, and the other put the Broncos deep in the red zone, so that’s a minimum of 17 points lost, and a potential of 21.
Throw in two giveaways when the Broncos were already in Atlanta territory in Week 2 — one of Peyton Manning’s three interceptions that night and Knowshon Moreno’s fumble — and that’s at least six points and as many as 14 wiped out, since Matt Prater in a dome is a safe bet, even from beyond 50 yards.
That’s anywhere from 23 to 35 points gone because of giveaways. Even assuming the low end, that takes the Broncos’ first-half production from 7.0 points per game to 10.8, and you’ve moved the 28th-ranked scoring offense in the first half to 17th.
Eliminate the preventable mistakes, and we’re talking about the Broncos being a mediocre first-half team with a minus-6 first-half margin for the season (71-65), not the league’s worst at minus-56 (98-42). The season’s tenor has changed, and so has this space, since I’m not writing this article, and Manning’s not answering three separate questions about slow starts during his Wednesday Q-and-A session.
“We’ve turned the ball over at times in scoring position, and you kind of say, ‘Boy, if that didn’t happen, we could have gotten some points there and gotten off to a faster start,’” Manning said. “So, you have to be careful of over-analyzing it and all of a sudden changing what you’re doing.
“It’s just about being a little sharper, a little better on the execution, protecting the ball better, lots of those little things that if we can do those better, we think that can make a difference.”
Of course, if all that fails to remedy a problem regarding a specific period of the game, then you can turn to more desperate measures — which has been done before, to no avail.
Twenty years ago, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers had a problem with third quarters. They’d been outscored 37-0 in the 15 minutes following halftime over a three-game stretch — while boasting a 57-40 advantage in the other three quarters.
So their head coach, Sam Wyche — a man who never met an idea too nutty to try — had his team practice halftime. The Bucs stopped practice halfway through, decamped to the locker room for 12 minutes, then re-emerged to finish their work.
The strategy helped the Bucs improve marginally in the third quarter; they were outscored 24-7 over their next four third periods. But they were blasted in quarters one, two and four by a combined 105-42 margin.
The notion of practicing halftime was never heard again. Broncos fans hope that their team won’t be forced to similar measures — which would mean opening their practices with a pre-game entrance, coin-toss and opening kickoff protocol. That would make even the daffy tactics of Wyche look normal.