For Hackett and Broncos offense, it’s been ‘feast or famine’
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — The Broncos’ offense is behind schedule — and that’s not merely a metaphor.
Its development has been slow. Clunkiness was to be expected prior to the season. But few banked on the Broncos ranking last in touchdowns through 5 games, tied with Indianapolis. Denver crossed the opposing goal line just 6 times. That is tied for the fewest for the Broncos in any 5-game single-season stretch since Games 1-5 of 2006. (Denver also had 6 touchdowns from Weeks 6-10 of the 2017 season.)
And often, things devolved on first down. According to data compiled through sportradar.com, the Broncos lost yardage on 14 first-down plays that weren’t kneeldowns in the first five games. Only five teams lost yardage on first down more often.
Overall, the Broncos have 32 non-kneeldown plays on which they lost yardage regardless of down. Only three teams have more. Five of those came in the red zone — the third-most in the NFL, behind only the Colts and Jacksonville Jaguars.
“Negative plays: I think that’s been one of our nemeses,” Broncos coach Nathaniel Hackett said.
“… The amount of ‘get back on tracks’ we have is just too difficult. We need to be way more efficient on first down. Getting positive yards, and even just getting incompletions instead of sacks or penalties.
“So, I think those are the things that we’re focusing on, trying to narrow down the things that we want to be great at and then continually developing those.”
BUT AT THE SAME TIME, the Broncos are capable of escaping long-yardage situations. That’s because they lead the league in explosive pass plays — passes that cover at least 20 yards.
Denver and Detroit share the lead with 15 passes covering at least 20 yards. The league average through 5 games is 9.0 explosive pass plays.
Last year, the Broncos weren’t bad in this metric. They ranked 12th with 33 pass plays of at least 20 yards. But they’re on pace to exceed that total by 18 — more than one per game.
“We’ve been really good at some explosive passes down the field,” Hackett said. “… It’s really feast or famine.”
And it’s to be expected with a Russell Wilson-offense, too. The NFL leader in explosive pass plays last year was Wilson’s Seahawks, with 43.
But given that the Broncos have fewer points through a 5-game single-season stretch than a period of 2019 that saw two starts by Joe Flacco and three from Brandon Allen, it’s fair to say that the Broncos might be willing to exchange a deep strike or two for avoiding first-down plays that knock them behind the chains.