What I Want for a Broncos Christmas on Monday Night

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Better red zone efficiency

Dec 14, 2014; San Diego, CA, USA; Denver Broncos tight end Julius Thomas (80) makes a catch while defended by San Diego Chargers free safety Eric Weddle (32) during the first quarter at Qualcomm Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

I thought Sunday was a rough day for Adam Gase as offensive coordinator. Letting backup quarterback Brock Osweiler sling it around instead of running the ball to run the clock out at the end of the first half was a questionable decision at best. But he also struggled with red zone play calls as well. C.J. Anderson didn’t have a great statistical game, no touchdowns with 2.93 yards per carry. However, especially in the first half, when he would get some momentum going he was ignored when they should have used him. The Broncos capped off each of their three scoring drives in the first half with a field goal, all within their opponent’s 10-yard line, two of them on the one-yard line. Oy.

The Broncos had a second and one on their second drive of the game on San Diego’s one. Up to that point, Anderson had run four times on that drive for 24 yards. When they needed one more yard they went back to the air. Peyton Manning threw two incomplete passes to Demaryius Thomas, forcing Connor Barth to kick a 19-yard field goal. From there, the play calling in the red zone got a little better, but there’s still more that can be done to be more efficient.

On the Broncos’ third drive, with the score 3-0 in Denver’s favor, they were able to get into the red zone again thanks to a 30 yard pass to Julius Thomas. Before the second quarter commenced, the Broncos ran C.J. Anderson on 1st down for a gain of one. They then came back and ran a screen to C.J. for three yards. Both plays I liked in that situation. But on third down, the Broncos had Manning in the shotgun flanked by Anderson with Emmanuel Sanders, DT, and Wes Welker to the left and Julius Thomas inline on the right. Right away this isn’t a good formation if you’re passing. If it’s a run play, at least you’re spreading the defense out. But this formation enables the defense to more easily focus in on Julius Thomas, the Broncos best receiving weapon in the red zone. Even worse about this play is JT stayed in on pass protection. Sanders and DT both ran short digs and Welker, who ran a corner route, was Manning’s first option. They were all covered easily and Manning threw it out of the back of the end zone. This play seems all right in third down situations, but it needs space and shouldn’t be ran in the red zone where you have less space to operate. Barth came out again to kick a 26-yard field goal to make it 6-0.

The Broncos have been a great red zone team since Manning came to Denver. While they’re 6th in the league in touchdown percentage in the red zone at 63.5%, the last three weeks their conversion rate has been just 30.8%, which is 6th worst in the league over that period. There is work to be done.