DENVER (TNS) — Before the run defense collapsed and the offense fell asleep, the Broncos had a chance to tie the New York Jets in the second quarter last Sunday. The Broncos used gains of 31 (pass to Demaryius Thomas) and 24 (pass to DaeSean Hamilton) yards on consecutive plays to set up first-and-goal from the 7-yard line.
What followed was a snapshot of the Broncos' red zone issues entering Sunday's game against the Los Angeles Rams.
First down: Tight end Jeff Heuerman turned his route up the field, but quarterback Case Keenum threw as if he expected an out pattern. Incomplete.
Second down, part 1: With nine seconds on the play clock, Keenum called an audible. The Broncos got away with a delay-of-game penalty, but were still penalized because of receiver Courtland Sutton's illegal shift.
Second down, part 2: Now at the Jets 12, Keenum threw incomplete off his back foot, not even close to running back Phillip Lindsay in the right flat.
Third down: Keenum had time (2.72 seconds), but threw too high and too long to Sutton, who was double-teamed in the end zone.
Fourth down: Brandon McManus kicked a 30-yard field goal.
The Broncos start Week 6 a woeful 7 of 15 in the red zone, a 46.7 touchdown rate that is 27th in the NFL. They lead the league in red zone turnovers (three, all Keenum interceptions). And their 3.87 points per red zone possession rank 30th.
The Broncos' defense is not currently built to sustain itself complementing a field goals-only offense. This team will have to win high-scoring games until the defense can get their show in order.
"The red zone is tough," Keenum said. "As detailed as it is (outside the 20), everything gets condensed down there. Decisions get magnified. We've gone through all of the red zone clips and asked, 'OK, what can we do better here? What kind of decision do we need to make that's better here? How do we prevent negative plays?' Because those kill drives."
More numbers of note:
— The Broncos are 3 of 9 on third down red zone snaps (33.3 percent, tied for 18th). Coach Vance Joseph pointed to "keeping third downs more manageable," as a part of the solution. They needed 12 and six yards on third down last week inside the 20.
— Keenum's 42.9 completion percentage is third-worst among the 30 quarterbacks with at least 10 red zone passes. He is 9-of-21 passing for 47 yards. Last year for Minnesota, Keenum completed 62 percent of his red zone attempts (31 of 50).
— Keenum's 42.5 red zone passer rating is the worst in the league among qualified quarterbacks (at least 10 attempts). Last year, it was 110.4.
— The Broncos are averaging only 2.56 yards per red zone snap, 22nd in the league.
— And this one we charted was startling: Nineteen of the 39 red zone plays have gained no yards or lost yards. That means this is not just a Keenum problem or a play-calling problem. It is a Total Offense Problem.
And to think we thought the addition of Keenum, the promotion of Bill Musgrave to offensive coordinator and the additions of power running back Royce Freeman and the rangy Sutton would improve a red zone offense that was last in 2017 (39.6 touchdown rate and 3.83 points per red zone trip).
Instead, it's been more of the same.