The Broncos were 14th in the AFC last year in red-zone efficiency and improving in that area was a major focus all offseason and in training camp. Then the Broncos started the regular season against the Dolphins and were miserable inside the 20-yard line.
The Broncos had four trips inside the red zone against Miami. They had a turnover on downs when they were denied four times on the goal line, a fumble that was returned for a touchdown, a field goal and a touchdown.
Even the touchdown didn't come easy. The Broncos had first down at the 1-yard line, three plays lost one yard before quarterback Jake Plummer hit Kyle Johnson for a 2-yard touchdown on fourth down. But at least they finally got in the end zone, unlike the other trips near the goal line.
"We're going to work on that," running back Mike Anderson said.
"Don't beat us up too bad about that yet. We're going to correct that, trust me."
Anderson's absence might have been the biggest blow. Anderson, a big, tough runner who is Denver's starting tailback, was knocked out of the game in the first quarter with a rib injury. Tatum Bell entered the game and struggled on goal-line carries. Bell had four carries near the goal line. He gained no yards twice and was stopped for a one-yard loss twice. One of those losses came on fourth and goal.
"I got to find a way to get in the end zone," Bell said. "I take the blame on myself. There was somebody in my face, but running backs have to make plays, do something special. I couldn't make a play."
The Broncos were also let down by receiver Ashley Lelie. He dropped a third-down and goal pass, letting it sail through his hands. That came in the second quarter and would have given Denver a lead.
"You got to make that catch," Broncos coach Mike Shanahan said. "Got to make that. He knows that."
The biggest offseason move the Broncos made to improve their offense was sign tight end Stephen Alexander, but he's not a great red-zone receiver. If the Broncos do not have the personnel to be a consistent scorer in the red zone, it's too late to make any major changes.
The Broncos didn't get much of a push up front against the Dolphins. Denver has always used an undersized line, which has been very effective for them in the running game between the 20-yard lines. Johnson said he didn't think the line's lack of size had anything to do with the Broncos' red-zone struggles.
"In years past the offensive line hasn't been big here but they've been extremely effective in the red zone," Johnson said. "So you can't say that's the reason. They weren't big before and they were kicking butt."
SERIES HISTORY: 91st meeting. The Denver Broncos lead the series 50-39-1. Last season Denver took the first season meeting at Invesco Field at Mile High, but lost a crucial late-season matchup at Qualcomm Stadium late in the season. Jake Plummer threw four interceptions in that loss, which cost the Broncos a shot at the AFC West title.
--Cornerback Champ Bailey has played in every game in his NFL career, a streak of 97 consecutive games. That streak is in jeopardy because of a dislocated shoulder that kept him out almost all of the second half in the season opener.
Bailey could wear a harness and play through the pain and he will consider that option.
"I won't say I'll have to be totally 100 percent," Bailey said.
"I'll be in pain throughout the year anyway so why not play through this if I can?"
--Running back Mike Anderson waited for years for another chance to be Denver's featured back, so he was disappointed to be knocked out in the first quarter of Sunday's game with a rib injury. A painkilling shot during the game didn't help, but he sounded optimistic that he'll be able to play this week.
"If I can endure, if I can run and not have a hard time breathing, I'm out there," Anderson said.
--The Broncos didn't get any sacks against Miami but the defensive line wasn't entirely at fault. Defensive coordinator Larry Coyer said the cornerbacks didn't play aggressively enough. That allowed the Dolphins to complete short passes and turn them into decent gains, and that also made the quick passes made it tough for the defensive line to get a rush.
"If the coverage isn't there, you can't rush," Coyer said. "We weren't tight enough. We got a lot of heat on him, it's just we weren't coordinated, we weren't together, we weren't tight enough in coverage."
--Broncos coach Mike Shanahan said he was confident in his team's running game even if Mike Anderson is out with an injury. Tatum Bell would likely be the starter if Anderson didn't play and Ron Dayne would be the backup.
Bell didn't have a great game in the season opener and even Shanahan said he really doesn't know exactly what to expect from Bell if he starts this week.
"Tatum has done a pretty good job since he has been here," Shanahan said. "It is like all running backs. Until a guy plays consistently through a season, you really don't know."
BY THE NUMBERS: 111 -- The Broncos rushed for 111 yards in two games against San Diego last season, including a 37-yard effort at Denver.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "We've got a lot of games left so I don't think we can get too carried away." -- Broncos coach Mike Shanahan on the team's terrible Week 1 performance at Miami.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
The Broncos' offensive line is thin on depth and have a couple of minor injuries to worry about this week. Starting right tackle George Foster has an ankle injury. Backup tackle Cornell Green has a knee injury. Both are listed as probable and both will likely be available for Sunday's game but the injuries underscore how little depth Denver has at the position.
Denver kept only two backup offensive linemen, Green and guard/tackle Dwayne Carswell. Starting left guard Ben Hamilton would play center if anything happened to Tom Nalen in a game and Carswell would go in the game at guard.
--WR David Terrell re-signed with the Broncos. He was released late last week to avoid guaranteeing his contract for the year. Terrell has to get up to speed with Denver's offense before he can work his way up the depth chart.
--S Nick Ferguson will have a tough test this week. He'll be matched up against Chargers Pro Bowl TE Antonio Gates. Last season Broncos strong safety Kenoy Kennedy covered Gates and had pretty good success against him, but Kennedy is in Detroit now and Ferguson has taken his place in the lineup.
--CB Roc Alexander might be active this week. Alexander was inactive last week but Champ Bailey is unlikely to play this week because of a shoulder injury. Rookie CB Karl Paymah is also a candidate to go from being inactive to active this week.
--RB Ron Dayne was inactive in Denver's first game but Mike Anderson's rib injury means Dayne will likely be active this week. Dayne could see some carries based on how much Anderson can play.
--S Sam Brandon was praised by coach Mike Shanahan for his effort during the season-opening loss at Miami. Brandon had to play cornerback when the Broncos had only one healthy corner in the third quarter even though he hadn't played that position since high school. Brandon held his own until cornerbacks Lenny Walls and Darrent Williams, who had cramps, re-entered the game.
GAME PLAN: The Broncos always like to establish their ground game on offense, but they weren't able to against the Chargers last year. They'll still try to get a running game going against San Diego but don't be surprised if Denver tests San Diego's secondary often. The Chargers are vulnerable in pass defense and the Broncos need to make some plays through the air.
The Broncos were one of the few teams San Diego played last year that had good success against Drew Brees. Brees had 227 combined passing yards in two games against the Broncos. Denver needs to get some pressure on Brees after getting no sacks against Miami in Week 1, especially if cornerback Champ Bailey is out with a shoulder injury.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH
Broncos SS Nick Ferguson vs. Chargers TE Antonio Gates. Ferguson is a big hitter and a smart player, and he'll have his hands full four times this season against Pro Bowlers Gates and Kansas City's Tony Gonzalez. Gates didn't have a gain of more than 13 yards in two games against the Broncos last season and had no touchdowns, but that was with Kenoy Kennedy covering him. Kennedy signed with Detroit this offseason and Ferguson took his place in the lineup.
Broncos C Tom Nalen vs. Chargers NT Jamal Williams. Williams was a big reason the Broncos struggled to run against the Chargers last year. He is the key to San Diego's 3-4 defense and Nalen is the anchor of Denver's offensive line. The Broncos need to get Williams moving laterally and Nalen has to make sure he doesn't get too much penetration on Denver's stretch running plays.
Broncos QB Jake Plummer vs. Chargers secondary. The Chargers are very good stopping the run and will give up yards in the passing game. The Broncos are a running team, but they also won't beat their head against a wall. Plummer threw four interceptions in a late season game against San Diego last year and had a poor game against Miami last week, so the Broncos need him to have an efficient game.
INJURY IMPACT: RB Mike Anderson (rib) practiced a little bit with the scout team on Wednesday. The team wants to see how he does in practice on Friday before making a decision on his status for this week's game.
DE Courtney Brown (elbow) was inactive last week because Broncos coach Mike Shanahan didn't think he was ready. He should be ready to play this week.
CB Champ Bailey (shoulder) didn't practice on Wednesday. He was listed as questionable and he has played through pain before, but the Broncos said Bailey would miss one or two games so it might not be realistic to expect him to play this week.
TE Nate Jackson (hamstring) didn't practice on Wednesday. He missed last week's game and might not be available this week either.
CB Lenny Walls (wrist) practiced on Wednesday and should start. He
said the wrist injury is just a deep bruise, although he did have it
wrapped for practice.
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