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Still Areas to Improve at 4-0

Posted Oct 1, 2013

Independent analyst Andrew Mason takes a look at the areas Head Coach John Fox said the Broncos can still improve.

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- The "4-0" on the Broncos' line in the NFL standings indicates perfection, to this point. The reality the coaches and players see reveals something different.

"It’s still early in the season and I expect us to get better," said Head Coach John Fox. "People look at me funny when I say that, but there’s still a lot of areas we need to improve at and can improve at.”

He identified three areas in particular:

1. The ground game: A work in progress.

Fox: “I think we can be more consistent running the ball."

The Broncos have attempted to run more often as the season has progressed, and more emphasis has led to better results; their running backs have gained 304 yards on 63 carries the last two weeks after gaining 177 yards on 47 carries in the first two games.

One key area of improvement rests in the Broncos' ability to get first downs, Through four games, they've picked up one first down every 4.44 rushing attempts, the 10th-best ratio in the league. In the past two weeks, they've gained one first down every 3.32 carries, well above the league average of one first down per 4.79 carries.

2. Mental mistakes.

Fox: "A personal foul penalty knocked us out of field goal range and out of the scoring zone."

Fox refers to Knowshon Moreno's 15-yard unnecessary roughness penalty 76 seconds before halftime that appeared to knock the offense off-kilter on its last drive before halftime. Before Moreno's penalty, the Broncos had first-and-10 at the Philadelphia 26; afterward, they had first-and-10 at the Eagles 41, from which point Peyton Manning endured his only sack of the day.

The Broncos' penalty predilection hasn't mattered much, and their place in the league's middle third in terms of penalties assessed per game isn't going to draw much attention. But Moreno's penalty was the second unnecessary-roughness penalty in a one-minute span; Kevin Vickerson drew one on a punt play five snaps earlier. The Broncos have drawn five major penalties (15 yards, unless subject to half-the-distance enforcement) through four games; this puts them on pace for 20, one more than they had last year, but five fewer than they had in 2011.

3. Late letdowns.

Fox: "I think we’ve kind of gotten the start squared away. We kind of go into a little bit of a lull sometimes in the fourth quarter that we need to get worked out."

He's not the only person in the Broncos' sphere to notice this. Last week, defenders like Wesley Woodyard pointed out their frustration with letting the Raiders score in the final moments of the 37-21 win on Sept. 23; the same frustration was evident after the defense.

"I mean, anytime you play with a lead, you’ve got to understand what teams are going to do," Woodyard said last week. "We’ve just got to play better in the fourth quarter. It doesn’t matter if we have the lead or not. We’ve got to do our job.”

A bit of a letup isn't a worrisome offense. Frankly, it's a byproduct of human nature. One can speak of ignoring the scoreboard, but the awareness of a bulge of three or more scores can take root on at least a subconscious level. But Woodyard knows the Broncos must try to avoid the trap.

"For me, I never look at it as us being up by 20 points. I try to look at it as being a 0-0 football game," he said. "We want to be one of the best defenses and that’s something that we have to do. We have to be the best defense for four quarters, not three."

That doesn't mean you can't try to improve. At the minimum, the fourth-quarter touchdowns permitted to the Ravens, Raiders and Eagles offer evidence that the Broncos have yet to play a 60-minute game as they would like.

The pursuit of that will keep them humble, even as plaudits of their overall play, point differential and mind-boggling numbers roll in from all corners.