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Next-Day Notebook: Broncos' quest for takeaways is a team-wide effort

Posted Oct 23, 2017

The defense is putting the clamps on foes, but has forced just four turnovers in part because opponents have been able to play conservatively against it.

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- In the last three games, Denver's defense has yielded just four touchdowns and an average of 13.3 points per contest.

But it also has just one takeaway in those games, and only four during the entire season.

It's not for a lack effort and proficiency; the defense remains as dominant as ever. It has allowed fewer yards and first downs per possession than it did in the 2015 and 2016 seasons and is the only defense in the last three seasons to not permit a rushing touchdown in the first six games of a season.

The missing item from the defense's agenda -- an abundance of takeaways -- is also a result of being in a position to attack. The Broncos were not in that position against Giants and Chargers, as they never led and conceded nearly as many touchdowns via special teams and offense (two) as defense (three). Meanwhile, the offense has generated just 42 points and three touchdowns in the last four games, and has one touchdown in its last 11 quarters.

This has put the Broncos back in the spot they were in last December, when the offense accounted for 36 points in four games that month as the Broncos tumbled out of playoff contention.

"These last two weeks have definitely felt like last year," cornerback Chris Harris Jr. said. "That's something I thought was over with."

Putting this funk permanently in the rear-view mirror requires getting back to what worked for the Broncos through the 2015 campaign and much of the 2016 season before their late-season struggles.

In that stretch, their success equation was simple: Get in front, control the tempo on offense and put the opposing offense in situations where its quarterback has to stay in the pocket a little bit longer and must to throw downfield and attack the "No-Fly Zone."

This led to takeaways, sacks and victories. It made Harris, Von Miller and Aqib Talib into All-Pros.

The sacks have been there this season; Von Miller has seven through six games, and the Broncos rank in the league's top 10 in sack rate. But the Broncos have just four takeaways -- including one in the last four games -- and are the only team in the league with no forced fumbles.

"I'll say this about playing defense in this league, OK? When you don't score points, it's hard for our defense to cause havoc because everything is being played so close to the vest," Head Coach Vance Joseph said.

"Even yesterday, [Rivers] was very conservative. When the ball went past 10 yards, it was all max protection. The Giants threw one pass over eight yards.

"So it's hard for our defense to control a game without getting a lead. If we get a lead, this defense will show up big-time. But it's hard for us on defense to be the difference [without] a lead, because teams are going to run the ball, run the ball, try their luck [on] third down and then punt it back. That's what we've seen in the three losses."

That's exactly what Harris saw on the field.

"They don’t even give us any plays to gamble with," Harris said. "Everything comes out fast, pick plays. They’re not really throwing the ball.

"Think about it, they don’t throw the ball down the field, really. Most of the plays we’ve given them have been very great schemed-up plays that they’re doing. They’re scheming us, they’re setting pick plays and they’re figuring out ways to empty us out with three tight ends."

And until the Broncos solve the problems, they'll continue to see teams attack them in a similar manner to the Giants and Chargers.

WORKING TO FIX THE GLITCHES

The Broncos know what the problems are and where they lie. They have a week to try and solve them before facing the Chiefs.

"We’re blowing basic concepts in all three phases, not just one phase," Joseph said. "It’s puzzling. We have to revamp how we’re teaching these players and get more positive play out of some guys.

Part of the solution could involve changing up the practice and meeting routine, Joseph noted.

“Less meetings, maybe more walk-though or maybe more live bodies with these guys because we meet three hours a day," he said.

"We’re getting the meeting time in and the coaches are being really detailed with their teachings, but it’s not happening on game day. We have too many mistakes and that’s what happens. In our three losses they all looked the same. We have busted assignments and we have turnovers that we can’t overcome."

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