ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — As the Broncos aim to rebound from a two-game skid and earn their second consecutive home win, the key to success may be as simple as holding onto the football.
During the team's 3-6 start, the Broncos have turned the ball over 21 times, which is the most by any NFL team. The Dolphins, meanwhile, rank fourth in takeaways as they've recorded eight interceptions and seven fumble recoveries.
"We talked about that today, especially playing the Dolphins who excel in that area of taking it away on defense," Head Coach Vic Fangio said. "This will be a very important week for us to take care of the ball. ... We haven't done a good job of that in several games this season, and it's come back to hurt us."
In Sunday's loss to Las Vegas, the Broncos moved the ball well at times, but untimely turnovers either cost them points on offense or led directly to points for the Raiders.
Denver must also improve its 27th-ranked third-down offense and 28th-ranked red-zone offense, but neither of those offensive elements will likely earn the Broncos a win if they cannot be more secure with the ball.
That begins at the quarterback position, as Drew Lock has thrown 10 interceptions in the last five games, including four against the Raiders. In the team's previous game, Brett Rypien threw two fourth-quarter interceptions against the Jets and three total interceptions. The Broncos have turned the ball over at least once in every game this year.
In all, Denver has won the turnover battle just twice — each time in a win — and has lost the turnover battle on five occasions. The Broncos rank 31st in turnover margin with a minus-12 differential. Miami, meanwhile, ranks fourth in that category at plus-five.
Denver's defense has forced just nine turnovers this season and ranks 24th in takeaways. In four of their games, they have not forced a turnover, though they've been better in recent weeks as they've taken the ball away at least once in four of the last five weeks.
"You have to have a conscious effort about it," Alexander Johnson said. "You have to be thinking about it. You can't go out there and just play — you've got to really be thinking about trying to get the ball out. One of the biggest things is punching at the ball, so I've just got to be able to do that a little better."
When kickoff arrives on Sunday, perhaps the Broncos can sway the turnover battle — and the game — in their favor.
UPDATE ON ED DONATELL'S HEALTH
After Johnson revealed Wednesday that Ed Donatell had been hospitalized due to COVID-19, Broncos Chief Communications Officer Patrick Smyth offered more information on the team's defensive coordinator.
"Ed Donatell is at home recovering after being taken to the hospital last week for COVID-19-related symptoms," Smyth said in a tweet. "Ed is feeling much better, starting to participate in virtual [meetings] & doing light physical activity. Ed is grateful for the support & looks forward to rejoining the team!"
Johnson said Donatell remains in the team's thoughts.
"Obviously, when your defensive coordinator is down and out of commission, it's tough," Johnson said. "I know he was in the hospital and stuff, so I'm definitely sending my prayers up. We're definitely missing him — just his morale and the energy that he has being at practice and always preaching on working on takeaways and stuff like that. So, [I] definitely notice a difference not having him out here."
Asked about Donatell's absence last week, Fangio said he missed his long-time colleague as both a coach and a friend and added that they had talked multiple times a day.
"He's in our thoughts here all the time," Fangio said. "I particularly probably miss him more than anybody because Ed and I have been together for 10 years — kind of conjoined at the hip there. I miss his friendship. I miss just having him around. He knows how I think, I know how he thinks. It's been tough not having him here obviously as a coach. We miss his coaching ability, but I miss him personally more than anything else."
IMPROVING AGAINST THE RUN
After posting one of the best run defenses in the NFL for the better part of the last year, the Broncos have given up at least 200 yards on the ground in two of the last three games.
Asked Wednesday about how to correct those mistakes, Johnson said he believed the errors were unrelated to the team's physicality.
"We've just got to play gap sound — just get in your gap and hold it," Johnson said. "If [the run] isn't in your gap, then get out of it instead of just moving around and pieces not falling into the right place where you're supposed to be. That's the biggest thing is just trying to play gap sound. I feel like we're playing pretty physical and tough; we've just got to be where we need to be when they run it."