ENGLEWOOD, Colo. --** Just one word sufficed for Offensive Coordinator Adam Gase to describe a running game that amassed 37 yards on 19 attempts and saw 11 ballcarriers hit behind the line of scrimmage in Seattle.
"Terrible," Gase said. "That would probably be the best answer for you."
Gase saw some promising moments in the first two weeks, even though Broncos running backs were hit in the backfield on 15 of 45 attempts in those games. No one was under pressure more than starter Montee Ball, who experienced contact behind the line of scrimmage on 20 of 49 attempts this season, including half of his 14 carries Sept. 21 at Seattle.
"Yeah, I've been frustrated a little bit. But it's early on right now," Ball said. "I believe that we made some changes and we're putting some plays in that are better for our type of running backs and I think it's going to work. It's going to help."
The changes are all-encompassing, as Gase sees the struggles of the entire ground game falling upon more than just the offensive line.
"It's a full group effort here," he said. "I mean, you can't just point the finger at the line because there's plenty of times where the backs have been wrong, we've been on the wrong checks, the receivers have missed a block, we've fumbled. We've all taken our turns. There's been some bad calls along the way. So we're going to make some strides here coming up."
Any improvement will begin on an individual level, with each man focusing on the technical aspects of his work.
"For me, it's low pads," said tight end Virgil Green. "If I can keep my hips low and maintain low pads on contact, I can move anybody in the National Football League. So it's just focusing on that technique, being critical of it -- even in walk-throughs, like, don't get complacent just because it's a walk-through period, have that technique and show things like that, and at the end of the day, it will transfer to the field."
The next step beyond that is applying it toward a collective effort. Cohesion is crucial, since it takes one missed assignment to douse a potential explosive play.
"You see three guys getting their blocks and doing a great job, but one guy misses or two guys have a miscommunication and that's all it takes," said tight end Julius Thomas.
The Broncos have been busy preparing for Sunday's game against the Cardinals. Check out photos from Thursday's practice at Dove Valley.
"I think that's what we're struggling with right now, is having everybody on the same page and doing it right at the same time. I think we're going to continue to get better at those things."
There is ample room for improvement. The Broncos are 29th in yardage per carry (3.2). But their ranking isn't as low in another efficiency metric: percentage of runs to gain a first down. Denver is 23rd in that statistic, at 18.3 percent.
"We always go by efficiency," Gase said. "For us, first and second down we're looking for four yards-plus. But when we get like second-and-two and get the first down, that's an efficient run. So a lot of times some of these plays that we're calling, we're just trying to get one or two yards and that's an efficient run.
"But that's what we hang our hat on more than saying 'Hey, we need 100 yards; we need to average this amount of carries.' That's kind of secondary for us. It's for everybody else to kind of look at and deem that's the way they look at as successful, that's not how we look at it."
Last year, the Broncos were 17th in average per carry (4.1 yards) and 11th in percentage of runs to result in a first down (23.2). They have 13 games to try and restore their season-long efficiency back to that level.
But Arizona represents a difficult opponent to begin that quest. Its defense ranks second in yardage per attempt (2.9) and 10th in first-down percentage allowed (18.9). The Broncos could make progress in their effort to restore the efficiency of their ground game, but it might not be evident on Sunday's stat sheet.
"Arizona's going to be a tough team for us to run the ball against and that's going to be a challenge just like last game out," Gase said. "That's a good team versus the rush, and you've got to try to find your spots and make the most of it."