ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Through a 1-4 start, the Broncos have endured adversity to start their season. The upcoming schedule could be just as challenging — a "Thursday Night Football" matchup with the division rival Kansas City Chiefs looms ahead — and will be a crucial stretch as Denver looks to battle back into contention.
Head Coach Sean Payton said with such a challenging stretch, paying attention to his team's mentality and resolve is essential. Still, he said he is confident in the Broncos' ability to weather the storm.
"One of the things about this league [is that] there's nothing like winning," Payton said on Monday. "Obviously when you're not having success, you have to dig deep. It's difficult; it's tough. You get up in the morning, it's unpleasant, and yet, I think I have pretty good instincts relative to how to approach the team and how to guide the team relative to the next challenge, and that's what we're going to do this week."
Kansas City is coming off a Super Bowl title and has won 15 consecutive games against the Broncos, but Payton said internal improvement is his team's priority in the coming days.
"I think our focus has to start internally," Payton said. "In a short week here, [it's about] getting ourselves both physically and mentally ready to play a really good football team on the road in a tough environment. The past 15 [matchups], I don't know that that's a big topic right now for us. I think, for us, it's more about us."
One area for improvement that Payton highlighted was the Broncos' struggles with consistency between halves. In home games against the Commanders and Jets, Denver held seven- and five-point leads at the halftime break, respectively, but it couldn't secure a victory in the final quarters. The Broncos scored 24 unanswered points against the Bears in Week 4 to earn their first win of the season, but they found themselves in an early 28-7 hole that almost doomed their chances of a road win.
When asked about the trend, Payton said finding consistency has become a point of emphasis for his team.
"Look, if I had the answer, we'd be able to address it immediately," Payton said. "Certainly, we've had better or faster starts offensively in the first half and we haven't in the second half. That has to improve.
"Yesterday, it was really the tale of two halves. Collectively, we did a lot of things well in the first half. We didn't score like we had hoped, then the second half comes out, we struggle offensively, defensively we give up the big run, and all of a sudden, we're in one of these close games. Putting four quarters together is obviously one of the things I made a note of this morning."
AFTER DIFFICULT THREE-GAME STRETCH, BRONCOS' RUN DEFENSE A MAJOR AREA OF FOCUS
In assessing the factors that contributed to the Broncos' fourth loss of 2023, Payton started with the performance of Denver's run defense. The Broncos surrendered 177 rushing yards to Jets running back Breece Hall on Sunday and have struggled to contain opponents' run games in recent games.
Payton shared his thoughts on how the Broncos can improve before their test against Kansas City.
"Just going through it, our gap integrity has been poor in all three games," Payton said. "We got wide yesterday on the big run [of 72 yards]. That was the first topic this morning. In other words, this has been—it's going to be tough to win games if we can't stop the run defensively, and we have to get it cleaned up."
Payton added that shoring up the Broncos' rush defense will require both a renewed understanding of the unit's defensive scheme and execution on the field.
"I'd start with [fitting] the right gaps and then understanding, scheme-wise, what we're getting and how to restrict those holes," Payton said. "A lot of it [is] not communication, it's technique, but that has to get better."
PAYTON ADDRESSES MIMS' RECENT STRUGGLES, BIG-PLAY POTENTIAL
Rookie wide receiver Marvin Mims Jr. has been the Broncos' most electrifying playmaker through five games, making the highlight reel as a receiver, punt returner and kick returner.
Against New York, Mims' performance fell short to the high standard he has set in the opening weeks. Mims couldn't corral a pitch from running back Samaje Perine and lost another fumble on a punt return, which set up the Jets' first field goal of the game. The Oklahoma product also had a special-teams mishap against the Bears after a ball hit off his helmet on a return, though he recovered the fumble.
Payton emphasized Mims' big-play ability and said the team has to strike a balance between unleashing his talents and encouraging wise decisions.
"They [were] both return turnovers," Payton said. "[On] the reverse, I can't put that on him. We have to be better with the exchange. It's back to fielding a punt or fielding a kickoff and getting comfortable in that role. We're going to continue to grind with him and those decisions as to, 'Hey, do I fair catch it or do I not?' But I think he's too big of a threat for us, and I'm sure it's something that weighs on him, and yet, I don't want to take the stinger or aggressiveness away from him."