ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — As the Broncos look to jump-start their offense and get their season back on track, they don't have to look far to find a standard they'd like to meet.
On the opposite side of the line of scrimmage, Denver's defense has set a tone — and a standard of excellence — in the early part of the season.
Through six weeks, the Broncos' defense ranks third in total defense, fifth against the pass, first in the red zone and fourth in points allowed.
"The defense is playing at such a high level, and they are battling nonstop," Head Coach Nathaniel Hackett said Tuesday. "I mean, Alex Singleton steps in again and has so many tackles. The defensive line is penetrating, rushing the quarterback, and going against a really good offense. Just watching them to play, it's a great defense. I give them so much credit, and it's on the rest of the team to be able to step up to their level and have that same standard that they have to be able to make plays."
Through six weeks, Denver's offense has struggled to consistently find that success. The Broncos continue to post big plays, but the unit ranks 22nd in total offense, 28th in sacks per pass attempt, 30th in first downs per game, 30th in third-down percentage and last in red-zone offense and goal-to-go scoring percentage. Most notably, the Broncos also rank last in scoring offense.
"A lack of consistency, right now," Hackett said of the struggles. "You see some good things. I thought that in the first half, there was a lot of good. We were in some backed-up situations, some 'get back on track' situations, which are those long, long deals with some of those penalties that we had earlier. We battled back from those. We got a field goal on the first drive, and we came back and had a bunch of explosive plays and were able to score. … It kept coming back with the two-minute drive to be able to get three points and have an opportunity score there. We just have to be consistent. You come out in the second half and get yourself in a couple of manageable third downs and don't convert on those, that's frustrating. It's frustrating for all of us. We need better plays from the coaches. We need better execution. It's all of us as a team. We can't leave the defense out there as long as we did. Again, it's about consistency, consistency, consistency. It goes for everybody, from every position on the offense."
Even with quarterback Russell Wilson hobbled and listed as day to day ahead of the Broncos' Week 7 matchup with the Jets, Hackett believes the Broncos have the leaders in place to help the team respond in all phases from a tough start.
"Very confident," Hackett said of the leaders' ability to turn things around. "I think we have some great men on this team. We need to all come together, look at ourselves in the mirror first and be able to hold everybody accountable for all the things that are good and bad."
If the Broncos can find a way to improve on their offensive performance, Hackett said he still believes in the team's chances this season to capitalize on the unit that is currently setting the standard.
"Without a doubt, [we've] got that faith that we're going to continue to get better and continue to put the guys in the right spots so we can take advantage of this great defense," Hackett said.
A day after running back Melvin Gordon III played nine snaps and received three carries, Hackett said the Broncos' lack of plays contributed to Gordon's relative lack of touches.
"We were going three-and-out," Hackett said. "Our plan was to get into manageable third-down situations to be able to move the ball and control clock. We did, and we just didn't convert on third down. When you are 29 percent on third down, that's a hard recipe for success. When it comes to the running back play, we need to look at that and sit there and say, 'If somebody's doing a really good job, [they will stay in]' — and I think Latavius [Murray] was doing a fine job, he had the opportunity to go another series. Then we just didn't have a lot of plays. We want all those guys, we need all those guys, and we have to be sure they are all on field."
Hackett said he planned to speak with Gordon following Monday's game to make sure he was on the same page with the veteran running back.
"We're going to have a conversation," Hackett said. "We have a very good relationship, and [I] want to be sure that we're crystal clear on everything and that he knows where I stand. I've always liked those awkward conversations and always want to be up-front and honest with everybody. Melvin didn't do anything wrong. He didn't. We just didn't have a lot of plays, and in the end, he didn't get the reps that he wanted. He's a competitor. He wants to be out there helping with his team. We'll sit down and we'll have a conversation."