ENGLEWOOD, Colo. --The NFL's official statistical service says the Broncos went 1-for-7 in red-zone opportunities last week, and that they're 6-of-15 over the last two games. But in this particular metric, it deceives a bit.
The Broncos ended each of the last two wins in the red zone, opting to take a knee and clinch the win rather than pile on superfluous points, so that removes two possessions from the equation. That leaves a 6-of-13 (46.2 percent) figure that isn't great (the league average is 54.8 percent) but isn't backbreaking; it would be nearly three percent higher than the red-zone touchdown percentage of the vaunted Philadelphia Eagles' attack.
Still, 6-of-13 over two games isn't what the Broncos expect, not when the Broncos scored touchdowns on 24 of their 31 red-zone possessions during the first 10 games, a 77.4 percent rate that would trail only Oakland, which has scored on 77.8 percent of its scant (18) red-zone chances.
A blizzard delayed the Broncos' trip to Buffalo in 1997. But the wait was worth it as the Broncos won in OT.
It may not be a coincidence that the Broncos have played without tight end Julius Thomas for the past two weeks as he recovers from an ankle injury suffered Nov. 16 at St. Louis. He leads the league with nine red-zone touchdown receptions this season. But the Broncos did convert five of seven red-zone chances for touchdowns against Miami without Thomas available.
"Any time you have a guy like that that is our matchup problem, you always wish you had him out there," said Offensive Coordinator Adam Gase.
But it didn't take much examination to see how the Broncos' results could have been different last Sunday. On the first drive that fell short in the Chiefs' red zone, quarterback Peyton Manning had Jacob tame open down the seam in the end zone and fired the pass too far, later saying, "I just missed." On the next red-zone series, Justin Houston knocked down a Manning pass for Demaryius Thomas at the line of scrimmage. The following series saw the Chiefs turn away the Broncos thanks to strong coverage, bracketing Thomas as he ran toward the back of the end zone.
"Going into the game I think [the Chiefs] were No. 2 in red zone defense," said Gase. "At some point, when it's two red zone [strengths] going against each other, something is going to give and they won that battle over us. They did a good job of making sure they had our guys covered up on some of those plays and then we missed some opportunities when we were open."
Added Manning: "Every red-zone opportunity has its own story and nobody wants to hear it; they just want to see if you get a touchdown or a field goal."
But as Julius Thomas watched from the sideline, he chafed a bit.
"I can't lie to you and tell you I don't picture myself making big plays even when I'm not playing," the fourth-year tight end said. "So, if I'm in the game, I'm thinking, 'Ooh, if we could just get this look,' or if I was out here on this play I could have probably done something to help my team. That's absolutely how I look at it.
"If you consider yourself one of the best players at your position or a guy that can really help the team, a guy they can depend on. you've got to say, 'Hey, in this situation, I could help my guys out,' and I'm looking forward to getting back so maybe my presence can have us kicking a little bit fewer field goals."
And whether Julius Thomas plays or not, what the Broncos need are touchdowns.
"I think somehow we've got to find a way," Manning said. "I've got to find a way to help us get into the end zone with Julius or without him."
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