ENGLEWOOD, Colo. --The Broncos scored the first touchdown of the game in their three wins so far in the 2017 season. They did not in their six losses. The connection is hard to ignore.
In their last five games, they have walked into halftime with a deficit of at least 14 points each time.
So for the Broncos to start climbing back into the race and out of their recent funk, it starts, well, at the start. A better opening act not only has the potential to snap their five-game losing streak, but give the Broncos some momentum for games beyond that, as well.
"It would be awesome. We haven't had that," Head Coach Vance Joseph said. "Every game that we've lost we've been behind. Even the Giants game that was a closer game, we were still minus-3 in the first quarter and minus-14 against [Kansas City], minus-14 [in the second quarter] against the Chargers ... so we have to rectify the first quarter.
"If we can get out of the first quarter, we'll be fine because the effort is there and the playmaking is there for the most part. We have to get out of the first quarter with a fair game and we'll see where we're at."
It was a point that Joseph reiterated to his team Friday as it went through its final preparations for the Bengals.
"'VJ' showed us [Friday] morning -- I think we've been outscored [55-6] in the last five games [in the first quarter]," running back C.J. Anderson said. "We can't spot teams points. That's the emphasis we've been trying to put on this week."
An early lead would open up myriad possibilities for the Broncos on both sides of the football. On defense, it would allow their pass rush to be more involved than it has in recent weeks. On offense, it could uncork the ground game to return to the form it displayed in the first four weeks.
"Huge. [An early lead] can keep us in games so we can continue to do what we want to do with the ball offensively," Anderson said.
When Anderson met with media Wednesday, he spoke about the possibility of winning seven consecutive games. That possibility starts with one game -- and that itself starts with the first quarter.
"We understand if we get out to a great start and we continue to play that way, we can build to that seven in a row I'm talking about," he said.
Beyond surging to a fast start, what are the keys to victory?
- Protect the football and generate turnovers**
That goes hand-in-hand with a fast start, since 60 percent of the Broncos' turnovers during their five-game losing streak came in the first half, including five in the first quarters of games. A quick start would in turn create more opportunities for defensive aggression, which could create takeaways and get the Broncos back to the success equation that worked well for them in recent years.
2. Finish drives
Last week saw the offense march inside the New England 25-yard line four times, but it finished with 16 of a possible 28 points. The offense had across-the-board improvement in plenty of other areas against the Patriots; building off that to maximize its red-zone chances against the Bengals would be a tangible sign of progress.
"Everybody understands that we have to be more efficient and finish drives," Offensive Coordinator Mike McCoy said. "It changes games. It's those four-point plays."
3. Crank up the pass rush
According to ProFootballFocus.com, Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton has been sacked on a league-leading 25.3 percent of the times when he has been been pressured. He has been sacked once every 11.84 pass plays overall, which ranks 27th among 35 quarterbacks with at least 100 dropbacks so far this season.
Since 2011, when Dalton broke into the starting lineup as a rookie, the Bengals are 19-3 when he is not sacked and 40-38-2 when he is sacked at least once, including a 14-20-1 mark when he is sacked at least three times.
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