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With strong defense, Broncos believe in potential once offense finds stride

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — The Broncos have work to do.

After a pair of losses, Denver has fallen to 2-3 and sits below .500 for the first time since the wake of Week 1.

Yet while their record must soon improve if the Broncos hope to reach the postseason, Denver is not without hope.

The Broncos' defense ranks third in total defense and is tied for fourth in scoring defense. Through five games, Denver boasts the league's best red-zone defense and ranks fourth in sack rate.

Defensive Coordinator Ejiro Evero's unit has performed at an elite level — and it has provided hope that the Broncos can click quickly if the offense finds its stride.

"Let's face it: The offense has had too many negative plays," Head Coach Nathaniel Hackett said Tuesday. "Just too many things that have put us in rough positions. We're very efficient. We looked at everything over this past weekend. You look at where we rank in third down, where we're in that third-and-short. We are actually very, very good. We just put ourselves in those long down-and-distances. It puts the defense at a disadvantage. So the defense is playing very, very good. The special teams are doing some good things. So for the offense, we just have to put those basic things together and not have those things that are self-inflicted. Once we do that, I think it's going to be a good football team."

There are signs, too, that the Broncos' offense is better than its scoring average suggests. Denver ranks in the top 10 in big plays through Week 5, and the unit remains second in the NFL in passing plays of at least 20 yards.

Denver, though, must find a way to improve in the red zone, where the team ranks last in the league in touchdown percentage. Through five weeks, the Broncos have scored touchdowns on just 21.4 percent of their red-zone trips.

As Hackett alluded to, the Broncos' issues are not in finding offensive success. They have come, instead, from negative plays that have derailed the positive gains.

"I think that's kind of been one of our nemeses," Hackett said. "We've been really good in some explosive passes down the field. I think we're pretty high up there in the league, and we have some really good explosives. We're really feast or famine, and it's in the red zone and it's in the middle of the field. The amount of get-back-on-track [plays] we have is just too difficult. We need to be way more efficient on first down, getting positive yards and even just incompletions instead of sacks or penalties. So I think those are the things we're focusing on, trying to narrow down the things we want to be great at and then continually developing those."

At 2-3, the Broncos' season is far from over. Denver is one game back of a cluster of three 3-2 teams that currently hold the AFC wild-card spots. The Broncos play two of those three teams — the Chargers and Jets — over the next two weeks. In the final game before their bye, the Broncos will take on the 2-3 Jaguars, who currently sit one slot above Denver in the AFC playoff race.

Simply put, the Broncos are far from out of the AFC playoff race — but they know they must find a way to complement an impressive defense.

"I mean, the defense is playing extraordinary," guard Dalton Risner said. "The defense has done a heck of a job this season. … I think it's pretty evident that the offense hasn't met the standards that we need to.

"… We know that there is a lot of urgency around here to get our offense going. We know that if we get our offense going, and if we can complement our defense with the way that they're playing, we can be a special team. There is no secret remedy to that, the remedy to that is to continue to focus, lean on each other, come together, make sure we're finishing in the red zone and blocking out all of the noise. We play this game for a reason. It's because we love this game, and it's because we're good at this game. We just have to make sure that we go out there and get this thing rolling.

"There is no time to say, 'Oh, we're going to get there at some point.' We have to do it now. That's our mindset."

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