ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP) — The Denver Broncos’ dazzling defense has a fatal flaw: It keeps showing up late.
The Broncos (4-2), who host the Houston Texans (4-2) on Monday night in Brock Osweiler’s much-anticipated homecoming , have surrendered first-drive scores in all but one game so far. Even in that one, they allowed a long touchdown drive on the second series.
“Last year we gave up 18.5 points per game, and this year we are giving up 18 points per game,” defensive coordinator Wade Phillips noted. “It’s not good when you get behind early like that, so it’s something we’re obviously trying not to do.”
The Broncos have held their last two opponents — Atlanta and San Diego — well below their scoring average but lost both games. The Falcons came into Denver averaging 39.75 points and beat the Broncos 23-16 even though Matt Ryan completed just 15 passes.
The Chargers were averaging 30.4 points and beat Denver 21-13 even though they gained just 92 yards in the second half after jumping ahead 10-0 when the Broncos had taken just five snaps.
“We’re giving up the same amount of points, but you’d rather not give them up the first series of the game where it hurts your team as far as mentally getting behind,” Phillips said. “We played well after that. We’re addressing it. It still ends up the same number of points, but like I said, it’s not the way you want to do it.”
The Broncos are having a hard time pinpointing the reasons for their slow starts. But each of their opponents has pulled off a play in that initial drive that it hadn’t shown before playing Denver, like Cincinnati’s counter that resulted in a 50-yard run by Jeremy Hill.
Asked for the key to starting fast, linebacker Brandon Marshall admitted: “I have no idea, to be honest with you. I’ve been around football a long time and they say we’ve got to start fast. It starts in practice, whatever the case may be. It’s tough.
“Because you get out there and of course everybody’s juiced, everybody’s amped up. But an offense scripts the first 15 plays, so they might throw in a couple of wrinkles in that you haven’t seen. ... When you look at our offense and you look at (Broncos coach Gary) Kubiak, his first 15 plays are always excellent every week.”
The Broncos’ first drives this year haven’t gone nearly as well as their opponents’.
They fumbled away against Carolina.
They missed a field goal against Indianapolis.
They punted against Cincinnati, Atlanta and San Diego.
The only time they scored on their first drive was against Tampa Bay after Aqib Talib’s interception set up the offense at the Buccaneers 11. Siemian found Demaryius Thomas for the score on his first snap, but the Bucs promptly responded with a 13-play, 75-yard touchdown drive.
Running back C.J. Anderson said it’s incumbent upon the Broncos’ offense to start faster, too.
If Denver’s defense “gives up a long, 12-play drive, we can’t go three and out,” Anderson said. “That’s what we’ve been doing. Or we’ve been getting a first down, moving the chains once and then we go three downs and we’re out. We definitely can’t do that. If someone has a 12-play drive, we answer with a 12-play drive.”
Pass rusher DeMarcus Ware, who aims to return from a broken right forearm next weekend against San Diego, said he thinks the Broncos will get off to a faster start against the Texans based on how well he saw them practice this week. He said he saw better energy and more attention to detail from the start, something he’s counting on seeing again Monday night.