ENGLEWOOD — Despite all the offseason emphasis placed on red-zone performance, the Denver Broncos saw their problems inside the opponent’s 20-yard line rear their nasty heads again in Sunday’s 34-10 loss at Miami.
Almost as if he were asking for help, affable running back Mike Anderson requested patience when the issue arose Monday.
“Don’t beat us up too bad about that,” Anderson said. “We’re going to correct that. ... We’ve been working on it, we ain’t just around here talking about it. We’ve truly been working on it. We’re going to continue to work on it.”
Last year Denver scored touchdowns on 49 percent of its trips inside the red zone. That figure was down from 55.4 percent in 2003 and 57.6 in 2002.
Not that anything went very well offensively Sunday. The Broncos mustered all of 312 total yards and were 1-for-12 converting third downs. A year ago, the Broncos finished fifth in the league with 395.8 yards per game.
Still, a touchdown and a field goal on four trips into the red zone made it appear that for all the attention the Broncos devoted to that area, nothing has improved. In fact, it might even be worse.
So what went wrong?
“I don’t know,” receiver Charlie Adams said. “It was a lot of things. We couldn’t run the ball that well down there, and there were a lot of plays we didn’t make up and down the offense, as a team, and down in the red zone everything tightens up and the defense is more focused than anything else.”
Offensive lineman George Foster put it more bluntly.
“We just didn’t execute,” he said. “Everybody has a job, no matter who they are. They just have to execute. Everybody is capable. We’re professional football players. Execution is the bottom line.”
Receiver Ashley Lelie echoed Foster.
“We just didn’t execute, it’s as simple as that,” he said. “It’s not really anything they did or didn’t do. I dropped a ball. It’s just a combination of things. Not making plays when we need to make them.”
Head coach Mike Shanahan said that in all of his years as a head coach and a coordinator in the NFL, he had never seen an offense put as much pressure on the defense as Denver’s did in Sunday’s game. Shanahan wasn’t exactly preoccupied on Denver’s red-zone failures when everything went so bad. On the goal line, Shanahan said the Dolphins executed better.
And other than saying Lelie must catch the ball that went through his hands in the end zone, Shanahan declined to dissect specific scenarios. He simply said the Broncos had a couple of opportunities that they didn’t convert.
But he knows they had better improve soon.
“You can always talk about different plays, but when they’re in that position, Ashley has been very consistent for us, throughout the preseason,” the coach said. “He had a great camp. He knows those are plays we expect him to make.
“You go on the road, you have to make those plays. We had an excellent chance to be up 14-6 in that first half playing as bad as we did offensively. You have to do that on the road. If you don’t, it comes back to haunt you.”
Aside from the Dolphins’ superior execution, losing Mike Anderson to a rib injury in the first half and South Florida’s unrelenting heat hampered Denver’s efforts.
Fullback Kyle Johnson, who scored Denver’s touchdown on a two-yard pass from Jake Plummer in the fourth quarter, said those aren’t suitable excuses.
“Obviously you never want to lose a guy like Mike and that’s going to not be beneficial to your team, your ball club,” he said. “But Tatum (Bell) came in and did a good job.”
Indeed, the Broncos sported a stiff upper lip when asked about their red-zone struggles, and even Shanahan coined the classic “let’s go back to the drawing board” when pressed for a solution. One game does not deem an offseason’s emphasis a failure. But the Broncos are eager to see results.
“More reps,” Anderson said, when asked how they could improve. “Like I said, we’re going to keep working at it. It’s about execution. Everybody doing their job to a T. It happens so fast, lot of bodies down there, and it comes down to every guy doing his job and executing it to his fullest.”