The Denver Broncos are third in the AFC in interceptions, nabbing nine from opposing quarterbacks in only seven games. With Peyton Manning delivering the passes, they’ve surrendered only three picks — tied for the lowest number in the league. But the Broncos still have a minus-2 turnover ratio on the season, a number that seems almost impossible given the two previous statistics.
But the Broncos can’t hold on to the ball.
In the Broncos’ loss last week, players fumbled four times. Repeat offender Trindon Holliday fumbled twice. One of them — a first-quarter punt return that Holliday inexplicably fielded at the Denver 7-yard-line — was avoidable, but Holliday’s overwhelming desire to take every kick to the house got the better of him. The Colts recovered at the Broncos’ 11-yard line and scored a touchdown one play later.
In the second quarter, the Broncos’ frighteningly porous offensive line allowed Manning to be clobbered by Colts defensive end Robert Mathis. Manning, who was setting up for a pass, had his arm raised, and after Mathis struck him, the Broncos’ quarterback lost the ball, which then bounced out of the end zone for an Indianapolis safety.
Backup halfback Ronnie Hillman fumbled at the Indy 3-yard-line with just under six minutes left, terminally halting the Broncos’ rousing, second-half comeback. While it’s not entirely fair to assume the Broncos would have scored a touchdown, it’s worth noting that the Broncos top the league in touchdowns within the red zone — their 3.7 per game and 79 percent rate lead all teams in the NFL by a wide margin.
So let’s call that seven. The three fumbles directly caused a 16-point swing in the Colts’ favor last Sunday night. The Colts ended up winning by only six.
The Broncos didn’t lose to the Colts nearly as badly as they beat themselves.
With 10 fumbles on the seven-game season, Denver leads the league in arguably the NFL’s most depressing category. The self-inflicted wounds have cost them one game already.
“You just keep working him at practice and probably have a lot of guys going after it, especially on defense. They know when you’re laying it on the ground; they’re going to try to help you by pulling it out in practice. And it’s got to be a (repetition) thing. And we’ve got to keep working on it. The way that we’re fumbling, it’s just unacceptable,” offensive coordinator Adam Gase said after practice at Dove Valley on Thursday.
Gase was answering a question specifically about Hillman’s problems holding onto the ball, but he could have well been speaking about the entire roster:
- Hillman’s fumbled twice this season, along with fellow running back Montee Ball. There’s the reason the two haven’t seen the field often, but Knowshon Moreno has put the ball on the ground once himself.
- Eric Decker leads all NFL receivers with a pair of fumbles, but Demaryius Thomas and Wes Welker have each coughed it up once.
- The boom-or-bust Holliday has fumbled twice this season — making it seven times in 17 regular-season games as a Bronco.
- Manning has fumbled five times — though only one, on a sloppy transfer from center Manny Ramirez against Jacksonville, could fairly be blamed on him. The remainder would be more accurately saddled onto Ramirez and an offensive line that continues to allow hits on their quarterback at an ever-increasing rate.
- Linebacker Danny Trevathan’s unforced error — dropping the ball before he reached the end zone after an interception in the season opener against the Ravens — still stands as the most boneheaded blunder of the NFL season.
“We’ve got to get this fixed and that’s been a big focus for us again this week,” Gase said. “Hopefully we can restart everything; we’ve got a fresh week to get to zero turnovers.”
Shawn Drotar is in his 20th year as a national sportswriter and editor, and his work has appeared on ESPN, CBS Sports, Fox Sports, Yahoo! Sports and in the USA Today, among others. He’s appeared on television on ESPNEWS and the Altitude Sports Network, and can currently be heard on Denver’s KKFN-FM/104.3 The Fan as a sports-talk radio host.
Follow Shawn on Twitter: @sdrotar