ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- As the Denver Broncos head to south Florida this weekend in search of their first win, they are hoping to leave behind some of their issues.
The Broncos (0-2) are set to take on one of the two remaining undefeated teams in the AFC in the Miami Dolphins (2-0) on Sunday (1 p.m. ET, CBS), and coach Sean Payton knows they can't afford the turnovers, penalties, spotty play at quarterback and stumbles they have shown so far if they want to keep up with a team tied for third in scoring at 31 points per game.
Payton said Monday, a day after their letting a 21-3 lead slip away in a 35-33 loss to the Washington Commanders, that the starting point for the offense may be to decrease the verbiage in the play calls to speed things up.
“The first thing that we always try to look at -- but we have to do a better job of as coaches -- is reduce the verbiage,’’ Payton said. “If we have a longer [playcall], then we can easily get to a wristband. We have to reduce the variables. I just finished saying this in the team meeting -- if ... offensively, we’re having trouble breaking the huddle and getting lined up, then we have to look at if have too much in [the game plan].’’
Quarterback Russell Wilson was under steady pressure Sunday behind an offensive line that looked out of sorts -- as Wilson couldn’t find his rhythm and turned the ball over as the Broncos struggled with the play clock.
“There was a number of drives where we’re late with personnel [and] getting out of the huddle,’’ Payton said. “We took a while. I mean, that’s got to change. We burned timeouts in the first half that I’m not used to doing. We’ve got to be better, I’ve got to be better, Russ has got to be sharper with getting the play out.''
There were positives to takeaway Sunday, as Wilson finished with his first 300-yard passing game since the 2022 opener against his former team the Seattle Seahawks. He went 18-of-32 passing for 308 yards and had just his second game with three touchdown passes since arriving last year via trade.
But the reality is that Wilson was sacked seven times, lost a fumble that led to what Payton called a momentum-changing touchdown drive and was intercepted. The Broncos also struggled at times to keep the tempo Payton wants in the offense and had to use multiple timeouts in the game to simply avoid delay of game penalties.
“The biggest thing is making sure that we stay on schedule, making sure that I play cleaner,’’ Wilson said. “We can’t turn the ball over. … One of those things we want is to keep drives going.’’
The Dolphins not only score a lot, they pounce quickly when they see opportunity. Four of their touchdown drives have lasted 2:08 or less -- and two have gone for all of six seconds each.
Overall Payton has repeatedly said he wants Wilson to get the team out of the huddle and to the line of scrimmage with "14 or 15 seconds'' on the play clock so adjustments can be made if needed as Wilson scans the defense.
The Broncos scored touchdowns on their first three for the first time since November of 2010, but all of that momentum seemed to evaporate after Wilson’s lost fumble with just under seven minutes left in the first half.
“No. 1 key against [the Commanders] ... in every one of their games last year where they didn’t have a takeaway they lost the game,’’ Payton said.
As Payton put it, there was a momentum shift at that point, and Washington was able to capitalize on the turnover and cut the deficit to 10.
“That’s the thing we talked about,’’ Washington coach Ron Rivera said. “Basically, the whole idea was that once we got the momentum off the takeaway, that’s something that really built a little momentum for us.''
Wilson was 6-of-8 passing for 154 yards in the first half, but after the fumble, the Broncos had three punts, an interception and two field goals before Denver fell short by a missed 2-point conversion.
The Broncos’ offensive choppiness may be summed up by the fact rookies Marvin Mims Jr., who had two receptions on two targets for 113 yards to go with a touchdown, and Jaleel McLaughlin, who had his first rushing touchdown of his career in the first quarter, did not touch the ball after halftime.
On Mims’ lack of participation in the offense in the second half specifically, Payton said “some of it is coverage driven and some of it is what [package] we’re in. … Part of that is coincidence I would say. We have a number of guys we’re trying to get the ball to, and we’ll keep doing that.’’
But Payton added the pressure on Wilson and Wilson’s reaction to it will be on the list of things the Broncos have to address.
“I thought we struggled [in pass protection], and in turn, the clock in Russell’s head is going off quickly,’’ Payton said.
The Dolphins, who often put opponents in chase mode to catch them, are ninth in the in league in sacks over the first two weeks.
“We played two quarters of really bad football,’’ offensive tackle Mike McGlinchey said. “I think we weren’t operating well on offense. We didn’t get in a huddle the right way. We didn’t execute our assignments the right way. We didn’t communicate the right way. We stalled out. We turned the ball over. Then, you go into halftime and get the ball back, and then we go three and out and start drives without being able to move the chains. That’s just not acceptable. We know we have to be better there.’’