ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- The Denver Broncos say they like their scheme on offense. They say they like their personnel on offense. And they say they like their potential to blend the two.
Yet in the last three games the Broncos have been largely unable to construct touchdown drives. They are 1-2 in those three games and have turned 11 trips inside their opponents' 20-yard line into just two touchdowns.
"It's pathetic right now," said Broncos running back C.J. Anderson after the team's 23-10 loss to the New York Giants on Sunday night. "We're just not executing. Myself, us playmakers, we're not making plays. It's on us. ... We're relying on the defense to make a play and that's just terrible. It's terrible football and we're not helping our team that way."
The numbers overall should raise plenty of eyebrows. The Broncos (3-2) rank 27th in the league in red zone efficiency -- trips inside the 20 that turn into touchdowns – and that includes a 4-of-4 mark in red zone trips in their Week 2 win over the Dallas Cowboys.
Since that win, the Broncos have struggled mightily, both in the big picture and when they get the ball inside the 20.
In their loss to the Buffalo Bills, the Broncos had just one touchdown in 11 possessions when they ran at least one play; they had another possession at the end the first half when they received a kickoff and the clock ran out (so no play was run). That total included a 1-of-3 performance in the red zone.
In the win over Oakland, the Broncos had one touchdown in 12 possessions when they ran a play and were 0-of-4 in red zone trips. And in Sunday night's loss to the previously winless Giants, the Broncos had one touchdown in 13 possessions, including a one-play possession to end the game, and were 1-of-4 in the red zone.
"Critical errors again," said Broncos coach Vance Joseph.
In the first quarter Sunday, they didn't convert a third down from the Giants' 16-yard line, and that drive ended in a missed field goal. In the second quarter, after a 40-yard completion from QB Trevor Siemian to receiver Demaryius Thomas moved the ball to the Giants' 10-yard line, Siemian threw three incompletions on a drive that ended with a field goal.
In the fourth quarter, the Broncos had a first-and-goal from the 8-yard line but failed to score. Joseph elected to go for the touchdown on fourth-and-goal from the 1-yard line, but officials ruled Anderson did not get the ball across the goal line and the call was upheld upon replay review.
"I definitely saw myself put the ball over the plane," Anderson said. "I reached and I saw it, but I've got to make it clear, so that's on me. I'll do something this week to get better at that."
The Broncos' touchdown in the red zone came in the game's closing minutes -- a 13-yard pass from Siemian to tight end Jeff Heuerman. Joseph was asked about Siemian's role in the struggles Monday.
"It falls on the coaches and the players, not just Trevor, but everyone," Joseph said. "When you have mistakes or negative plays on offense, it usually falls on two or three people, not just the quarterback. But he's the quarterback, and at the end of the day it definitely falls on his shoulders; he's the quarterback. And Mike [McCoy] is the [offensive] coordinator and I'm the head coach, so it definitely falls on those individuals first."
For the most part, red zone success is rooted in players winning one-on-one battles because there isn't enough football real estate available to do much with the scheme, beyond utilizing pick plays to free a receiver or two. But in the end, runners have to break tackles, receivers have to snatch the ball away from defenders, blockers have to carve out room, and the quarterback has to make throws.
Not much of that is happening for the Broncos, and toss in some penalties to go with the missed assignments and the recipe for the Broncos' dilemma is in place. And it may be even more difficult if wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders, who was on crutches Monday with a right ankle injury, misses a significant amount of time.
"But it's everyone," Joseph said. "We've got to coach better and play better in all three phases."