For Broncos, improving pre-snap efficiency is crucial

Sep 19, 2023, 3:41 AM | Updated: 11:36 am


(Photo by Andrew Mason /

(Photo by Andrew Mason /

DENVER — It didn’t reach the threshold of fans constantly counting down the play clock. But the Broncos’ struggles with getting to the line of scrimmage in a timely manner did bog down the offense at times Sunday.

And they rankled Sean Payton.

In the first half, the Broncos burned through timeouts like a cruise ship going through toilet paper during a norovirus outbreak. A slow set of substitutions led the Broncos to use their first timeout after just six snaps; they called for the stoppage to avoid a delay-of-game penalty. And at times when the Broncos needed to move at a quicker pace late in the game, they languished.

Payton spoke about it Sunday.

So, that led to a simple query one day later: What are some methods for getting this right?

“Great question,” Payton said when the topic arose at his Monday morning conference call with local media.

The answer is layered.

“I think, number one, the first thing that we always try to look at — but we’ve gotta do a better job of it as coaches — is reduce the verbiage. And if we have longer plays, then we can easily get to a wristband,” Payton explained. “But we have to reduce the variables.”

That was a point of emphasis when the Broncos conferred Monday.

“And I just finished saying this in the team meeting: If we’re having MEs (mental errors) defensively and offensively, and we’re having trouble breaking the huddle and getting lined up, then we’ve gotta look at, ‘Do we have too much in?’ And then how do we reduce the verbiage at the line of scrimmage — or in the huddle, quite frankly. Because it goes from me to the QB, the QB to the offense, and then here we go.

”So, that’s going to improve.

“How we do it — and you bring up one of the questions — how we do it can vary. One of the methods is (to) reduce the verbiage. The other is get to the line of scrimmage spontaneously. The other is (to) wristband certain plays that are longer calls.”

Payton has spoken of how the first four weeks involves trying to get things right on the fly while still learning about the team’s capabilities — and how to overcome the weaker points. Through two games, some of the latter involves getting things right before the snap.

And that leads to the first of the three postgame numbers …


That is the number of plays on the Broncos’ penultimate drive on which the ball was snapped with 10 or fewer seconds remaining on the play clock with the game clock running.

The Broncos took possession with 7 minutes, 11 seconds remaining. And after plays when the clock continued running on the series, the play clock drained to 10 or fewer seconds four times — one of which was mandated by the officials because a late substitution ran onto the field for the Broncos.

The process accelerated as the clock dropped below four minutes and the Broncos reached the red zone. But near the two-minute warning, the team appeared to be caught flat-footed. The clock stopped on an injury to Washington defensive lineman Da’Ron Payne at the 2:22 mark. But because the previous play was an in-bounds quarterback sneak, the clock re-started after the injury stoppage. And as the clock re-started, the Broncos remained in the huddle. The Broncos got the snap with 14 seconds left on the play clock, but it broke down quickly, ending in a sack of Wilson.

Denver never recovered on that series and settled for Lutz’s field goal. But the team had to burn one of its three remaining timeouts after the third-and-goal play, because Wilson absorbed a sack in-bounds, which kept the clock ticking.

Had that play ended in an incomplete pass, Denver could have saved a timeout for the following defensive series, which would have allowed the potential game-tying drive to begin with roughly one minute and 25 seconds left, rather than the 48 seconds the Broncos had.


Points allowed by the Broncos in their last five games dating back to last Christmas. This year, to save Broncos Country from tears, they’ll need to improve that form. Because that tally — an average of 31.6 points allowed per game — is the worst for the Broncos since they surrendered 168 points in a five-game stretch of the 2017 campaign.


Different Broncos players who scored their first touchdowns in orange and blue on Sunday: Jaleel McLaughlin and Marvin Mims Jr. With two touchdowns from their rookie class, the 2023 Broncos are already halfway toward matching the touchdown tally amassed by their rookies last year, when Jalen Virgil, Brandon Johnson and Greg Dulcich combined for a quartet of scores. And after being on the receiving end of the “Hail Mary” pass on the final play from scrimmage, Johnson has already doubled his touchdown tally from last year.

If you’re looking for hope after a niagara of defeats — 18 in the last 23 games dating back to December 2021 — you can find it there.


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