Fewer pre-snap penalties mean Sean Payton is making an impact

Oct 23, 2023, 10:07 PM | Updated: Oct 24, 2023, 8:41 am

Tangible evidence of progress is essential if Sean Payton is to succeed with the Broncos. And while the win-loss ledger is the primary force, there are other ways that perhaps better show the growth the team needs.

Such as on pre-snap penalties — particularly false starts. They were a problem early in the season. They’re not anymore.


False-start penalties over the last three weeks by the Broncos — after the team committed five such infractions during the Week 4 win at Chicago. Mike McGlinchey’s false-start during Sunday’s 19-17 win over the Packers is the only one for the Broncos in the last three games.

The practice work paid dividends.

“That fine line between being good or not being good is important to study,” Payton said.

He noted a pair of teams — the 2014 Carolina Panthers and 2022 Detroit Lions — as teams that he cited to his teams as those whose growth helped ensure in-season turnarounds. That Carolina team capitalized off of a weak NFC South to sneak into the playoffs at 7-8-1, then won a wild-card game and went to Super Bowl 50 the following year. The ‘22 Lions surged from 1-6 to 9-8, missing the postseason on a tiebreaker; they’re 5-2 now, giving them an overall mark of 13-4 over their last 17 games.

So, what’s next?

Turnover margin.

“That’s where ours has to start,” Sean Payton said. “We were good [Sunday] with no giveaways, and we had the takeaway late in the game. The other stuff you can do really well, and yet if you give it away—we can come in and look at the red zone and third down stat lines.

“We can look at a lot of things that are positive, but if you give it away, it’s the one thing that can trump everything. Hopefully that can have the same type of effect as the pre-snap stuff when we preach these things, relative to what wins and loses.”

Indeed, the Broncos are 2-1 when they have a positive turnover margin this year — and 0-4 when they don’t.


Touchdown receptions by Courtland Sutton through seven games so far this season.

Not only is this tally one more than Sutton’s combined touchdown total of the previous three seasons — in which he played 33 games — but it is the highest touchdown-catch total for any Broncos receiver through seven games since 2014, when Julius Thomas had 9 touchdown receptions and the late Demaryius Thomas had 6.

With just one more touchdown reception, Sutton will match his career single-season high.


Times in the last five seasons in which the Broncos started a season 2-5. They opened with that mark through seven games in 2022 and 2019 as well — both of which were the first seasons for then-new head coaches Nathaniel Hackett and Vic Fangio.

It’s the 12th time in Broncos history that they’ve opened with a record of 2-5 or worse. Only once in the previous 11 did they rally to make the postseason — in 2011, when they turned a 2-5 start into an 8-8 finish, winning the AFC West in the process.


Three Numbers


Andrew Mason

The Broncos have a third-down problem

The Broncos couldn't sustain drives in Houston, and that was because the team had its worst single-game third-down performance in 28 years..

3 days ago

Wil Lutz...

Andrew Mason

Wil Lutz has made himself indispensable to the Broncos

The field goals of Wil Lutz account for nearly 45 percent of the Broncos' points in the last three weeks -- and that is rare.

6 days ago

Denver Broncos...

Andrew Mason

Is the turnover touch of the Denver Broncos sustainable?

For the Denver Broncos, their turnover trend isn't likely to sustain -- but historically such a run has been enough to ensure the playoffs.

11 days ago


Andrew Mason

Broncos must snap historic rushing-TD drought to counter Browns defense

The Broncos must run the football to win against a dangerous Browns defense. But they don't have a rushing TD since Week 2.

13 days ago

Sean Payton...

Andrew Mason

Sean Payton is not happy — even with a four-game winning streak

Sean Payton wasn't celebrating as his week began, even after a 21-20 win against Minnesota, because the game tape was "not really good."

18 days ago

Marvin Mims...

Andrew Mason

Marvin Mims Jr.: An ideal blend of speed, quickness — and patience

Marvin Mims Jr. is off to an explosive start on returns, but he's also focused on improving as a wide receiver.

19 days ago

Fewer pre-snap penalties mean Sean Payton is making an impact