What the Denver Broncos need to fix if they want to end their playoff drought

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ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- The Denver Broncos have stumbled into their bye week, coming off one of the uglier losses of their season, 30-13 to the Philadelphia Eagles. They have a growing list of injuries and some COVID-19 concerns as well.

Yet at 5-5, their wildly inconsistent season still has them in a wildly inconsistent AFC West race. When they return from their Week 11 hiatus they will have seven games to try and end their current five-year playoff drought, five of those games against AFC West opponents.

"We still have a lot of ball left," said safety Justin Simmons. "... There's no excuses. We have to close this season out the right way."

"Ultimately, we've got ... [to] fix what's fixable from a learning standpoint, and move forward," Broncos coach Vic Fangio said. "... We have seven big games left, and we need to take each one of them as its own entity."

Ah, the "fixable" list. It starts with getting healthier, which could happen after the bye with a little more rest for players like tackle Garett Bolles and linebacker Bradley Chubb, but the notion that a busload of healthy reinforcements is on the way is misplaced.

A lot depends on sticking with what they do well on offense. Once again -- for those in back -- in their five wins the Broncos have been in three-wide receiver groupings (penalty snaps included) 22 more times TOTAL than personnel groupings with two or more tight ends. In two of the wins, the split was exactly 50-50. In the five losses, including Sunday's to the Eagles, they have used three-wide sets 157 more times than multiple tight end sets.

Also in the five wins, quarterback Teddy Bridgewater was in the shotgun 12 more times TOTAL than under center. The Broncos top three rushing games of the season are among those five games and they've also had four of their five longest pass plays in those five games. In the five losses the Broncos have been in the shotgun 149 more times than under center -- penalty snaps included.

And their quarterbacks have been sacked 23 times in the shotgun, 17 of those when in three-wide, as compared to seven sacks allowed when the quarterback starts the play under center.

Asked in the days leading up to the win in Dallas about the success the team has had when the quarterback is under center more, with a close to 50-50 split between three-wide sets and multiple tight end formations, offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur said:

"I don't know. We've done both ... I think it's important that you're under center and in the gun and try to maintain some balance in all those settings. ... I think it depends on the game and it depends on what you're trying to do with the defense. The big thing is whether you're under center or in the gun, there's some balance to what you're doing. That's the key to it."

On top of their formation issues, Fangio said Monday the Broncos struggles in the red zone will need some specific attention as well. The Broncos were 1-of-11 on third down against the Eagles and on five trips inside the Eagles' 25-yard line Sunday, came away with just one touchdown.

The Broncos are now 31st in the league in goal-to-go situations as well and 29th overall in touchdown percentage in the red zone.

"We've got to try to fix all of our correctable errors, and we've got to do a better job of coaching these guys," Fangio said. "We've got to do a better job of calling the game, me defensively, Pat [Shurmur] and [quarterbacks coach] Mike [Shula] offensively. We all have to be better."