As good as the Broncos have looked in their past two games, slow starts remain a bugaboo. In seven games, Denver has 22 first-quarter points and has gone scoreless in the first quarter in four different games. In their three losses, the Broncos have been outscored in the first quarter by a combined score of 24-5.
Building a lead is key for Jack Del Rio’s defense, allowing his edge rushers to pin their ears back, and we have seen how effective that can be in Denver’s last two wins, when opposing QBs Philip Rivers and Drew Brees couldn’t muster up a comeback.
John Fox has been asked often about the slow starts, and he was pleased with the start to their Week Eight win over the Saints, telling reporters, “We started a little faster than we have to date.” We hear the first-quarter play is a slight concern internally, but that Denver is not as concerned about it relative to the offense — special-teams blunders did contribute to the early deficit in San Diego. With an easy second-half schedule, expectations in Denver are that the Broncos will get off to faster starts, and it will no longer be an Achilles heel, because the numbers tell a story of a team that needs time to get into a rhythm.
Peyton Manning is having a sensational season, but his first-quarter stats — albeit skewed by the three first-quarter picks he threw against Atlanta in Week Two — are a far cry from the rest of his numbers. He has thrown four touchdowns in the first half this season and 13 in the second half. Some have said that Manning has needed time to warm up, and while one daily team observer downplayed that notion, Manning has clearly been better in second halves. Manning does not have an interception after halftime, and his yards per attempt are over two yards more in the third quarter than in the first.
Denver has been relying on the run early — Willis McGahee has 40 first-quarter carries for a 4.1-yards-per-carry average. That’s the most carries he has among the quarters, and his lowest rushing average.
The Broncos aim to get into a groove earlier in games, considering they won’t be able to afford slow starts in potential playoff rematches with two teams that built early leads on Denver and didn’t look back, the Texans and Patriots.