Broncos must find offensive progress in final five weeks

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- The ingredients for a miserable afternoon in Western New York were all there for the Denver Broncos: A biting wind, an opponent with a top-five defense, and three banged-up offensive linemen protecting a quarterback in Brandon Allen making just his third career start.

Toss in a frenzied stadium, and the Broncos cooked up another day of offensive woe, all part of a 20-3 loss to the Buffalo Bills that left Denver at 3-8 on the season.

It means the Broncos, who struggled to control the line of scrimmage for much of day and couldn't find a way to get the ball to Courtland Sutton, have now scored 16 or fewer points six times this season. That makes 13 times in the last 27 games -- or 48 percent of the time.

That's the résumé of an offense that has started six different quarterbacks, had three different offensive coordinators and two different head coaches since the start of the 2017 season.

After a season-low 134 total yards on Sunday, the question becomes: What steps can the Broncos take to make some progress on offense in the final five weeks of the season?

Two words: In neutral. Allen got rocked early, taking a huge hit on a completion to Andrew Beck in the first quarter when his head slammed to the turf. He never seemed to get his balance back afterward.

The Bills' pressure up front was effective as was the work of cornerback Tre'Davious White, who kept the ball out of Sutton's hands. The combination of an unsettled quarterback who was hit plenty, often as soon as he reached the top of his dropbacks, to go with one catch for the team's leading receiver was something the Broncos are not equipped to overcome.

Troubling trend: During their improbable comeback last week, when they scored 27 points in the second half, the Minnesota Vikings went almost exclusively to a no-huddle look. The Bills took the same route against the Broncos' defense.

Until Buffalo finally huddled on a fourth-and-4 play early in the fourth quarter, the Bills had simply stayed in an up-tempo look. It kept the Broncos in their nickel defense (five defensive backs), trying to defend a Bills' rushing attack that pounded out 144 yards in the first half -- 51 of those from quarterback Josh Allen. The Bills finished with 244 rushing yards.

With the Chargers, Texans and Chiefs over the next three weeks, the Broncos can likely expect a lot more of the same, especially with another injury at cornerback as Duke Dawson left Sunday's game with a concussion.

Biggest hole in game plan: Take your pick on either side of the ball, but when the Broncos are lining up Diontae Spencer and DaeSean Hamilton with Sutton in the three-wide set, they're in trouble. The Bills, as any defense the Broncos face in the coming weeks will, were more than happy to load up the coverage Sutton's way and take their chances with everyone else.

Tim Patrick did not practice Wednesday and was limited Thursday as well as Friday due to a shoulder injury. He didn't look 100 percent against the Bills. Without Patrick taking some of the heat off Sutton, and with the line unable to consistently keep the rush off Allen, nobody else made enough impact.

QB breakdown: There is a segment among the Broncos' faithful that simply believes rookie quarterback Drew Lock should simply be tossed into the pool after all of seven full regular-season practices. In reality, if Sunday is how the Broncos are going to play the rest of the way, there's probably no way to stop the Lock train now, but Allen's day of misery should give them pause. The Broncos didn't protect well -- Allen was either hit or forced off the spot right at the top of the dropback far too often -- and an inexperienced quarterback behind shaky protection means pain and suffering.

If the Broncos can't protect on five- or seven-step drops, or get a little more done in the play-action game, every guy behind center will suffer the same fate as Allen did Sunday.