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oubronco
12-22-2009, 07:07 AM
Red zone turns to dread zone
Jeff Legwold
The Denver Post
Posted: 12/22/2009 01:00:00 AM MST


Editor's note: NFL reporter Jeff Legwold analyzes the Broncos' 20-19 loss to the Raiders and looks ahead.

There has been a coach or two in the NFL, including the Titans' Jeff Fisher, who has tossed aside the usual label of "red zone" for an offense's trips inside an opponent's 20-yard line.

Instead they have used "green zone," in large part because they wanted everybody thinking more about going than stopping.

But whatever the name, it has been a big red light for the Broncos. And as their 6-0 start has disappeared in a 2-6 limp down the stretch, they have watched more than a few scoring chances evaporate.

"I had a couple plays I didn't come up with. . . . We've just missed on some things," tight end Tony Scheffler said. "We have a great kicker in Matt Prater, but we can't ask him to score all the points."

Sunday, in what turned into a spirit-crushing, one-point loss to the Raiders, the Broncos made four trips inside Oakland's 20-yard line and came away with one touchdown.

On their lone touchdown drive, they gained 19 yards for the score once inside the red zone. On the other three trips inside the 20, they gained 8 yards, lost 3 yards and lost 1 yard as Prater finished off those drives with field goals.

NFL teams have to win one-on-one battles up front and out wide. Backs have to break tackles, receivers have to make tough catches in traffic, and blockers have to beat the guy in front of them.

And coaches have to get their players in the most favorable matchups possible. The Broncos (8-6) aren't winning enough of those on all fronts.

They have two receivers in the top-tier rotation Eddie Royal and Jabar Gaffney who don't have a touchdown catch. Correll Buckhalter, who missed Sunday's game because of an ankle injury, hasn't rushed for a touchdown since September. Knowshon Mo-reno has five touchdowns, but just one in Denver's six losses.

Several personnel executives in the league say the Broncos are losing at the line of scrimmage and appear to be trying to finesse it while in the scoring zone. Sunday they arrived at Oakland's 17-yard line and ran once compared with three dropbacks for pass plays a penalty, a sack and a catch by Royal for minus-3 yards.

On a first-and-goal situation from the Raiders' 2 during the fourth quarter, they attempted two passes, both incomplete.

In their six losses, the Broncos have scored five total touchdowns from inside the opponent's 20-yard line.

Jeff Legwold: 303-954-2359 or jlegwold@denverpost.com

Key matchup
The smallest guy on the field Sunday in Philly will likely be the Broncos' biggest headache.

DeSean Jackson, right, all 175 pounds of him, had some NFL scouts worried in the weeks before the 2008 draft that his body would not hold up in the league, that the explosiveness he showed while starring at California would be muted in the more physical pro game.

Uh, no.

The Broncos have matched veteran cornerback Champ Bailey against the opposition's best this season. Jackson, because of his quickness on the outside and in the slot, may be Bailey's most difficult assignment yet if the Broncos choose to put him on the Eagles' young playmaker.

Jackson is difficult to jam because he has such quick feet. He's quick in and out of cuts and can catch the out-of-frame pass with top-shelf body control.

If the Broncos don't match Bailey on him, they had better have plenty of help ready. Jackson has 18 plays on offense this season two runs and 16 receptions of at least 20 yards.

And when Jackson has scored this season, it has been from long distance and it has been game-changing production. On his 11 touchdowns this year eight receiving, one rushing and two on punt returns the scoring plays have averaged an eye-popping 57.5 yards.



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