Season-long issue of creating turnovers has Broncos on cusp of franchise infamy

While discussing what has separated the Broncos from contending for a playoff spot and needing a win Sunday over Las Vegas to avoid the AFC West cellar, right guard Graham Glasgow pointed to turnovers.

Presented with the Broncos’ minus-20 turnover differential, Glasgow asked: “Is that worst in the NFL?”

Yes, it is, Graham. And it’s not even close — San Francisco is next at minus-10.

The lack of takeaways and abundance of giveaways derailed the Broncos’ season. When the offense needed a fast start or a winning drive, they turned it over. When the defense needed to create a momentum swing, they could rarely produce a takeaway.

The Broncos’ 12 takeaways are tied for second-fewest in the NFL and on the cusp of a franchise record (currently 13 in 2008).

The Broncos’ 32 giveaways lead the league and opponents have turned that into 100 points; the defense has scored only 42 points off takeaways.

The last time a team led in most giveaways and worst differential was 2017 (0-16 Cleveland).

“One, we have turned it over too much and then two, we haven’t gotten it enough,” coach Vic Fangio accurately summarized. “It’s been a team problem this year and obviously we have to rectify it.”

But just as quarterback Drew Lock needs to cut down on his giveaways (18 turnovers), it is critical the defense discovers a takeaway mojo next year.

So what’s the issue? Injuries at cornerback? Not having outside linebacker Von Miller? Not enough time in the lead (27.3%)? Not enough good players?

Maybe all of the above.

Cornerback Bryce Callahan had two interceptions when a foot injury ended his season against New Orleans in Week 12. Miller hasn’t played (ankle injury), robbing Fangio of an elite pass rusher. Opponents have seven games of at least 25 rushing attempts. And yes, reinforcements are required, starting with a shut-down corner in round 1 of the draft.

The Raiders aren’t much better.

Las Vegas’ 15 takeaways are 29th in the league and it has none during its current three-game losing streak that spoiled all playoff possibilities.

“I can’t speak for everybody, but I really think the No. 1 cause for turnovers is when you attack the pocket,” coach Jon Gruden said. “You have to put the quarterback under intense pressure — a lot — to be a great turnover team.”

To use Gruden’s analysis and looking at the Broncos’ 11 defensive takeaways, only one was the direct result of quarterback pressure — defensive end DeShawn Williams’ knockdown of Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan helped lead to safety Justin Simmons’ downfield interception.

The Broncos have turned pass deflections into interceptions by Williams (at New England), Callahan (at New England) and cornerback Essang Bassey (vs. New Orleans).

“When you lose Von (Miller) … if you give quarterbacks time back there, they’re going to be pretty good,” Gruden said.

And when the cornerbacks are playing soft in coverage, worried about getting beat deep, quarterbacks are pretty, pretty good. That has been a constant point of harping for Fangio and his defensive staff this year, particularly to the young players and journeymen who they have had to lean on: Challenge the routes. Be aggressive. Don’t play scared.

“There is a careful messaging that you have to have because you’re dealing with young players — and a lot of young players you really don’t know because you didn’t see them in the offseason,” Gruden said.

The Broncos’ cornerback position has been in near-constant flux because the coaches want to see a more intense approach. The defense has only eight interceptions (tied for 27th).

“The takeaway aspect, a lot of it is effort and I don’t mean effort like getting to the ball, I just mean effort in (having a) conscious effort of attacking the football,” Simmons said.

This offseason, it will be tasked to Gruden and Fangio to foster improvement from returning players and identify the right players to acquire so the takeaway story has a better ending.

“We’ve got to do better, there’s no two ways about it,” Fangio said. “We’ve got to be able to take the ball away at a much higher rate than we have and it’s held us back.”

Takeaway Story: Historically bad

The Broncos are in the midst of one of their worst seasons in terms of takeaways and turnover differential:

Fewest takeaways

This year: 12

2008: 13

Worst turnover differential

1961: Minus-28

This year: Minus-20

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