ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — The Denver Broncos believe a turnaround starts with better starts.
The Broncos have been outscored 40-7 in the first quarter, a big reason for their 2-6 record, their worst at the halfway point in more than a decade.
They returned from their bye week Tuesday intent on fixing a plethora of problems on offense, defense and in the kicking game, and chief among the potential fixes are faster starts.
Better beginnings top the team's to-do list because they would help the Broncos dictate the rhythm of games for a change, provide much-needed balance in play-calling and take some pressure off an overused defense, wide receiver Eddie Royal said.
"And just for momentum purposes," he said. "You get started early, that gives you a boost on offense and that kind of helps the defense out early and then you're kind of in the driver's seat if you're scoring early in the game."
The Broncos have been shut out in the first quarter in every game since Sept. 19.
Coach Josh McDaniels spent the break reviewing his team's multitude of issues, and apparently one area that stood out was tight end because the Broncos signed Daniel Coats, who spent his first three-plus seasons in Cincinnati. Defensive lineman LeKevin Smith was released to make room on the roster.
The Broncos got several injured players back onto the field Tuesday, including Perrish Cox, Wesley Woodyard, Kevin Vickerson and Darcel McBath on defense, and McDaniels said the break also helped quarterback Kyle Orton, who suffered bruised ribs in Denver's last game.
"He's OK. I mean, he's sore. I don't want to speak for him, but I think sore but overall fine," McDaniels said.
Two players still sidelined are cornerback Andre' Goodman (leg) and linebacker Robert Ayers, whose broken foot has forced the Broncos to abandon their 3-4 look in favor of their old 4-3 scheme.
McDaniels said he wants to get back to the 3-4, and Vickerson's health — he's had a nagging groin injury — should help while the Broncos await Ayers' return.
"We got more healthy during the bye week but Robert is still going to be a little bit of a question here. But we're going to see what works best with our personnel," McDaniels said. "I don't want to sit here and say we're going to only play this or that at this point. We're going to try to go ahead and do what we feel like we have to do.
"Vickerson's health is another issue there, too. We're going to practice both because we have to, I think, understanding that we'd love to be back into that 3-4 mold as much as we could."
McDaniels' offensive line has been a turnstile all season and he gave no indication that was about to change. His latest starting unit includes tackles Ryan Clady and rookie Zane Beadles, guards Russ Hochstein and Chris Kuper and rookie J.D. Walton at center.
The Broncos have been unable to generate any ground game or protect the quarterback, so McDaniels demurred when asked if he'd be sticking with the same five guys up front.
"There's some moving parts, I think," he replied.
So, that's a no?
"Uh, we're going to see," he said. "You know, we're going to see how it goes. We certainly can fix some things. That isn't putting the onus on one player or another. I just think we're trying to find the most productive group that we can and that's happening at a lot of different places on our football team. So, we're going to see how that pans out this week."
McDaniels said he and his staff spent the bye week reviewing not only their own tendencies but scouting film of other teams who are playing better. He didn't say if that included the Cleveland Browns, whose running back, Broncos castoff Peyton Hillis, has rushed for 644 yards, more than the entire Broncos team.
But it certainly included the Kansas City Chiefs, who visit Invesco Field this weekend. The Chiefs (5-3) own the NFL's top rushing attack, one that's anchored by former Broncos center Casey Wiegmann.
McDaniels said, "We feel like we can improve in every phase. We have to."
But he's making several minor changes as opposed to any big ones.
"You're not going to see a dramatic change in what we try to do or how we're playing or the scheme that we're using. But there's some small things that certainly we're hoping to get some results from," he said.Comment on this story
McDaniels has said since training camp that his offensive line might not mesh until midseason, but that unit remains a work in progress. One plus, however, is the health of running back Knowshon Moreno, who seems to be hitting his stride after tearing both hamstrings over the past three months.
The Broncos have only played one division opponent, Oakland, which handed them one of the worst home losses in their history, a 59-14 shellacking two weeks ago. So, they view Sunday's game against the AFC West-leading Chiefs as a welcome matchup to kick off the second half of the season.
"We can come back and start with a statement," Vickerson said. "And we either make a statement or our season keeps going how it was going."