ENGLEWOOD — The statistics assault the common senses.
The Broncos average 14.7 points per game. Their 13 total touchdowns matches the same number as Lions running back Jamaal Williams. They have one score from a receiver in a road game this season and none at home.
Russell Wilson has the same number of touchdown passes (seven) as Peyton Manning delivered in the 2013 season opener.
It stings. The inability to reach the end zone creates pain that was only reinforced when watching Thursday's tripleheader pinball fest.
For everything that has gone wrong, there is hope that the Broncos can win Sunday in Charlotte. Not should win. But can. The Panthers are almost as inept offensively and quarterback Sam Darnold will be making his season debut. My Denver7 keys to a Broncos victory:
Time to go with the Blues Traveler philosophy and give the Panthers the "Run-Around." No longer do coach Nathaniel Hackett and play-caller Klint Kubiak have to force Melvin Gordon into the mix. He was good in pass protection, but needed a fresh start after his ninth lost fumble in 2 1/2 seasons. Latavius Murray will start with Marlon Mack as his backup. The Panthers defense features a leaky run defense, yielding 137 yards per game (27th overall). The Broncos average 102 yards, ranking 25th. Denver's season-high is 149 vs. the Texans. That should be the goal with Murray posting his first 100-yard game since the Ravens' season finale last season.
Russell Wilson is getting more pieces to help him rebound: the wristband, reaching the line of scrimmage earlier, more balance in play-calling. Wilson needs to be comfortable to succeed. He is not the player he once was. Figuring out who he is at season's end is critical. As of now, it appears the Broncos could use as many as six new starters offensively next season, including three offensive linemen and a play-making receiver. Keep the quick strikes and slants in the game plan. Those worked in the first half vs. the Raiders. And Wilson has to keep his eyes up longer when pressure arrives. He's too quick to bail on the play, and doesn't have the elusiveness to scramble for double digit yards consistently anymore.
Turn it over
Sam Darnold is athletic and mobile, but mistake prone. He has 73 turnovers in 50 career games, including 52 interceptions. Anything less than two turnovers on Sunday in his season debut would be a disappointment for the Broncos defense. Ideally, the Broncos produce a takeaway in the fourth quarter to close it out, something they have been unable to do in multiple games this season.
The Broncos boast a 3-7 record, having lost six of their last seven games. The Broncos are surprisingly favored by one point. But Denver has not won a road game in the states since Nov. 7 at Dallas, a remarkable 30-16 upset that represented the zenith of Vic Fangio's three-year tenure. Over their last eight road games, the Broncos own a 1-7 record, their lone victory in London. Technically, the Broncos were the visiting team against Jacksonville, though those in attendance will testify to the Orange and Blue partisanship nature of fans. As of now, buy-in remains. The Broncos are in close games showing they have not checked out. Taking pride in finishing strong, and winning on the road and in the AFC West, would show that.
Make a Play
Watching Red Zone replays, it's obvious the Broncos lack playmakers. They don't have a No. 1 receiver. But that doesn't mean one player can't do something that turns the game. Is that a sack by Baron Browning, a 50-50 win by Courtland Sutton, a gash strike from Greg Dulcich? It is necessary to swing the outcome or at least create some margin for error.
Kicking the habit
The Broncos' special teams lack talent. We know this because every time the coordinator changes — from Brock Olivo to Tom McMahon to Dwayne Stukes — the results do not. However, it goes deeper than that. Brandon McManus ranks 23rd in field goal percentage (79.2), punter Corliss Waitman is 22nd in gross punting average, and the Broncos sit dead last in kickoff return average. There have been no consequences for these slumps, so all that can be hoped for apparently is improvement. Winning in the margins is key to winning close games.
Ground and pound
The Broncos defense has a clear weakness — stopping the run. Denver has slid to 15th in the rankings, allowing 115.3 yards per game. Carolina would like to feed the Broncos a steady diet of D'Onta Foreman. He has three 100-yard games this season, but the Ravens and Bengals clamped him down recently. The Broncos need to follow this blueprint, forcing Darnold to beat them through the air.
RENCK PREDICTION: Broncos 17, Panthers 16