Steven Senne/Associated Press file photo
Steven Senne/Associated Press file photo
ENGLEWOOD – It’s the same drill in almost every football game: The ball hits the ground, players follow. Fingers get pried, eyes gouged, sometimes worse. Eventually, a referee dives into the pile trying to figure out who’s at the bottom with his arms around the ball.
So far in 2012, that player almost certainly is not a member of the Denver Broncos.
Over their first five games, the Broncos have scrapped for 13 fumbles – seven by their own offense, six when the defense is on the field. Of those 13, the Broncos have recovered two.
“It’s correctable,” coach John Fox said of the Broncos’ growing turnover problem. “But you’ve got to get it corrected.”
Fox said they’ll put more focus on that starting Thursday, when they return to practice to get ready for next Monday’s game at San Diego.
Part of Denver’s turnover problem is luck, part of it is not being at the right place at the right time. Once, they lost the ball on one of those desperate, multilateral plays with no time left. At least once, a Bronco – offensive lineman Orlando Franklin – actually had his arms around the football, but replacement refs awarded it to the other team.
Whatever the reason, the Broncos rank 28th in the league in the plus-minus category for turnovers, which explains why a prolific offense – Peyton Manning has thrown for 1,507 yards – hasn’t been even more productive during a 2-3 start.
Three of the offense’s lost fumbles have come inside the opponent’s 17-yard line. The Broncos’ 10 turnovers only have resulted in 20 points for their opponents, but that doesn’t count the points the Broncos have squandered by not scoring on these drives.
Two of those turnovers from point-blank range belong to receiver Demaryius Thomas in the last two games. Another came from running back Willis McGahee, whose fourth-quarter fumble at the New England 11 snuffed out Denver’s comeback hopes.
“He just made a good play,” McGahee said of the New England defender, Rob Ninkovich, who stripped the ball. “I had it high and tight, but still, you’ve got to do better than that. I think that changed the game, and I take full credit for that.”
Odds say the numbers have to get better for Denver.
The Broncos’ offense has fumbled seven times this season and lost all of them – 100 percent. The other 31 offenses have combined for 199 fumbles but recovered 100 of them – 50.2 percent.
“Sometimes, you’re going to get unlucky,” said tight end Jacob Tamme, who has become one of Manning’s favorite targets, handling the ball 21 times without a fumble. “Sometimes, guys make a great play and get their hand right there on it. So, hopefully, we’ll continue to put an emphasis on it. As an offense, we work on it hard. We’ll get a couple of those bounces, too.”
Also looking for bounces? The Broncos’ defense. It has two fumble recoveries and two interceptions.
The most significant of those belongs to cornerback Tracy Porter, who sealed Denver’s opening-day win against Pittsburgh with a 43-yard interception return for a touchdown.
Porter was on the New Orleans Super Bowl title team in 2009 that finished the season creating 39 turnovers, second in the league. He returned Manning’s interception 74 yards to seal the Saints’ Super Bowl win over Indianapolis.
To him, the goal is simple: Get more people around the ball.
“It’s a population thing,” Porter said. “You have more guys on the opposing team around the ball, and population creates turnovers. It’s something I’ve been taught, playing in New Orleans, and it helped us during our Super Bowl run. You get a lot of guys around the ball, the ball’s going to come loose, the ball’s going to get tipped. A lot of good things can happen.
“So starting in practice Thursday, we’ve got to emphasize getting people around the ball.”
The Broncos always practice that, of course. But in their postgame meetings Tuesday, after a game in which they lost three turnovers and got none, it was reemphasized on both sides of the ball.
“It’s something I can promise you will get better, and it will get addressed,” Fox said. “In time, hopefully, we get it.”
Running back Lance Ball, who has touched the ball 20 times without dropping it, said “ball security” – as the coaches like to call it – is one of those important things that boils down to a very simple thought.
“You can talk technique,” Ball said. “But it’s just holding on for your life. That’s all there is to it.”