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Denver Broncos out to fix Jekyll & Hyde offense they've had in season's early going

Watch A Few More Minutes with Broncos Linebacker Jonathan Cooper
Watch A Few More Minutes with Broncos Linebacker Jonathan Cooper 05:06

Russell Wilson figures there's a simple solution to the Denver Broncos' Jekyll & Hyde offense that has contributed to an 0-2 start under new coach Sean Payton.

Las Vegas Raiders v Denver Broncos
Head coach Sean Payton of the Denver Broncos reacts to a call during the third quarter against the Las Vegas Raiders at Empower Field At Mile High on September 10, 2023 in Denver, Colorado. Justin Edmonds / Getty Images

"I think we just have to play cleaner in the third quarter," Wilson said Wednesday.

The Broncos' first- and second-half splits through two weeks are both perplexing and perilous for a team trying to snap a seven-year playoff drought.

In home losses to the Raiders and Commanders, the Broncos have scored a whopping 4.38 points per possession before halftime but just 1.67 points per drive afterward.

Even more night and day are Wilson's numbers: In the first half, he's completed 23 of 27 passes (85%) for 177 yards with two touchdowns, no interceptions and two sacks. In the second half, he has completed 18 of 32 passes (56%) for 308 yards with one touchdown ( a 50-yard Hail Mary on Sunday ), one interception and seven sacks.

His QB rating has plummeted from a league-high 97.0 before halftime to just 17.0 in the second half, which ranks 29th in the NFL.

Although the Broncos have blown early leads and had to go to the air in both games, the disparity in run/pass calls is noteworthy. Wilson has thrown 66 passes and handed it off just 38 times, an uncharacteristic imbalance in a Payton-designed offense.

That's a passing clip of 63% from a team that sports two 230-plus-pound running backs in Samaje Perine and Javonte Williams and a speedster in undrafted rookie Jaleel McLaughlin, who led the league with four preseason touchdowns and scored untouched from 5 yards out on his only carry Sunday.

Payton, who voiced frustration with Wilson on Sunday after the Broncos had to burn all of their timeouts by the 6:46 mark of the second quarter, said he and his staff spent Tuesday night coming up with code words to put more plays on the quarterback's wristband for their game Sunday at Miami (2-0). That way, Payton can call out a number and Wilson will relay the full play call in the huddle.

Payton said he realized he had to cut down on the verbiage so that Wilson could communicate with his teammates more efficiently: "I'm sure we were a little bit heavy relative to the length to some of the plays."

Denver's defense shares the blame for its slow start. The Broncos lead the league with 19 accepted penalties against them, and a dozen of those are defensive, including seven on third or fourth down.

The Broncos only had six drives against Las Vegas in Week 1 because their defense couldn't get off the field, and the Broncos built a 21-3 lead Sunday only to watch Washington go on a 32-3 run.

Neither Payton nor Wilson had ever blown an 18-point lead in their NFL careers.

The sputtering starts to the second half are the primary culprit.

In the opener, the Broncos led 13-10 at halftime but Wil Lutz missed a 55-yard field goal on the opening drive after halftime. He also missed his first extra-point attempt in his Denver debut.

Last week, the Broncos took a 21-14 lead into the break and began the second half with a three-and-out.

Despite the sputtering second halves, Wilson appears to be much more comfortable running Payton's high-tempo offense than he was a year ago when the Broncos also had hiccups in getting plays in quickly under Nathaniel Hackett.

"I definitely feel really clear on what we're trying to do. Coach Payton has done a great job of communicating what we're trying to do on offense," Wilson said. "I definitely feel confident and zoned in and ready to rock."

As for ironing out the kinks in communication, "we've just got to be a little quicker, that's it," Wilson added. "The faster we can go, the better."

By ARNIE STAPLETON, AP Pro Football Writer

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