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Broncos on alert for recent red-zone issues

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- The good news for the Denver Broncos is kicker Connor Barth, who was signed Nov. 25, is 11-for-11 in his field goal attempts since he arrived.

That total includes two games with five made field goals, which tied a franchise record.

The not-so-great news, is Barth is 11-of-11 on his field goal attempts since he arrived. The Broncos will always take the points, but they would like some of those field-goal drives to instead close with touchdowns in the weeks to come, starting Monday night in Cincinnati.

"I think it’s just our execution in the couple games -- last week and maybe the Chiefs game -- where we had a lot of opportunities to get down there," said quarterback Peyton Manning. "It just hasn’t been probably as good as we needed it to be. We had some chances against San Diego on a couple plays that we didn’t score. Just a slight detail there that we didn’t execute to the fullest that probably kept us from scoring a touchdown ... Got to be on the details."

The Broncos are in the middle of a four-game winning streak. They are 11-3 and will face the Bengals still in the mix for home-field advantage in the AFC during the postseason if things fall right.

But during the win steak, an offense that has routinely rung up touchdowns at a historical pace since Manning signed with the team in 2012 has had two of its poorest showings in the scoring zone. At least when it comes to Barth kicking field goals instead of extra points.

Against the Kansas City Chiefs, in Arrowhead Stadium, the Broncos crafted a well-rounded 13-point victory, but finished just one of seven trips inside the Chiefs’ 20-yard line with a touchdown (14.3 percet). And in another grind-it-out double-digit win (12 points) against the San Diego Chargers last week, the Broncos did not score touchdowns on three trips inside the Chargers’ 20-yard line.

In fact, the Broncos had two drives end at the San Diego 1-yard line, which led to the tell-tale 19-yard field goal from Barth in each case.

Injuries have had something to do with the sluggishness down close. Receiver Demaryius Thomas had played through a right ankle injury, which has affected him at least some, and Julius Thomas has played just one game in the past four after he suffered a left ankle injury against the St. Louis Rams. Julius Thomas played just 29 snaps against the Chargers and had one reception, for 30 yards.

And with limited real estate work with inside the opponents’ 20-yard line, teams have to win the 1-on-1 matchups at the skill positions to score touchdowns.

"You start to try and run it, and all of a sudden you’ve got fewer guys to block than they’ve got available to make a tackle," said Broncos offensive coordinator Adam Gase. "Then you start to throw it, and you’ve got very little room to throw it. You’ve got to be on it. That’s where it gets difficult. You get inside the 5, and it gets real tight. Defensive coaches will tell you, 'hey, I’d rather be inside the five than on the 10' because the more room you’ve got, the more things you can do on offense. The tighter it gets, the harder it gets. If you look around the league, it’s tough to score. You get third-and-goal from the 5 or inside of that, and it’s tough to get in there."

Demaryius Thomas has continued to work through his injury, and Julius Thomas looks closer each week to the form when he caught 12 touchdown passes in the Broncos’ first nine games. Manning, too, was not at his best last weekend as he played Sunday after getting four IVs Saturday night and Sunday morning combined before starting against the Chargers.

Manning also injured his right thigh in the game. So, the Broncos believe, as those players have improved physically this week, the results should show in the coming weeks.

For his part, Manning also continues to cite "the execution" of what the Broncos are doing. And that once the loose ends are tied up, it should improve.

"That’s right, it’s just little things," said Demaryius Thomas. "Little thing here, little thing there. We need to clean those up and we’ll finish drives. This time of year you want every touchdown you can get."