ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Gary Kubiak’s traditional training camp buzz cut had faded since the calendar flipped from August to September, but there are times when Kubiak wants to see a little more crew-cut football out of the Denver Broncos.
Don’t get the guy wrong. He is an ex-quarterback who likes to see the ball heaved down the field as much as the next guy. But as the Broncos continue to try to find the right formula for regular-season wins and what will push them into the league’s biggest February game, Kubiak keeps coming back to the same word.
“It still gets back to when you're all said and done, are you going to have any physicality about you?" Kubiak said. “Are you going to be able to do that? We've got to continue to push ourselves to get better at that."
In Kubiak’s world, that means keeping opposing pass rushers off quarterback Peyton Manning, being able to run the ball when the Broncos wan to run it, creating big plays off play-action and playing the kind of “hair on fire" (defensive coordinator Wade Phillips’ words) defense that can erase any and all mistakes.
Two games in, the Broncos are 2-0 but they are 1-for-4 on the physicality index with only the team’s defense having consistently held up its end. That won’t do.
“You've got to be physical running the football," Kubiak said. “I think it's pretty obvious when you look around the National Football League … Being physical is a state of mind. It's an identity. It's a commitment. It's not something you talk about and go do. It's something you work at all the time."
The Broncos are last in the league in total yards on offense (518) as well as yards per play (3.7). They’re 26th in passing yards per game (194.0) and 29th in rushing yards per game (65.0). And while there are a combination of technical and personnel reasons all of that has happened, Kubiak has consistently talked about the Broncos’ need to re-assert themselves on the line of scrimmage on offense.
The Broncos knew they had rolled the dice at least some when they waited to finalize their offensive line -- they signed guard Evan Mathis in late August -- as training camp drew to a close. Mathis had not been in a team’s offseason program or in a training camp so the Broncos took the slow-and-steady approach to make sure his conditioning level was where it needed to be.
As a result the Broncos starting offensive line did not play together until the season opener against the Baltimore Ravens. And the group has looked shaky in assignments and communication as both the Ravens and Kansas City Chiefs have been aggressive up front, gotten rushers free too easily and clogged running lanes as well.
“It's only been two times that our offensive line has been live and in there together," said tight end Owen Daniels, who has spent all nine of his previous NFL seasons in Kubiak’s offense. “If you look back at all of the OTAs and training camp, the starting offensive line has really been in there Game 1 and Game 2 for live action. I think that with more reps they can continue to get those guys building the continuity. Our running backs, we'll see what they're doing up there and let things sort themselves out. I think that it's something that will get better as the year goes along."
Manning has said, throughout training camp and in the regular season’s early going that the team’s offense would have to improve “week to week." Kubiak has said the team understands the “growing pains" in the offensive line.
But Kubiak also wants to see more push and shove in the run game, to see Manning on the ground less and refutes the notion that he has ever said he would be patient about the whole thing.
“I don't know that I've said I'm patient," Kubiak said. “I said that we're going to go through growing pains. I've said that. I don't think anybody's patient in this business. Everybody wants to look perfect and win every game, but you understand that it's a tough league. You've got to keep battling. When it's good, when you win, you've got to make corrections. I mean, we're 2-and-0, but yet we've got to look at things and say, 'This isn't good enough’."