Broncos striving for more up-tempo offense -- and fewer penalties

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Father Time may be undefeated, but Denver Broncos coach Sean Payton still wants his offense to have a better friend in the clock along the way.

Pace, tempo and efficiency have all been on top of the to-do list in training camp thus far, with a major emphasis on overhauling last season's lowest-scoring offense.

“He wants tempo, he wants to move, out of the huddle, in and out of the game, play to play,’’ wide receiver Courtland Sutton said. “ … You feel that sense of urgency in everything.’’

The Broncos opened the preseason Friday night in Arizona with an 18-17 loss to the Arizona Cardinals. In his four drives, quarterback Russell Wilson was 7-of-13 passing for 93 yards and a touchdown.

But the pace and efficiency Payton has demanded in drills was a little slow to arrive. Wilson was 1-of-4 passing to go with a sack in the Broncos' first two possessions and battered a little more often than the Broncos will like before they found a little rhythm in their third possession -- it ended with a missed field goal by Elliott Fry -- followed by a touchdown drive to finish Wilson’s night with his 19-yard scoring pass to Jerry Jeudy to beat a seven-man rush on fourth-and-4.

It all shows the Broncos still have a lot of work to do in the preseason. But among the no-nonsense messages Payton has given the team, none has been more pronounced than his desire to pick up the pace on offense.

“The tempo we have been stressing -- there is a lot we are giving the quarterbacks at times," Payton said. "Obviously, if you get to the line of scrimmage with 15 seconds [left on the play clock], there is a lot you can do. If you get to the line of scrimmage with six seconds, there is not a whole lot you can do.’’

Pre-snap penalties have been a specific area of focus. It is difficult for an offense to keep any pace if it is stopping for a false start or delay of game. The Broncos have had several during training camp, including a two-minute drill last week when the offense opened with a false start, followed by a hold.

On Friday, the Broncos weren't penalized until the second quarter as reserve tackle Isaiah Prince had both of the team's penalties in the first half -- a hold to go with a false start.

Last season, when the Broncos averaged 17.9 points per game, they were among the league’s bottom six in pre-snap penalties overall and false starts. Of the 27 drives that were categorized as “stalled’’ by penalty for the Broncos last season, 13 of those were because of false starts.

And while coaches have routinely said they “address’’ issues, Payton has openly alluded to benching players who can't improve.

“There is a point at which you pull the player out,’’ Payton said. “There is an emphasis to it, but it has to be more than just that. It has to go away.’’

Payton said his goal isn’t just for the offense to move quickly when it wants to, but he also wants to substitute and switch out personnel groupings quickly. Coaches who have faced Payton’s teams in the past have consistently pointed out how many players on offense keep their helmets on and stand within earshot of Payton during games because so many groupings are moved in and out of the lineup.

Where some see pace as a way to keep the opposing defense from substituting, Payton also wants to give Wilson enough time to make decisions at the line of scrimmage.

The Broncos struggled mightily to get to the line of scrimmage last season, so much so that early in the season, fans counted down the play clock at home games and Jerry Rosburg was brought in as a game management consultant early in the season before becoming the interim coach when Nathaniel Hackett was fired on Dec. 26.

“A lot of small things can get beat,’’ said wide receiver Marquez Callaway, who played for Payton in New Orleans. “And that is what really irritates him.’’

“It puts pressure on the defense,’’ Broncos offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi said. “ … We’re more substitution-based, or at least we have been historically … the quicker that we can make those substitutions, the less time they have to see, figure out who’s in, make the play call …. And if we can just put that pressure on it just makes it harder on a defense.’’