As far as coach John Fox is concerned, the Broncos are already in the playoffs. At least that's how he looks at Sunday's home matchup against Kansas City.
"In my mind, it's much like a playoff game already," Fox said Monday. "We need to win this game and determine our fate."
That's not totally accurate, as Fox acknowledged. The Broncos can lose and still emerge as AFC West champions by virtue of tiebreakers if Oakland loses to San Diego, but Fox doesn't want to count on that.
"Our preparation, our mind-set is to do everything we can to win this week," he said.
But back-to-back ugly losses, by 18 and 26 points to the Patriots and Bills, respectively, have the Broncos appearing more than a little wobbly at
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"We need this game," running back Willis McGahee said. "We need it. We've got to have it. Just do what we're capable of and leave it all out there."
However, to turn Sunday's playoff-like game into an actual playoff appearance, the Broncos have to:
• Halt their habit of end-of-the-season slumps. Since the Broncos made their last postseason appearance in 2005, they are 9-19 in games played in December or January.
That includes this year's 2-2 mark in December. Fox has said he likes to divide the season into quarters, and the Broncos haven't had a winning record over the final quarter of a season since 2005.
"These are the games when you have to get it done," cornerback Champ Bailey said.
• Keep McGahee in the lineup. The Broncos have tried to walk a fine line between managing McGahee's workload as a 30-year-old running back and the fact they do far better the more often he carries the ball. The Broncos are 4-1 in games when he has had at least 20 carries, but just 4-6 in games when he doesn't play or gets fewer than 20 carries.
McGahee has been slowed by hand and hamstring injuries, and while the Broncos haven't said they adjusted his carries Saturday, they appeared to be limiting his carries against the Bills. McGahee is the hammer, makes the option look far more effective and is the only big back the Broncos have. Keep him on the field and the Broncos' chances of victory increase.
• Find a way to get Tebow more comfortable in the pocket. It's clear defenses have made the decision to pin Tebow in the pocket and take their chances. With each passing week, over the last month especially, defenses have played with more and more discipline, taking away the running lanes Tebow likes to use on the outside to escape the rush. The Patriots and the Bills rushed Tebow without allowing the rushers to go any deeper into the backfield than Tebow, so they limited his ability to duck underneath a defensive end who had strayed too far up the field.
As a result, Tebow is having a more difficult time escaping pressure and is often getting caught far behind the line. It's why he had a 28-yard sack against the Patriots, then a 12-yard sack against the Bills. His only opening to run on occasion has been to go backward.
Additionally, Tebow has not been able to consistently complete passes from the pocket. He has the lowest completion percentage, 48 percent, of any starting quarterback in the league with at least 240 pass attempts. The easiest way to improve that percentage is for the Broncos to win first and second downs more than they did Saturday, so Tebow can throw when the defense doesn't know he must.
"No starting quarterback is going to do well in those situations where defenses know what you have to do," Fox said.
Tebow has lost a fumble and thrown four interceptions in the past two games combined.
"When they did run it, we felt like we got a hat on them," Bills outside linebacker Chris Kelsay said. "We made them do some things they didn't want to."
• Spread the wealth. When the Broncos do throw lately, Tebow has stuck to the same targets. Eric Decker did not have a reception Saturday and has just 10 catches in the past seven games. Eddie Royal has only two catches in the last four games he has played. But Demaryius Thomas has 22 catches in the last four games. Defenses are layering their coverages to take away Tebow's favorite targets, believing he will not survey the field for other options before starting to run.
In Tebow's first three starts this season, he targeted Decker three times as often as any other receiver in the formation. Over the past three games, Tebow has targeted Thomas more than three times as often as any other player. Combine a more disciplined pass rush with the defenders' belief that Tebow "locks on" to specific receivers and you have part of the reason he is not completing 50 percent of his attempts.
• Play bigger. Over the past three weeks, opponents have rushed for 92, 114 and 103 yards against the Broncos' nickel package on defense (five defensive backs).
And in a copycat, do-it-until-they-stop-you business, Kansas City will try to do the same Sunday until the Broncos show they can slow it down. The Broncos moved to a heavier, four-down linemen look in the fourth quarter Saturday to stop the run, but they had to take their sack leader, Von Miller, off the field to do it.
The Chiefs, with Kyle Orton having a pretty good feel about the Broncos' defensive personnel, figure to join the club Sunday by running on passing downs against a smaller lineup.
"You just have to match up and make the plays," Bailey said. "The best defenses in the league are always the best-tackling defenses in the league. When we have a chance to get a guy down, we have to get them down."
Read more: Broncos must hide their many faults in key games - The Denver Post http://www.denverpost.com/broncos/ci_19623529#ixzz1hnHKjQTp