November 19, 2014

The Denver Broncos' situation isn't dire, but it is mostly unfamiliar to them since the arrival of Peyton Manning.

Following their second defeat in three weeks, they return home to face the Miami Dolphins on Sunday.

The Broncos (7-3) fell to St. Louis 22-7 last Sunday to give them their worst stretch since a 1-3 span Sept. 17-Oct. 7, 2012 - Manning's first season with the team. Denver's last two losses have come by a combined 65-28 score.

"You feel like you've let your team down,'' Manning said. "I didn't feel like I carried my weight (Sunday). That's pretty plain and simple."

The Broncos posted their lowest point total and fourth-lowest time of possession mark (24:10) since 2012.

Denver's schedule may also be a factor in the struggles, as the Broncos played three consecutive road games - something they haven't had to do since 2010. In the past three seasons, Manning has thrown 10 fewer touchdowns and 10 more interceptions on the road than at home, and the ground game has recorded nine fewer TDs.

Seven of the Broncos' nine regular-season losses under Manning have come on the road.

Denver is also dealing with a rash of injuries, with Julius Thomas, Emmanuel Sanders and Montee Ball having been sidelined. The Broncos also haven't been able to run the ball, totaling 43 and 28 yards on the ground in the two most recent defeats.

Coach John Fox, though, isn't looking for reasons why his team has hit a rough patch.

"We're not making excuses," he said.

"There's no panic inside the building. It's just part of the way the league goes. We're displeased, we're not happy with the results, but we get to atone for it getting ready against the Miami Dolphins."

Finally back home, Fox and the Broncos face a Miami team that's won four of five and is excited to test itself against the reigning AFC champions.

"It's going to be fun," safety Reshad Jones said. "It's a challenge.

"This what you play the game for, these type of games. I think it's going to be a great atmosphere, great time of the season. It's our time to go out, make our plays and make a statement."

Miami's last two losses have come by a combined seven points to Detroit and Green Bay, who are tied atop the NFC North. The Dolphins (6-4) are coming off a 24-9 victory over Buffalo last Thursday behind another stifling defensive performance, as they didn't allow a touchdown for the second time in three weeks.

Miami's second-ranked defense, which is second against the pass at 208.0 yards allowed per game, faces the daunting task of shutting down a Broncos offense that ranks third in the league with 412.9 yards and second with 323.0 through the air.

Manning has been sacked 11 times in 10 games, fewest in the league.

''We just have to try to throw him off of his game early, try to get pressure on him and try to hit him as much as we can and force him to make bad throws,'' said end Olivier Vernon, second on the team with 5 1/2 sacks. ''We've just got to get off the ball, time the snap and make sure we get pressure on him all game long. He has a very good line that's protecting him and he's a future Hall of Famer and we've got to throw all types of things at him that he wouldn't expect and mix it up.''

The Dolphins (6-4) will try to keep the ball out of Manning's hands by continuing to pound it on the ground after turning in their eighth 100-yard rushing game last week, gaining 125. Miami, which relies on a deep rushing attack that employs Lamar Miller, Daniel Thomas and Damien Williams, is sixth in the NFL with 127.3 yards per game on the ground.

Miller, though, is questionable because of shoulder and knee injuries.

Quarterback Ryan Tannehill has supplemented a strong season by rushing for 261 yards - second on the team - with a 7.1 per-carry average.

He completed more than 70 percent of his passes for the fifth time this season and fourth in five games last week, going 26 of 34 for 240 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions.

That efficient approach has worked well, though offensive coordinator Bill Lazor would like to see more drives end better. Miami is averaging 24.9 points, but ranks next to last in the league in red-zone scoring, averaging 4.1 points on possessions that reach the 20. Denver ranks first at 6.0 points, scoring a touchdown 77 percent of the time.

The Dolphins' persistent difficulty punching it in is magnified because they lead the league with 49 red-zone possessions, six more than any other team.

''Why have we had so many red-zone drives?'' Lazor said. ''Probably because we haven't had explosive plays that have scored from outside the red zone. It's easy math. The thing that's not easy is getting it fixed.''

The Dolphins are 11-4-1 all-time against Denver. The teams last met Oct. 23, 2011, when Miami fell to Tim Tebow and the Broncos 18-15.

Manning is 5-7 against Miami in his career with 18 touchdowns, 18 interceptions and a 79.8 quarterback rating.

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