ENGLEWOOD • It’s the same drill in almost every football game: The ball hits the ground, players follow. Fingers get pried, eyes gouged, sometimes worse. Eventually, a referee dives into the pile trying to figure out who’s at the bottom with his arms around the ball.
So far in 2012, that player is almost certainly not a member of the Denver Broncos.
Over their first five games, the Broncos have scrapped for 13 fumbles — seven by their own offense, six when the defense is on the field. Of those 13, the Broncos have recovered two.
“It’s correctable,” coach John Fox said of the Broncos’ growing problem.
Fox said they’ll put more focus on that starting Thursday, when they return to practice.
Part of Denver’s turnover problem is luck, part of it is not being at the right place at the right time. Once, they lost the ball on one of those desperate, multi-lateral plays with no time left. Once, a Bronco actually had his arms around the football but replacement refs gave it to the other team.
Whatever the reason, the Broncos rank 28th in the league in the plus-minus category for turnovers, which explains why a prolific offense — Peyton Manning has thrown for 1,507 yards — hasn’t been even more productive during a 2-3 start.
Three of the offense’s lost fumbles have come inside the opponent’s 17-yard line. The Broncos’ 10 turnovers have only resulted in 20 points for their opponents, but that doesn’t count the points the Broncos have squandered by not scoring on these drives.
Two of those turnovers from point-blank range belong to receiver Demaryius Thomas in the last two games. Another came from running back Willis McGahee, whose fourth-quarter fumble at the New England 11 snuffed out Denver’s comeback hopes.
“He just made a good play,” McGahee said of the New England defender, Rob Ninkovich, who stripped the ball. “I had it high and tight, but still, you’ve got to do better than that. I think that changed the game and I take full credit for that.”
Odds say the numbers will get better for Denver.
The Broncos offense has fumbled seven times this season and lost all of them — 100 percent. The other 31 offenses have combined for 199 fumbles but recovered 100 of them — 50.2 percent.
“Sometimes, you’re going to get unlucky,” said tight end Jacob Tamme, who has become one of Manning’s favorite targets, handling the ball 21 times without a fumble.
Also looking for bounces — the Broncos defense. It has two fumble recoveries and two interceptions. The most significant of those belongs to cornerback Tracy Porter, who sealed Denver’s win against Pittsburgh with a 43-yard interception return for a touchdown.
“It’s a population thing,” Porter said. “You have more guys on the opposing team around the ball and population creates turnovers. It’s something I’ve been taught, playing in New Orleans, and it helped us during our Super Bowl run. You get a lot of guys around the ball, the ball’s going to come loose, the ball’s going to get tipped. A lot of good things can happen.”
Running back Lance Ball, who has touched the ball 20 times without dropping it, said “ball security” is one of those important things that boils down to a very simple thought.
“You can talk technique,” Ball said. “But it’s just holding on for your life. That’s all there is to it.”