Butter fingers plaguing Broncos

By: The Associated Press
November 30, 2013 Updated: November 30, 2013 at 3:07 pm
Caption +
Denver Broncos linebacker Von Miller (58) picks up a fumble by New England Patriots running back Stevan Ridley and heads to the goal line for a touchdown in the first quarter of an NFL football game Sunday, Nov. 24, 2013, in Foxborough, Mass. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)

ENGLEWOOD - The Broncos lead the league in an exhaustive list of offensive categories: Points, yards, passing, first downs, third down efficiency.

Oh, and fumbles.

What once looked like a quirk - an odd curiosity for the league's most prolific offense - is now turning into a trend.

What once looked like a nuisance - one or two fewer scoring opportunities each week for a team that was scoring plenty - has now cost the Broncos a game.

Denver's four turnovers, which included three lost fumbles, led to 17 New England points last week in a 34-31 overtime loss.

"Regardless of how good you are, that's the kind of thing that can really cripple you and we've got to protect the football better," interim coach Jack Del Rio said.

Heading into Sunday's game at Kansas City, Denver (9-2) has fumbled a league-leading 26 times and lost 16. That's six more fumbles and four more lost than the next-worst teams on the list. All that is part of Denver's minus-3 turnover ratio, second-worst among the 11 teams who own or share the lead in their respective divisions.

Leading the way: Peyton Manning, who has fumbled 10 times and lost six.

Six weeks ago, Ronnie Hillman fumbled for the second straight game; he hasn't been on the active roster since.

"It can happen anywhere. You won't see it coming," Hillman said. "It's mechanics and just keeping it wrapped up. Having it in your mind that you're going to get up and you're going to have the ball."

Rookie Montee Ball carried the ball 31 times over the first three weeks, but lost two fumbles over that span, too. He got only 35 carries over the next seven games. His carries started increasing again at around the same time Hillman disappeared and Ball was hitting stride last week - 40 yards on seven carries. Then, he lost a fumble in the third quarter that led to New England's second touchdown. Ball wasn't seen again that night.

"I let a lot of people down," he said. "But you've got to move on. I'm just going back to the basics."

"I have great trust in my entire room," running backs coach Eric Studesville said. "It's a talented room. ... The young guys, they're going to get better and better. And we emphasize it all the time: 'Hey, our responsibility is to get up with the ball at the end of every down.' They know we're going to work on it. And they all know the importance of it."

Finally, there is the ongoing saga of Trindon Holliday.

The fleet-footed return man was available on waivers last season in part because the Houston Texans got tired of watching him coughing up the football.

In Denver, he has returned kicks and punts for six touchdowns, while also fumbling the ball nine times in 22 games.

Earlier this week, Del Rio signaled that Holliday would be back on the field Sunday against the Chiefs.

The coach also reiterated that, despite what the stats may say, the Broncos work on ball protection as much as they ever had.

"We are preaching it. We are coaching it," Del Rio said. "I believe in the guys we have. I believe we can be better at it. We just have to be."

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