ENGLEWOOD – As a combo, the Denver Broncos’ two highest-paid players aren’t exactly money yet.
Although Demaryius Thomas caught the winning touchdown pass from Case Keenum in their opener, the pair making a combined $27 million this season have 10 missed connections so far.
That’s almost as many connections — 11 for 81 yards — as they’ve made together.
Calculating incompletions where he got both hands on the ball, Thomas leads the league with five drops so far.
Thomas had two early drops in the opener but bounced back to catch a 4-yard dart from Keenum to beat the Seahawks in Week 1. Thomas dropped three passes against the Raiders last week, when he had five receptions for 18 yards. Only four times has he had fewer yards in a game since becoming a starter in 2012.
His biggest drop last week came with Denver at midfield, trailing by two points with 22 seconds left. Thomas sprinted up the right sideline and deked his defender into leaving him wide open. Keenum delivered a pass on target and on time, but the ball sailed through Thomas’ hands.
On the next play, Keenum hooked up with Tim Patrick for his first NFL reception, a 26-yarder that set up Brandon McManus’ 36-yard field goal that beat the Raiders 20-19 .
Thomas’ early-season troubles are reminiscent of 2015, when he dropped eight passes before November, then added five drops against New England in a game when his sole catch proved crucial to Denver’s win in overtime that helped propel the Broncos to the Super Bowl 50 title.
Thomas said his only focus this week was on trying to help his team out Sunday when the Broncos (2-0) visit Baltimore (1-1), and his latest bout of drops apparently hasn’t alarmed his coaches.
“He’s OK,” coach Vance Joseph said, adding that the coaching staff can provide a boost by calling his number early and often.
“It’s our job to get him going early and to get him his confidence early,” Joseph said. “When guys go through a whole half and have one attempt or two attempts, that’s tough for receivers. If he has his first attempt and he drops it or it’s a bad ball, that’s a mind war. It’s our job to get him going early. It’s his job to play with confidence, and he will.”
Offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave said he believes that corrections need to be made in the flow of the game without regard to a specific player who might be struggling with catches or confidence.
“We’re just trying to give everybody the ball,” Musgrave said. “We don’t want to start worrying about one guy here ... We’ve just got to let the ball find everybody in the system, whether it’s handing off or throwing it. If we do a good job, I think everybody will get their touches.”
Keenum sees any hiccups right now as the inevitable crimps that will dissipate as the offense develops.
“The team that you are in September is always very different then the team you are in December,” Keenum said. “I think that’s why you come out every day and practice. You grind away at those little itty-bitty details, mechanics and footwork, routes and protections, so that you can keep building this library, keep building this trust, keep building this chemistry with these guys with the offensive line, the running backs, the receivers.
“All so you can trust on that when it comes down to December, January, and hopefully February.”
ROUGHING RULEJoseph said he understands why the league is emphasizing roughing calls on quarterbacks this season.
“They want the quarterback not to be punished. Back when I played, that was the key to the game: How much can you punish the quarterback? But it’s changed,” Joseph said. “They want you to sack the quarterback and turn your body and not put your full body weight on the guy.”
Joseph said he concurs with the league’s efforts to keep QBs safe.
“I don’t want Case hit that way. So, it goes both ways with the players. So, I agree with it,” Joseph said. “We haven’t had a play yet that has cost us. So, I don’t have a problem with it. That could change in two weeks. But it’s for the safety of the position.”