The 6-6 Broncos can climb above .500 for the first time since Week 3 when they play at 2-10 San Francisco (Sunday, 2:05 p.m.). Here is a Week 14 whip-around:
Can the Broncos find a solution for their third-down issues?
The Broncos have been ranked 20th or worse on third down conversions since Week 5 so their struggles aren’t recent. They are currently 27th (34.6 percent) after going a combined 11 of 34 (32.3 percent) during their three-game winning streak.
When asked about getting more touches for running back Phillip Lindsay, offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave pointed to improving on third down.
“I think we need to get more turns (and) we’ve talked about that for everybody,” Musgrave said. “That will come from us not having three-and-outs and not doing such a poor job on third down. If we can convert some third downs that we’re not making, then we get more opportunities for everybody. That would definitely be a great step in the right direction for this final four-game stretch.”
The key is converting third-and-short. In the last three games, the Broncos are 3 of 7 when needing three or fewer yards on third down.
Spotlight player. In his first year with San Francisco, cornerback Richard Sherman is still looking for his first interception. But Musgrave sees the kind of player who starred for Seattle.
“The same — just dangerous,” Musgrave said. “You’ve got to be smart when you throw it his way. He has that receiver background from when he played at Stanford so he knows routes, he knows combinations and he can anticipate. He’s tough to deal with.”
Sherman was ready for Week 1 after sustaining a torn Achilles on Nov. 9, 2017. He was preparing early in the week to face Broncos receiver Emmanuel Sanders until Sanders was sidelined with an Achilles injury on Wednesday.
Sherman spoke about Sanders for nearly two minutes with Bay Area reporters on Thursday.
“It’s not something you wish on anybody,” Sherman said in part of his answer. “I know what he’s about to go through for about the next nine months, both mentally and physically. It’s a grind, but it’s really on you how you get through it. … You can’t lose faith in yourself because that’s when guys have to retire because they don’t believe they’re going to be the same. … It’s really how you approach every day. How much can you trick your mind into being positive? I hope he has that mentality because he’s a fantastic player. … He’ll get through it.”
Watch for … San Francisco tight end George Kittle. Last week, Broncos safety Justin Simmons was assigned to Cincinnati receiver Tyler Boyd following cornerback Chris Harris’ broken leg when Boyd lined up in the slot.
On Sunday, Simmons’ task may be Kittle, who has 62 catches and has been targeted 93 times in 12 games.
Against Seattle last week, Kittle had six catches for 70 yards, gains of 14 (wide left), six (right slot) and seven yards (left slot) and receptions of seven, eight and 28 yards as a stand-up right tight end.
Kittle’s go-to was running a short route against zone coverage and waiting for a Nick Mullens’ throw.
“He’s a special talent,” Broncos coach Vance Joseph said of Kittle. “(49ers coach) Kyle (Shanahan) is finding the right matchups (for Kittle), which makes it scary for us. When guys are covering him one-on-one, they have to play with great leverage and have great eye discipline because he’s a great route runner. When you watch their pass game, it’s really gone through him the last couple weeks.”
Injury report. The Broncos ruled out linebacker Shaq Barrett (hip) and cornerbacks Chris Harris (leg) and Tramaine Brock (rib). Brock’s absence means rookie Isaac Yiadom will start.
Linebacker Brandon Marshall (knee) is listed as questionable. “He’s getting better so we’ll see how it works on Sunday morning,” Joseph said.
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