Thu, 21 Oct 2021

Ask Aric: Is the Broncos' offense ready for big games ahead

Denver Broncos
23 Sep 2021, 10:38 GMT+10

Aric DiLalla

The Broncos are 2-0 and playing solid football during the opening weeks of the season. With their home opener rapidly approaching, the team has turned its attention to the New York Jets and an opportunity to start 3-0.

I, however, will take the chance to weigh in on the start to the season, how the Broncos' offense looks, what's ahead for Denver and much more.

With that, let's get to your questions.

To ask a question for a future mailbag, click here or send me a tweet at @AricDiLalla.

Are the Broncos making sure they don't overlook the Jets? - @Broncocountry81

I'm not too worried about that. First, I think the Broncos realize the importance of getting this win in the grand scheme of the season. They also know what it's like to lose games, and I don't think anyone has forgotten about that. As Melvin Gordon III said last week after the team's Week 1 win, "if you want to get motivated, just go look at last year's record." And as Teddy Bridgewater said Wednesday about success, "don't take the cheese - it's poison." All that any player who was here in 2017 needs to do is look back to a "Monday Night Football" game against the Giants, when Denver was a double-digit favorite and lost by 13 points. That should be plenty motivating. The Broncos should also be fired up for their home opener. Head Coach Vic Fangio has spoken to the team after both wins about how electric Empower Field at Mile High should be for Week 3. I'm guessing the Broncos are going to ride that wave of emotion on Sunday against New York.

Is the Broncos' offense ready for big games ahead? Weeks 4-8? - @DenverBroncosFR

That's certainly the next big test for this group. Denver's offense ranks seventh in total yards, fifth in rushing, 11th in passing and 13th in scoring offense. They've also turned the ball over just once. As the level of competition ratchets up, though, they'll need to clean some things up. Denver has given up a few too many sacks, and the team ranks 23rd in red-zone and third-down offense. Those areas can be deciding factors in a close game, and the Broncos can hopefully take a step in the right direction against the Jets. Here's one thing that makes me believe the Broncos' offense is ready to compete in close games against tough opponents: Over the last few years, if the Broncos' offense wasn't playing well, it persisted throughout the game; with Bridgewater, the Broncos have been able to rebound quickly from bad drives and not let them pile up. That bodes well for Denver as the team moves forward.

Special teams kick coverage: How can the Broncos improve? We allow big returns almost every game. - @JulioGil

The Broncos' coverage issues have been limited to kickoffs thus far, as Denver actually ranks first in punt return average allowed. The punts haven't been quite long enough - the team's 43-yard average ranks 28th - but the coverage in that area hasn't been an issue. The kickoffs, as we saw last week, are a different story. The Broncos have made a commitment to their coverage units, as they traded for Jonas Griffith and picked up Mike Ford off waivers before the season. Special Teams Coordinator Tom McMahon has also addressed the need for Brandon McManus to add hang time to his kickoffs so that the coverage unit can make its way down the field. The easiest way to prevent returns, though, may be to have McManus sky the ball through the end zone as often as possible.

How much has the offense improved through 2 games compared to the last two years across the board? - Brandon W.

It's very early, so let's take all of this with a grain of salt, but here's how the Broncos' offense currently stacks up compared to where the team finished in 2019 and 2020:

Points per game: 17.6 (28th, 2019); 20.2 (28th, 2020), 25.0 (13th, 2021)

Passing yards per game: 194.7 (28th, 2019); 215.7 (26th, 2020); 278.5 (11th, 2021)

Rushing yards per game: 103.9 (20th, 2019); 119.9 (13th, 2020); 130.5 (5th, 2021)

Sacks allowed per game: 2.6 (16th, 2019) ; 2 (13th, 2020); 2.5 (21st, 2021)

Turnovers per game: 1 (6th, 2019); 2 (32nd, 2020); .5 (2nd, 2021)

Red-zone percentage: 47.6% (28th, 2019); 53.3% (27th, 2020); 44.4% (23rd, 2021)

Third-down percentage: 31.7% (30th, 2019); 36.7 (26th, 2020); 34.6% (23rd, 2021)

As you can see, the Broncos' points per game and yardage totals have gone up significantly, and the turnovers have gone way down. If Denver can improve in the red zone and on third down, this offense should be good enough to win a lot of games.

Do you see us at 8-1/7-2 at the bye week? I think we're capable - @deejaytimnice

With the way the Broncos are playing right now, anything is possible. They're playing solid defense, and Teddy Bridgewater is leading an offense that ranks fourth in DVOA. When I look at the schedule, I don't see a game that the Broncos can't win. After the Jets, the Broncos host the Ravens, travel to Pittsburgh, host the Raiders, travel to Cleveland on a short week, host Washington, travel to Dallas and host Philadelphia. While it's unlikely the Broncos make it through that entire stretch without a loss, I imagine they'll be able to earn some more wins. To be on track for a playoff berth, I'd imagine Denver needs to be 7-3 at the bye week. That certainly seems doable.

What in this offense is making Teddy so comfortable with throwing the ball downfield more? - Chiefkeith94

There's certainly more than one factor - Denver has the talent at its skill positions to get open down the field and Offensive Coordinator Pat Shurmur has drawn up plays to take advantage of those matchups - but I think a big part of it has to do with the Giants' and Jaguars' desire to stop the run. Vic Fangio mentioned this week that both teams went to "extreme measures" to stop the Broncos' running game, which has opened things up for Denver down the field. We'll see if the Jets stick with that approach. If they do, don't be surprised if Bridgewater continues to post big numbers.

What else does Von need to show Paton in order to get an extension during this season? - @Orange_Crush512

Miller just needs to keep doing what he's doing. I've been impressed - and somewhat surprised - by Miller's start to his season. He looks refreshed and like the same type of player that he was several years ago. He ranks third in the NFL in sacks through two weeks and has provided plenty of pressure even when he's not taking down the quarterback. It's even more impressive that he's turned in this type of performance without Bradley Chubb to take away some of the offense's attention. If Miller continues at this pace and can stay healthy throughout a long season, I'd imagine the Broncos would have a serious conversation about what it would take to keep him in orange and blue for the foreseeable future.

How many W's do you think we would need in order to get into the playoffs? I reckon 10 (BTW, I think is super doable) - @Eugeniodelavega

Let's stick with another question about the Broncos' record. Over the last five years, eight of the nine teams competing for a wildcard berth to finish with 10 wins have made the postseason. Interestingly enough, the one 10-win team to miss the playoffs in that span was the Miami Dolphins, and that came last year when the playoff field expanded to three wildcard teams in each conference. Last year, the AFC three wild-card teams all posted 11 wins - and that was during a 16-game schedule. It's hard to tell how the 17th game will impact the playoff race, but it seems to make sense that teams might need an extra win to keep pace. A 10-win season in a 17-game schedule may be more like a nine-win season with a 16-game schedule. The odds of making the playoffs with nine wins - with a 16-game schedule - was much less certain. Over the last five years, just a third of AFC teams that finished with nine wins made the postseason field. So while it's possible 10 wins could get Denver in the field, getting to 11 is a much safer bet.

Jewell was a big part of their defense. How do they fill the gap? - @Sgoldy99

The Broncos will look first to Justin Strnad, whom they selected in the fifth round in 2020. Strnad is solid in coverage, but he'll have to prove his capability as a tackler in the run game. He'll also be tested mentally, as he has just 23 defensive snaps to his name. When the Broncos face a complex offense with motion and misdirection - or even just a team that utilizes play-action often - Strnad won't have much NFL experience to look back on. A year ago, Strnad suffered a season-ending injury in training camp and lost out on a season worth of reps. He should improve quickly with added practice and plenty of game reps, but the position bears watching - especially because of how well Jewell was playing for Denver.

Why is Denver struggling to convert third downs? - JC

JC, the simple answer is that the Broncos didn't do enough on first or second down against the Jaguars. Of their 11 third downs, seven of them were six yards or longer, and they faced at least a third-and-9 on four of the attempts. When I went back and watched, it wasn't as concerning to me as the stats may look. On a couple of them, they gained back yards on third-and-long to put themselves in better position for a field goal. On a first-half attempt, Bridgewater decided to go long to Sutton instead of taking the easy first down to Patrick, but I'm OK with that decision, especially since it likely should've been pass interference. The only failed attempt that stuck with me was on third-and-1, when Javonte Williams was stuffed for no gain to start the fourth quarter. Up 13 points, that's a chance to wind the clock down, and instead the Broncos went three-and-out for just the second time in the game. Look for the Broncos to emphasize third-down conversions this week against New York and take a step forward from last week's performance.

Who does your hair? Fantastico - DallasJeter

Thanks, DJ. I've learned everything I know from Phil Milani.

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