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Broncos, Briefly: Friday, Dec. 7, 2018

The Broncos' Playoff Surge Is Real (Danny Kelly, The Ringer)

A newfound zeal for smashmouth football has been a big factor in Denver’s climb out of the midseason doldrums. Broncos rookie running Phillip Lindsay has grabbed the reins of the Broncos offense over the past three weeks, taking much of the pressure off of Keenum to carry the team. After averaging 37 pass attempts and 267 yards per game over the first 10 weeks of the season—a stretch in which he notched 11 touchdowns to 10 interceptions—Keenum’s averaged just 27 attempts and 184 yards passing in the team’s three-game win streak. That more conservative tack has meant he’s thrown just three touchdowns in three games, sure, but it also has helped him cut down on the back-breaking turnovers that doomed Denver early in the year—Keenum’s posted four straight turnover-free outings. Lindsay’s picked up the slack that lower-volume pass offense creates: Behind an outstanding run-blocking line—which, by the way, has opened up major run lanes despite having been racked by injury—the rookie has rushed for 346 yards and five touchdowns on 44 totes in the last three games, averaging an incredible 7.86 yards per carry. The Broncos have rallied around their budding superstar back, and his ferocious, fearless running style embodies the offense’s new identity.

You can see that attitude in Denver’s defense, too. The Von Miller–led unit has stepped up in a big way in the last three weeks, tallying nine takeaways while holding opponents to an average of just 16.3 points. Miller has notched 3.5 sacks, three tackles for a loss, five quarterback hits, and an interception in that stretch, and has been bolstered by rookie Bradley Chubb, who’s collected 2.0 sacks, two tackles for a loss, five quarterback hits, and a forced fumble of his own.

"I guess the key is just to take it one day at a time," Miller said. "That's what I did in 2013 whenever I was going through all that adversity I was going through -- honestly, I didn't even take it one day at a time. I took it, like, six hours at a time. You chip off six hours and another six hours and you string this thing together You string this day, you string this week and then it's a month and before you know it, you're here.

"And that's the mentality I have now. Just take it one day at a time, six hours at a time and see where I can go."

The 2013 season remains the only year Miller didn’t register double-digit sacks. He had 14 sacks in 2014, became the Super Bowl 50 MVP in 2015 and started his record six-year, $114.5 million contract extension in 2016.

Miller has so far earned that contract – which for two years held as the NFL’s richest among defensive players -- through his work on and off the field.

“It’s an incredible achievement,” Miller said after practice Thursday. “It’s really still like a dream. It’s a true blessing.”

In 2012, Miller’s second year in the league, he founded Von’s Vision, which provides low-income children with vision care and eye exams. Miller has raised more than $4.5 million for the program and children from 25 schools and organizations in the Denver area have received free eye care.

Miller credited former teammates Tim Tebow, Peyton Manning, Champ Bailey, DeMarcus Ware and Wesley Woodyard for establishing a community give-back standard for him.

“I don’t know how many organizations have had those types of people come through the organization like we have,” Miller said.

But when the draft neared its end, the offers poured in from teams trying to sign Lindsay as a college free agent. The Baltimore Ravens, in need of running back talent, offered an $8,000 signing bonus. The Denver Broncos — the team in his backyard who snubbed him with the selection of two running backs in the draft — offered $8,200 before increasing to $15,000.

Lindsay, amid a mix of tears and anger, had 15 minutes to make the biggest decision of his life.

“Then his mom was like, ‘You know what? Phil needs to stay home. He needs to be home,’ because if he leaves, we have to spend a lot of money just to get him there and do all that,” Phillip’s father, Troy Lindsay, said. “The other part to it was that I looked at him and I was like, ‘Phil, (Devontae) Booker came out of the Pac-12. He played against you. (Royce) Freeman came out of the Pac-12. He played against you. You played against these dudes. The Williams kid you don’t know, but he’s a rookie like you also. You don’t think you can beat some rookies?’

“And that kind of popped into his head like, ‘Whoa, you’re right.’ It was a great opportunity not to say that those running backs aren’t good and this and that, but I would put my kid against anybody. Once Phillip got going, I kind of knew what would happen.”

The reason the offensive line is playing better is a combination of coaches that prepared backups like starters from Day One, and Bolles playing the best he has in his career over the last three games. Once tied for the league lead in offensive holding penalties, Bolles has not been flagged once over the last three weeks.

His penalties early in the season were catastrophic for the offense, many of them killing drives. But since Week 10, he has cleaned up his play and his technique.

He’s far from perfect, but his resiliency is encouraging; one bad play has remained just one bad play, rather than compounding into three as they often did in the past. His shoulders have remained more parallel to the line of scrimmage in his pass sets, he has changed the angles of his sets and he has been an effective run blocker of late.

Hamilton is a starter even though he has just 5 catches for 61 yards on the season, and he missed two games with an MCL strain.

“We all love ‘E’,’’ Hamilton said. “He’s been a great leader for us all season. But like coaches always say, it’s a ‘next man up’ mentality. …

“I know, me, personally, I’ve been looking forward to this all season. Just getting an opportunity -- not ‘E’ going down, nothing like that, never anything like that -- but I’ve been looking forward to this all season.’’

Broncos' reliance on rookies only increases with injuries (Arnie Stapleton, Associated Press)

Eleven rookies have played for the Broncos this season, logging 3,289 snaps, seventh-most in the NFL. And receivers River Cracraft and Tim Patrick, along with injured tight end Jake Butt, all made their NFL debuts for Denver this year, too.

Among the rookies the Broncos expect to play bigger roles down the stretch are receiver DaeSean Hamilton (knee), running back Royce Freeman (ankle) and linebacker Josey Jewell (ankle), all of whom are coming back from minor injuries.

"We're all ready to just step up and be the next guy up, be the next person to make plays for this team," Hamilton said.

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