ENGLEWOOD, Colo. --The Broncos are 6-2, which puts them right in line with their pace of recent years, in which they have posted four consecutive seasons of at least 12 wins. They sit atop the AFC West, along with the arch-rival Raiders, whom they will see next Sunday. Only three teams have better records through eight weeks.
But to extend their 12-win run to five seasons -- and continue their streak of consecutive AFC West titles -- Head Coach Gary Kubiak knows his team must improve in the areas that need it most -- especially on offense, where the Broncos rank 27th in total yardage and 26th in yardage per play.
"Obviously we're not even close to what we need to be. We know that," Kubiak said. "We didn't play well yesterday, but the team still found a way to win."
But to increase its chances against a demanding second-half slate that includes five games against teams that are 5-2 or better, the Broncos must find an offensive rhythm, which is where today's takeaways begin.
- KUBIAK SEARCHING FOR BALANCE**
In the second half Sunday, the Broncos had a run-to-pass ratio more in line with what they would prefer, with 16 carries by Devontae Booker, Kapri Bibbs, Juwan Thompson and Trevor Siemian and 14 passes before a pair of game-ending Siemian kneeldowns.
In the first half, the Broncos had 25 pass plays and just seven runs. They came out throwing; the first five plays were passes, four of which Trevor Siemian completed for 62 yards to move the offense to the San Diego 13-yard line, well in field-goal range.
But the offense stalled after that. Devontae Booker was stopped for no gain on first-and-10 at the San Diego 13; the Broncos settled for a Brandon McManus field goal three plays later. The next four series saw them go three-and-out each time.
"There's not snaps happening right there. Could they have all been runs? Yes, when we got back to balance," Kubiak said.
"We're going to continue to attack, but the key to being balanced in football is staying on the field, getting first downs and staying on the football field."
A significant issue was first-down rushing; the Broncos averaged just 3.0 yards on four first-half carries, and their longest run -- a 6-yard Devontae Booker rush -- was effectively wiped out by a John Phillips holding infraction on second-and-4 one snap later.
Long-yardage situations effectively remove the run from second- and third-down equations unless the line to gain is so far away that the defense concedes a third-down draw play.
"The balance, to me, comes through ball movement," Kubiak said, "and we have to find it."
2. "TEACHABLE" MOMENTS FOR SIEMIAN
When potential interceptions are dropped, they're merely building blocks from which Trevor Siemian can learn. But if the Chargers had corralled any of the four potential interceptions they dropped Sunday, the entire narrative of the game and the Broncos' season could be different.
"Some of Trevor's decision-making [Sunday] was not as good as it's been for us as a football team," Kubiak said.
"Obviously he got away with some, didn't get away with one. I think he understands that coming out of the football game. We talked about that already so he has to continue to improve."
Near-interceptions have been a common thread of some of Siemian's starts; he had two of them on a single series at Cincinnati in Week 3.
"He has seven starts under his belt and there's going to be eight more big ones coming up here, so he's got to keep improving," Kubiak said.
- LORENZO DOSS SET THE TONE IN PRACTICE**
During training camp and the preseason, Lorenzo Doss' nose for the football was evident.
He intercepted Bears quarterback Brian Hoyer in the second quarter of the preseason opener. He had a slew of interceptions during camp practices, including two pick-sixes off Mark Sanchez, one of which he returned 102 yards.
Given that, his two pass breakups Sunday -- including a game-saving deflection on fourth-and-goal with 2:40 remaining -- shouldn't come as any surprise.
"He's been making plays all year," safety Darian Stewart said. "Doss is a playmaker, and that's what people don't know about him."
Doss played 40 defensive snaps Sunday -- 10 times as many as he'd played in his career prior to the game. He was targeted as often as Chris Harris Jr., even though he played fewer than half as many snaps as the Pro Bowl cornerback.
"Let the quarterbacks keep trying him," Stewart said. "He's going to make plays on them."
- RILEY DIXON COMES UP BIG**
The rookie punter has been the subject of pointed fan criticism on social media at times throughout the season, but a big-picture look at his season reveals that the Broncos made the right call in keeping the seventh-round pick on the 53-man roster coming out of the preseason.
Through eight weeks, Dixon ranks seventh in the league in net punting average. His 42.2-yard net average would set a Broncos single-season record if he can maintain it for the rest of the season.
"We're trying to get him more consistent. He's done a good job," Kubiak said.
"You always want to do better, but I think we've been doing all right," Dixon added. "I've put my coverage team in some tough spots with some not-so-perfect kicks, but that's what I'm working on every day: to get better and put the team in the best position to win."
Never was he better than on a 68-yard smash with 2:19 remaining and him standing in the back of the end zone. With the Broncos clinging to an eight-point lead, Dixon effectively flipped the field, forcing the Chargers to start back at their 33-yard line.
"We knew that if they had to drive again, they weren't going to be able to do that," Harris said. "That was a huge punt for us."
Dixon's success is particularly notable due to the Broncos' recent punting struggles. As a team, the Broncos have ranked 19th, on average, in season-long net punting average since the 2000 season, and in 11 of those 16 seasons finished 20th or worse, including 21st, 28th and 23rd the last three seasons.
A frame-by-frame look at T.J. Ward's interception that he nearly returned for a touchdown, captured through the lens of team photographer Gabriel Christus.
- NOTHING BUT "NET"**
One metric for determining a team's true proficiency is by measuring their win-loss record against their net point differential.
In this metric, the Broncos are a fairly typical 6-2 team. The average point differential of 6-2 teams is plus-55.2, according to pro-football-reference.com. The Broncos are plus-58.
Oakland, on the other hand, has reached its 6-2 mark despite having a point differential of plus-12. Six of their games saw a margin of seven points or fewer, including Sunday's 30-24 overtime win at Tampa Bay.
Of the 188 teams in the Super Bowl era to get off to 6-2 starts, only 10 teams posted a point differential of plus-12 or fewer.
But that doesn't mean the Raiders aren't a viable contender -- both in terms of their play in the moment and where they stand historically. For 6-2 teams with point differentials of plus-15 or fewer, the rate of playoff qualification is roughly the same as the overall ratio. 72.7 percent of 6-2 teams with such a small differential made the playoffs, compared with an overall percentage of 77.4 percent, encompassing 144 of the 186 teams with 6-2 starts during the Super Bowl era.
And for the Broncos, their current record guarantees nothing. This is the ninth time the team has started 6-2, but they made the playoffs just four of the previous eight times they had that record through eight games.