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Five things you should know: Broncos' fourth-quarter prowess, per-play efficiency and more

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. --If you're a Broncos fan reading this, don't put that coffee down, because ...

1. "COFFEE IS FOR CLOSERS ONLY!"

... and that's what the Broncos have been, on both sides of the line of scrimmage.

Trevor Siemian's statistically perfect fourth quarter Sunday -- a 158.3 rating -- underscored a developing pattern not only for him, but the entire Broncos team, which is at its best in close-and-late situations.

The Broncos scored the final 13 points in Cincinnati Sunday after falling behind 17-16 on Mike Nugent's field goal at the star of the fourth quarter, expanding their fourth-quarter dominance, which has seen them record a league-best plus-32 scoring margin in the fourth quarter.

Siemian's 146.9 season-long rating is a big part of that, but the defense must take a bow, as well. With both of its touchdowns coming in the fourth quarter, it has a plus-1 point differential of its own after allowing just 13 points in the fourth quarter of its first three games. Three of the defense's four takeaways have come in the fourth quarter, as well as seven of its 12 sacks.

This is what Denver's defense does best: wear an opponent down and pounce as fatigue and pressure set in.

"We know how to play in those pressure situations. We know how to win," CB Chris Harris Jr. said. "[We] have a team that knows how to close games."

Added Head Coach Gary Kubiak: "We're playing some good football at the right times."

**

  1. THE ONE WEAKNESS: CONTAINING RUNNING QUARTERBACKS**

Once the Broncos' defense contracted and stopped Bengals running backs Jeremy Hill and Giovani Bernard cold after the first series, Cincinnati's primary ground threat was from quarterback Andy Dalton, breaking out of a pocket collapsing from the edges and scampering up the middle, and repeating a pattern of the previous two weeks.

Dalton picked up 41 yards on five scrambles. Two of them moved the chains. Two others turned second-and-long situations (second-and-12, second-and-17) into third-and-short plays that the Bengals converted, so in effect Dalton's runs were at least indirectly responsible for all but one of the Bengals' five third-down conversions Sunday.

Quarterbacks have 118 of the 385 rushing yards allowed by the Broncos this season (removing kneeldowns from the equation), and Cam Newton, Andrew Luck and Andy Dalton have combined for six first downs and 6.6 yards per carry.

This isn't a recent issue. Since the start of the 2015 season, the Broncos have allowed 7.4 yards per carry and one first down every 1.86 runs when the quarterbacks run the football -- and just 3.3 yards per carry and one first down every 5.57 attempts when players at any other position tote the football.

So what's the solution?

"It's being more gap disciplined on third down," outside linebacker Shane Ray said. Teams know that we're playing man coverage so quarterbacks start trying to get out of the pocket. When they see that lane, they take off running."

**

  1. SCHOFIELD: ALWAYS READY**

At Michigan, Michael Schofield mainly worked at left guard and right tackle. This year, he added right guard to his repertoire. But until Sunday, his left tackle work was limited to practice and preseason.

That was enough to prepare him for the snaps he saw there Sunday after Russell Okung left because of a lower back issue. Schofield held his own, but in his eyes, that wasn't just due to his work at left tackle this summer.

"I think I'm just getting more comfortable with the offense, with all the positions," he said. "Just knowing the offense so much better really helps calm me down and helps my confidence."

And Kubiak believes more is in store for the third-year lineman.

"There are a lot of guys that are good players and Michael is a good player," Kubiak said. "To become a great player, you have to just stay the course. I think that's what Michael is doing right now."

**

  1. SOME NUMBERS DECEIVE**

Although yardage per game is considered the basic standard for measuring offense and defense, yardage per play and first-down rate are actually more accurate metrics of determining an offense's efficiency, because they remove game pace from the equation.

Through three weeks, the Broncos rank tied for 21st in total offense (354.0 yards per game), but are ninth in average per play (5.84 yards) and eighth in first-down rate, with one of every 3.25 plays moving the sticks.

That difference is fueled primarily by the passing game, which ranks 20th in yardage per game (242.7) but fifth in yardage per pass play (7.35 yards) and third in first-down rate (one every 2.68 pass plays move the sticks).

Denver's rushing game is 13th across the board: yardage per game (111.3), per carry (4.02 yards) and first-down rate (one every 4.37 carries).

5. GROWING FAITH IN SIEMIAN

"Your confidence continues to grow -- and I'm not just talking about myself, I'm talking about all of us," Kubiak explained Monday.

"As coaches, we see how he can handle things. Me, [Quarterbacks/Passing Game Coordinator Greg] Knapp, 'Rico' [Offensive Coordinator Rick Dennison], [Offensive Assistant/QBs] Klint [Kubiak], we're watching him prepare and we watch how much information that he's able [to process]; we're getting a lot of comfort there watching him keep up and handle the team.

"With that, there's growth coming and obviously turning him loose in situations. I'm feeling better about his decision-making process and some of the things that he's doing. Just have to keep going."

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