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Hot Topics: Broncos improve in key areas, look to build momentum from strong recent offensive performances

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. —After the Broncos' offense struggled to score for much of the season, it's possible the unit is starting to find its stride.

Denver followed up a 28-point effort against Kansas City with a 24-point showing in a win vs. Arizona on Sunday. Led by reserve quarterback Brett Rypien, Denver posted its second-highest scoring output of the season and continued the success the team found vs. the Chiefs.

In the Week 14 loss to Kansas City, Russell Wilson led the Broncos to their best output of the year, leading three touchdown drives and setting Rypien up at the 2-yard line for Denver's final touchdown.

The sample size is notably small, but ahead of "Monday Night Football," the Broncos are one of just six teams that have scored 24 points in each of the last two weeks.

The Broncos have posted the pair of performances on the shoulders of drastic improvement in two notable categories.

After scoring just one third-quarter touchdown and six second-half touchdowns in the first 13 weeks, the Broncos have seen their second-half scoring improve significantly in their last two outings.

Against the Chiefs, Denver scored a touchdown to open the third quarter and then added another touchdown in the final frame. And on Sunday against Arizona, Denver scored three touchdowns in a half for the first time this season. 

As Hackett detailed Monday, the Broncos' second-half improvement the last two weeks has come in part from the coaching staff's ability to make in-game adjustments after learning more about new players in the lineup.

"I think the guys have done a really good job," Hackett said. "We've gone in with a plan, and whether it might not have been executed the right way or there was some adjustments that the defense made vs. us, I think we were able to go into that second half and talk about it and maybe completely throw something out and do something completely new. I think referring just to this game [against Arizona], we wanted to really push the run game. I thought that was something the guys did a great job on. Every week it's different. Every single time you go out there, it's different matchups for us. It's been different players on offense, also. As you're trying to figure those guys out and make sure you're putting them in the right spot, you might go into it with a mindset of, 'Hey, this is going to be good for this guy.' But you don't know until you go out there. That's our job, and that's the fun part about this game. You love scoring points in the second half; we just want to put it together for four quarters."

Denver has also done a far better job of taking advantage of its red-zone opportunities. Through Week 13, the Broncos scored touchdowns on just 37.5 percent of their red-zone trips, which ranked last in the NFL. Denver's red-zone touchdown percentage was as low as 23.5 percent as recently as Week 7.

In the last two games, though, Denver has scored touchdowns on all six of its red-zone possessions — and the Broncos have now scored touchdowns on 50 percent of their red-zone trips to rank 25th in the NFL.

"We know that's been something we've been struggling with this whole year, and we've really turned it around kind of the back half of this season," Hackett said of the red-zone struggles.

As the Broncos move forward into the final three weeks, Hackett said he believes in the value of the momentum the Broncos can gain from continued strong offensive performances. Hackett also noted the variety of ways in which Denver has scored — four different players have scored a combined seven touchdowns the last two weeks — is also a way to build momentum.

"Confidence is an important thing, without a doubt," Hackett said. "Watching 'Ryp' execute out there, watching Russell execute the week before [was great]. Guys [are] getting touchdowns — Jerry [Jeudy] getting touchdowns, Eric Tomlinson getting a touchdown, the running backs running it in. We're not doing it one way, and I think that's something we can really build on. You're not just stuck on, 'Hey, we have to throw the ball to Jerry every time.' You can do play-action, you can run the ball. It gives the defense a lot of different things, and I think the guys can really build on that, because they know every week, they're all excited to see, 'Hey, how can I get some points? How can I break out?' And that's what you want from the offense. That's what gives them that excitement each week to come in and see what the plan is. 

"It's definitely something to build on, we've just got to string it together for four quarters."

Hackett's sentiment rings true. Against the Chiefs, Wilson threw the ball 36 times and found plenty of success before being removed from the game with a concussion. Then, against the Cardinals, Denver rode a season-best performance in rushing yards to a physical victory.

The Broncos must surely post more strong offensive performances to turn a pair of games into a trend. But after the intense struggles that followed Denver for the majority of the year, the recent offensive improvement is a welcome sign.

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