ENGLEWOOD, Colo. --The possibilities of the Broncos' passing game grow broader when they go beyond Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders.
That's not to say the duo hasn't been splendid in the last three seasons. They've played 52 games together since the start of the 2014 season, and in those games, they've combined for 51.0 percent of the Broncos' receptions and 61.8 percent of their net passing yardage. The duo has never failed to combine for at least 57 percent of the Broncos' net passing yardage in any one season since Sanders joined the team.
But their most productive season together came in 2014, when the Broncos had a Pro Bowl tight end (Julius Thomas) as a red-zone target and Wes Welker working in the slot to take some of the attention off of them. That year, Thomas and Sanders capitalized off the man-to-man coverage they saw to amass 64.8 percent of the Broncos' passing output.
Monday night's win over the Chargers, which saw Bennie Fowler III catch two touchdown passes and the tight ends combine for 98 yards on five receptions, might help them get back there, because it showed what can happen when too much attention is devoted to the Broncos' Pro Bowl receivers.
"One thing the Chargers did is that they double-coveraged me and Demaryius on third downs and in the red zone," Sanders said. "Those tight ends and Bennie Fowler took advantage of it. That's what we need. We need those guys to step up, because it just makes us more dangerous as an offense."
Trevor Siemian simply took advantage of the matchups that were there. When he saw Melvin Ingram covering Bennie Fowler on a third down, he pounced. When he saw a tight end beating a linebacker by a step down the seam, he dropped the ball into his grasp.
It's all about taking advantage of what the defense provided -- nothing more than that.
"We're trying to throw to the open guys," Offensive Coordinator Mike McCoy said. "Not to try to sound funny or anything like that, but we're going through a progression.
"What we have to do to take advantage of what the progression is, what the defense is doing and who they're trying to take away. They did a nice job in certain situations with changing some things up. We made some adjustments and the down and distance sometimes determines how you throw the ball. Is it a catch-and-run opportunity if you throw it by the sticks? So that kind of changed from play to play, with each situation of the game."
But now the Dallas Cowboys and every opponent that follows will have to craft their game plans knowing that Fowler, Virgil Green, Jeff Heuerman, A.J. Derby and other targets are as capable of making the clutch receptions as Sanders and Thomas. That, in turn, should set up the one-on-one shots the Pro Bowl wideouts crave.
"That's the goal," Thomas said. "That's what we try to do every week, to try to figure out how to get me and Emmanuel one-on-one so we can make some plays for our offense. To see those guys step up is big for our offense. We were wondering what everybody else was going to do.
"Now you know. Bennie had two touchdowns. Virgil had a big catch. Jeff had big catches. We'll see what they do from here on out."
The more they can do, the more Thomas and Sanders will do, too.