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Key questions facing the Broncos after the bye week

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. —As the Broncos return from their bye week, DenverBroncos.com will examine where this year’s team has been and where it is going.

In the final installment, we’ll take a look at the biggest questions the Broncos must answer in the season’s final seven weeks.

The biggest question, undoubtedly, will be whether the Broncos can rattle off enough wins in a row to get back in playoff contention.

But regardless of the final result, these questions will determine how the 2019 season will be remembered.

CAN THE DEFENSE CONTINUE TO PLAY AT AN ELITE LEVEL?

Through nine games, the Broncos’ defense looks as advertised.

The team ranks fourth in total defense, fourth in passing defense, tied for sixth in scoring defense and second in red-zone defense. When the Broncos hired Vic Fangio in January, that’s likely the type of performance they imagined. Now, we’ll see if Von Miller, Chris Harris Jr. and the rest of the Broncos’ defense can keep up the strong start.

The first few games after the bye will pose a stiff test, as the Broncos must travel to play the Vikings (7-3), Bills (6-3), Texans (6-3) and Chiefs (6-4). The Broncos host the Chargers in the middle of that stretch, and four of those teams feature Pro Bowlers at the quarterback position.

Despite Denver’s strong start, Miller must record six sacks in the final seven games to continue his stretch of double-digit sack seasons. Harris will look to add to his interception total. Justin Simmons will aim to set career highs in his fourth season. Alexander Johnson will try to pad his tackle totals in his first season as a starter. Simply put, plenty of Broncos defenders have plenty to strive for in the final seven games.

If the Broncos can continue to play at the same level as a unit, the team should find itself in position to earn several more wins. Barring injuries to key players, it’s reasonable to expect the defense to continue to thrive. They’ll aim to make that a reality beginning in Minneapolis on Sunday.

WHAT IS THE BRONCOS’ PLAN AT QUARTERBACK?

When the Broncos placed Joe Flacco on injured reserve ahead of a Week 9 game against the Browns, it instantly added a degree of uncertainty to the Broncos’ quarterback position.

Brandon Allen made his first career start in Week 9, and he finished 12-for-20 for 193 yards and two touchdowns. Allen did not turn the ball over as he led the Broncos to a win.

Allen appears poised to start again in Week 11 in Minnesota, and Head Coach Vic Fangio said another week of practice should do “wonders” for Allen’s game.

The Broncos, though, could designate rookie Drew Lock to return to practice on Wednesday. If and when he returns to practice, he must be added to the active roster within 21 days or he will revert to IR for the rest of the season. That means the Broncos will have a decision to make. Should they activate Lock? When should they do it? Will he serve as a backup in Minnesota (Week 11), in Buffalo (Week 12) or at home against the Chargers (Week 13)? Will he start games this season? And if so, when? If Allen continues to win games, how would that affect the team’s plan?

Those questions all await the Broncos as they prepare to execute their plan for the quarterback position. Lock has said he’s healthy and ready to play, but that he trusts Denver’s plan. As the Broncos continue their season, the unveiling of that plan will be highly anticipated.

HOW DOES THE YOUNG CORE CONTINUE TO PROGRESS?

Courtland Sutton leads the AFC in receiving yards. Dalton Risner has started every game. Noah Fant set Broncos rookie tight end records in his last start. Phillip Lindsay and Royce Freeman continue to form a powerful duo. Alexander Johnson has stormed onto the scene with Davontae Harris and Duke Dawson Jr. Diontae Spencer has brought a spark to the return game.

All over the Broncos’ roster, young and relatively inexperienced players are making big contributions for Denver. How will they progress in the season’s final seven games?

If players like Sutton, Lindsay and Fant continue to take steps forward, the Broncos’ offense could feature a dynamic offensive core. Likewise, if Johnson and Co. continue to play well, Denver’s defense should be set up for future success.

There’s plenty on the line as these players look to improve. Lindsay is the only player among that group who has made a Pro Bowl, though Sutton appears positioned to warrant serious consideration.

And for players with relatively little experience, each game and each start can mean a lot in regard to their overall development.

“I think another seven games can turn me from like a rookie or like a first-level player to almost like a vet mentality,” Harris said. “I think one year in the NFL is huge for anybody, especially playing corner and especially playing around guys like K-Jack [Kareem Jackson] and Chris and Justin and just having those guys to learn from. Really, another seven games playing with them is going to turn me from a decent player to a good player. And then, eventually, I’ll be able to turn into a great player.”

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