ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — In this edition of "Ask Aric," we're taking a look at how the Broncos' offense can take a step forward earlier in games.
That was the main talking point from Head Coach Vic Fangio and several players following a 34-27 loss to Atlanta, and members of Broncos Country are curious about the same topic.
In addition, we'll also reassess the Broncos' playoff chances, Denver's future plans for the offensive line and whether KJ Hamler will be more involved in the offense moving forward.
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Do you think it would be beneficial for the Broncos to run up-tempo/no-huddle especially at home giving the altitude? It seems Lock is more comfortable in the hurry up offense. - Scott S.
In theory, this makes total sense. When you go up-tempo, it gives defenses less time to substitute and adjust, and you can get into a rhythm. It worked for the Broncos on their final drive in the fourth quarter against the Chargers, but they didn't go no-huddle as much as you might think. Then, in the fourth quarter against the Falcons, they again only operated without a huddle on a few occasions. In general, I think it's dangerous to go no-huddle and up-tempo too early in the game. We've seen teams struggle with the ramifications, as it puts stress on your own defense when you're giving the unit less time to rest. If you go three-and-out in hurry-up, you may only run a few seconds off the clock. That's a recipe for disaster. Overall, though, I think the Broncos' struggles are unrelated to whether or not they huddle. They simply need to execute better on first and second down and stay on the field on third down. That's the simple remedy Fangio, Offensive Coordinator Pat Shurmur and Drew Lock have all identified. When they do that, they'll be able to score points earlier in games and won't face the end-of-game pressure that they have in the last two weeks.
Will KJ Hamler start to get more involved after that game winning catch? - T.J. H.
This question came in ahead of the Atlanta game, and I think it was clear in Week 9 that more Hamler is in the cards for the Broncos. Hamler doubled his previous high mark for catches as he caught six passes for 75 yards. He also added one 15-yard rush. Coming into the season, I expected Hamler to be involved in the offense via jet sweeps and crossing patterns to get him in space, but I've been impressed with his ability to make catches in traffic. Presuming Hamler is able to stay healthy down the stretch, I think he'll only continue to be more involved in the offense and could identify himself as a true threat for the Broncos. With Hamler and Jerry Jeudy as leading rookie receivers, Courtland Sutton poised to return next year and Tim Patrick, Tyrie Cleveland and DaeSean Hamilton as additional pieces, the Broncos' receiving corps appears to be in good shape for the future.
Is there a reasonable chance that the Broncos make the playoffs or should we begin look forward to the next season? - Carson B.
Carson, the Broncos' playoff odds fell from 16 percent to six percent after a loss to the Falcons, but they'll be right back in the mix if they can earn wins against the Raiders and Dolphins. Both teams are currently in the wild-card hunt, so victories would not only push the Broncos back to 5-5, they would give the Broncos a head-to-head advantage over teams competing for the seventh playoff seed. Baltimore or Pittsburgh likely has one of the wild-card spots locked up, and Cleveland appears to have the edge for another. That means the final spot could come down to the Colts/Titans, Raiders, Dolphins and Broncos. In all likelihood, the Broncos will need to go 6-2 down the stretch to get to 9-7 and earn a spot. It will be challenging, but it's not time to turn ahead to 2021 yet.
I have a question if Von Miller feels like he is healthy enough to play can he and does he have to have a doctor's release from the team or does it go on how he feels? - Greg C.
Greg, Von Miller said last week that he hoped to return in three weeks to a month, but Vic Fangio said late last week that Miller had yet to be medically cleared. We don't have a timeline for that happening, but in order for him to return to a game, he'll have to be medically cleared, work back into football shape and practice with the team. There are several more hurdles to clear before Miller's potential return becomes a reality.
It seems to me that losing practice and practice reps explains the lack of offensive productivity in the first and second quarters of the most recent games. Once the young offensive players get more comfortable with the game plan and there responsibilities they play better. What are your thoughts? - John S.
John, I think there's plenty of merit to this observation. No one on the team has used cancelled practices as an excuse, but there's clearly some impact when you lose those reps. We're watching an offense right now that didn't have the benefit of an in-person offseason program or preseason games. And then, after a somewhat encouraging performance in Week 1, Drew Lock suffered an injury that sidelined him for several weeks. We've seen the offense improve in recent weeks, as they've put up at least 27 points in back-to-back weeks for the first time since 2016. With a young offense, though, it's not going to be perfect right away. It's not easy, but some degree of patience is required. The Broncos are fighting to win each game, but let's see how the next several weeks play out before we dismiss any player or system as ineffective.
I am wondering, if we have a solid plan set in place to increase the strength and duration of our O-line, to protect our quarterback better, in the next offseason? - Lynsie G.
Lynsie, I do think the Broncos' offensive line has taken steps forward. They rebounded from a tough stretch against the Steelers and Buccaneers to improve in protection, and the unit has blocked well in the running game, as well. They struggled at times against the Falcons, but starting right guard Graham Glasgow missed the game and Demar Dotson — who has started at right tackle because of Ja'Wuan James' opt-out and Elijah Wilkinson's injury — suffered a groin injury that forced him from the game. When healthy, the line has showed potential, and I'd imagine it would look pretty similar in 2021. Dalton Risner, Lloyd Cushenberry III, Glasgow and James are all under contract for next season, and you'd presume that young players in Risner and Cushenberry would continue to improve. The only true decision the Broncos have is at left tackle, where they'll need to decide whether the extend or franchise tag Garett Bolles or find a new starter at left tackle.
During the Chiefs game on October 25, did the Broncos honor Steve Atwater's Hall of Fame induction or did that get rescheduled for next year? - Bret N.
Bret, the Broncos previously decided they would honor Steve Atwater's Hall of Fame induction and Mike Shanahan's Ring of Fame induction in 2021. It was the right choice, as you want Broncos Country to be able to be in attendance to celebrate their accomplishments. It seems likely that another former player will be celebrated as well, as Peyton Manning is a surefire first-ballot Hall of Famer and should go into the Ring of Fame in 2021, as well.