The Broncos are approaching the second half of the season, which means it's a good time to take stock of where they stand.
In this edition of our mailbag, I take a look at the Broncos' no-huddle offense, how the team can stay in a groove and, yes, what their playoff chances look like.
To ask a question for a future mailbag, click here — or tweet at me at @AricDiLalla.
Let's get to it.
[KJ] Hamler's deep threat was the decisive play last game. How do we plan to take more deep shots? - CommeterFootbal
The Broncos have done a nice job of attacking down the field, as they're tied for the eighth-most passes of at least 20 yards and are tied for the sixth-most passes of at least 40 yards. There has to be a balance, though. If you're launching the ball down the field and not finding success, it puts you in a tougher situation on second and third down, and that sets up the feast-or-famine results that the Broncos have seen at times this season. The Broncos need to find consistency on offense, which means choosing your spots to take shots down the field. Denver did that against the Jaguars, with four completions of at least 20 yards. But the Broncos also had another six passing plays of at least 10 yards. The ability to find intermediate gains has eluded the Broncos at times, but it became an element of the passing game vs. Jacksonville. They'll look to hopefully continue that against Tennessee. And with a better running game and productivity on first down, they'll maintain the opportunity to take the impressive shots down the field.
Is [Graham] Glasgow the answer at center? - Hookahdontmiss
The Broncos lost yet another starting offensive lineman against the Jaguars, but Glasgow filled in admirably in Lloyd Cushenberry III's absence. Denver posted a pair of touchdown drives in the second half, and Glasgow graded out as the team's best pass blocker, according to Pro Football Focus. He also earned the third-best run blocking grade among Denver's offensive linemen. Glasgow seemed to struggle at times at guard, but at center, he found more success. It's too early to tell if the Broncos have found a combination that works, but it's certainly a reason to be encouraged as the team moves forward.
When will the Broncos consistently incorporate the no-huddle offense at home to keep the defense out of breath from the altitude? #AskAric - BroncozCountry
From talking with Broncos players, it sounds like it could be an opportunity for the team to pursue away from home, as well. Courtland Sutton, Jerry Jeudy and KJ Hamler all spoke this week about the benefit the Broncos found from going up-tempo against Jacksonville. "I feel like during the London game when we were tempoing up, they couldn't stop our offense," Jeudy said. "We were just driving down the field consistently and scoring. I feel like that should be a big part of this weekend." The Broncos went no-huddle for portions of two of their three scoring drives, including on Russell Wilson's 38-yard pass to Greg Dulcich that set up a Melvin Gordon III third-quarter touchdown run. Like anything else, the Broncos will have to balance the risk and reward this weekend. It's great to go up-tempo, but if you go three-and-out, your defense pays the price. Against an offense that's as physical as Tennessee's, that could change the dynamic of the game. Of course, if the Broncos can go fast, score points and build a lead, it could push the Titans out of their run-first attack.
How much longer do you think it will take for the offense to click, if it will at all? - Ben S.
I'm optimistic that they're getting there. It's just one game, but the Broncos' success against the Jaguars showed signs that I think are encouraging. Denver went 3-of-3 in the red zone, rebounded from a deficit, found explosive plays in the passing game and then ran out the clock at the end of the game. I'm still not expecting that you're going to see a jump to 35 points per game overnight — especially against a good Tennessee defense — but there's reason to believe the Broncos could post another three-touchdown game. With the Denver defense playing as well as it has, that's going to be enough to win a lot of games. Everyone wants the Broncos to find more offensive success, but it's still only been eight weeks. Let's see if they can stack some performances over the coming games.
What is the team doing to stay on a winning streak for the rest of the season? In particular, protecting Russell Wilson, less penalties, scoring in the red zone & clock management. - Rick K.
I mentioned the red-zone success a moment ago, and the Broncos believe that honing in on the smaller details have helped them improve. "I think we're starting to pick up the pieces and do the little things right," Hamler said. "We're just finishing. … A few weeks prior, we weren't finishing. Now we're finding ways." We'll touch on the penalties in a moment, and the clock management has not really been an issue for nearly two months. Protecting Wilson is definitely crucial; without Wilson in the lineup, it's hard to imagine this team making a playoff push. The Broncos' depth has been tested — every starter along the line has missed time — and they'll face some difficult fronts in coming weeks, beginning with the Titans. The Broncos can combat a battered line with both schematics and by Wilson getting the ball out quick. The determining factor, though, will be whether the Broncos can make the key plays in the key moments. Seven of the Broncos' eight games have been one-score games that have come down to the final moments. In their three wins, Denver made the plays — a late touchdown vs. Houston, a go-ahead drive vs. the Niners, a fourth-quarter score and stop vs. Jacksonville. In the losses, Denver failed to haul in a crucial pass, threw a critical interception or fumbled a punt. The NFL is designed to be a one-score league and create drama every Sunday afternoon. For the Broncos to come out on the right side of the ledger and string wins together in a league designed to encourage parity, they'll need to consistently be the team to make the big plays.
What steps do you see the Broncos taking to minimize the penalties and lack of discipline, being they're on track to have the most penalties in team history? - James
The penalties have certainly been an issue. They've cost the Broncos in critical moments, and it's possible Denver would have another win or two — the Seattle game comes to mind — without all the flags. The solution is a combination of both coaching and player focus, and it's clear that it's been an emphasis for Denver. "That's something we have to hold everybody accountable to," Hackett said this week. "We point them out, we talked about it. We put presentations up there, but in the end, sometimes it's a crazy game and things happen. We just have to be sure that everybody understands we can't hurt the team. We can't have those self-inflicted wounds. We'll be sure to hold all the guys very accountable for their actions and all the things that they're doing just because we want to eliminate that stuff and stop hurting ourselves." After recording 10 penalties in the first half against Jacksonville, the Broncos were flagged just twice after the break — and success followed. Teams are going to get penalized on occasion, but they'll look to maintain that cleaner brand of football in the second half of the season.
Who are the best OL free agents the Broncos should consider next offseason? #AskAric - Jussi V.
It's wayyyy too early for this, but I understand why you're asking. Chiefs tackle Orlando Brown and Packers guard Elgton Jenkins are in the top 10 of NFL.com’s ranking of 2023 free agents, but so much could change between now and free agency. Players can sign extensions or be franchise tagged before they hit the open market, and we also don't know the Broncos' plans at the position. They now have a first-round pick, which people have quickly assumed will be used to draft a tackle. I do suspect the offensive line will be a priority, but it's too soon to guess how George Paton and Co. will look to improve the unit.
What are the odds we still make the playoffs? - Khieran
According to the New York Times’ prediction model, the Broncos' chances are currently at eight percent. With a win on Sunday against the Titans, that number would jump up to 14 percent. Looking further down the road, the Broncos would have somewhere between a five to 20 percent chance to make the playoffs if they finish with a 9-8 record and north of a 70 percent chance to earn a berth if they're 10-7. After looking through the simulation, there's definitely a path for the Broncos even if they finish 9-8. Several of the other AFC competitors have tough schedules, and they also have head-to-head matchups with other wild-card hopefuls. Of course, none of this matters if the Broncos can't find a way to start stringing wins together. That starts on Sunday against the Titans.