ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — It's Chiefs Week here in Denver.
After a huge win in New England, the Broncos have a chance to improve to 3-3 and throw themselves firmly back into the playoff race.
In this edition of "Ask Aric," we've got a packed mailbag after a victory over the Pats. We take a look at some of the biggest moments and decisions in the win over New England and look ahead to an opportunity against Kansas City.
To submit a question for a future mailbag, click here.
One quick thought is that it is not fair for the Chiefs to add Bell (UGH). At this point in a very interesting season everything actually looks great and improving, with players returning. However, there is one major issue I see and that is that the long-range accuracy of Drew Lock is somewhat lacking, that and a few poorly timed drops. Do you agree that Lock's accuracy is something that will most likely increase as he gets more game reps with the receivers? — William L.
William, I think it's clear from watching Sunday that Drew Lock's deep-ball accuracy was far better against the Patriots than it was against the Titans. You could argue that all four of his attempts against Tennessee were a bit off target. In New England, he was largely on the money. According to the NFL's Next Gen Stats, Lock attempted six passes of at least 30 yards. He completed two of those passes, including a 35-yard catch on third-and-21, and two of the others were in the receivers' hands and dropped. He did throw an interception on his deepest attempt of the day, which was nearly 45 yards down the middle of the field, and he almost threw another when targeting Tim Patrick in the end zone when the backside corner dropped off his man. Still, that sort of improvement from one game to the next was encouraging, especially since Lock hadn't played in several weeks. As he gets more practice time and game reps with his teammates, that should only improve. Lock was a vaunted deep-ball thrower at Missouri, and the threat of him completing several of those passes again might be the Broncos offense's biggest weapon.
What was your biggest positive takeaway from the win? And what in the world is the key to NOT losing a 10th consecutive game to KC? — Arick V.
Arick, good name. It's hard to pick just one thing, but I guess I'd wrap everything up by saying I think Sunday proved that the Broncos should be competitive in almost every game this season. We've already seen that against really good teams in the Titans and Steelers, and with Drew Lock back at quarterback, there's no reason that shouldn't continue. There were tons of reasons why the Broncos could have lost Sunday's game. Lock hadn't played in three weeks. The Broncos were missing Noah Fant, Melvin Gordon III and KJ Hamler on offense. They hadn't competed in a game in 17 days. The Patriots were at home, and the Broncos had to flyacross the country and play the early game. Cam Newton and Stephon Gilmore were both back for the Patriots. The list goes on. It certainly would've been understandable if the Broncos lost to a team that has traditionally been dominant at home. Instead, the Broncos dominated both lines of scrimmage for most of the game, strung together drives on offense and made huge plays on defense. With the exception of a couple of late miscues, the Broncos were clearly the better team on Sunday.
That does two things for this Broncos team. First, it's a mental boost. This team should now know — if it didn't already — that it can go on the road and beat a good team. The win over the Jets counts the same in the standings, but this one was a measuring stick of sorts. The second boost this win gives the team is to its playoff chances. The Chiefs pose a challenging test Sunday, but the Broncos should look at the coming weeks on the schedule — or at least the fans should — and see a slate that could lead to the Broncos getting back to .500 or above .500 in the coming weeks. There's no reason with Lock under center, a defense that's clicking and a set of players poised to return that Denver can't make a run here. With a slew of teams bunched at two or three losses in the AFC, this race is not even close to over, even after an 0-3 start.
As for Kansas City, we'll get to that matchup more in a moment from a technical standpoint, but one thing is clear: The Broncos have to view this game as a singular contest. They can't let the streak create added pressure. After a win in New England, it seems the Broncos are mentally tough enough to have the correct attitude and perspective.
Are the drops we're seeing in the receiving corps due to a lack of offseason preparation, or is it just natural to expect with rookie/young offensive weapons? - Caleb S.
Caleb, I think it's probably a mix of both. The team's young players lost out on hundreds of reps from the lack of an offseason program, and that definitely has an impact on their play so far. I also think certain drops — like the ones from Jerry Jeudy early in the season and Albert Okwuegbunam on Sunday — are natural to expect early in a player's career as they get used to the speed of the game and the limited separation they can get from defenders. We haven't seen those drops persist with Jeudy, and I expect Okwuegbunam to learn from those mistakes, as well. I also think there was a certain element of bad luck on Sunday with all the drops happening at once. I think that was a rarity that is unlikely to repeat itself.
Fangio has been blitzing a lot the last two games. Can we afford to do that vs. Mahomes? — Pablo G.
Pablo, it's definitely a risky proposition, because for as good as Mahomes has been, he's even better when teams try to send extra rushers at him. Through six games in 2020, Mahomes has posted a 101.6 passer rating when teams drop back in coverage and a 142.2 passer rating when facing extra rushers, per Pro Football Focus. In the Raiders' Week 5 win over the Chiefs, they blitzed Mahomes just five times. Mahomes was 4-of-4 for 94 yards and scrambled once. The Raiders found far more success when they were able to pressure him with just four players, as they got pressure on 24 of his 51 dropbacks without sending added rushers.
That said, I'm not sure if the Broncos have the luxury to sit back and play coverage. Over the last two weeks, they've tallied 10 sacks after posting just four in the first three weeks of the season, and they've done that by sending extra rushers. Without Von Miller and Jurrell Casey, it may not be possible to get pressure with just four players, so it may make sense for Denver to stick with what's working. Even with the Broncos sending extra pressure, the secondary has held up decently, thanks to solid play from Kareem Jackson, Justin Simmons, Michael Ojemudia, Bryce Callahan and De'Vante Bausby. If that group gets A.J. Bouye back this week, the back end of the defense should only be stronger. Listen: Mahomes is going to make plays whether you blitz him or not. If the Broncos are going to earn a win, they may have to pit strength vs. strength.
Was that the "signature win" for Fangio? -@CaseyFSanders
It's either this week's win over the Patriots or last season's blowout win over the Texans, who won the AFC South. The Texans were probably the more successful team, but I think there's something to be said for how Head Coach Vic Fangio kept the team focused after two postponements. Plus, the Broncos traveled across the country for an early kickoff and outdueled a Bill Belichick-led team. That's never something to scoff at, no matter the Patriots' record. I'd lean slightly toward the New England win because the season is still young, while the win over the Texans didn't mean much in terms of playoff positioning. A win over the Chiefs this weekend would easily vault to the top of the list, though.
After Lindsay's huge game, who should we try to cater our offense to? I know that Drew is supposed to be the franchise, but with our injuries he has limited targets right now. - @MattyPfromVB
I'm not sure the plan needs to be all that different than the one in New England. Kansas City will likely expect the Broncos to try to churn up the clock, and I don't disagree that the best strategy is to keep Mahomes off the field. That said, Lock will need to continue to take shots down the field to prevent the Chiefs from stacking the box and to open up some of the underneath throws. That plan worked to perfection against New England, and it seems like Denver's best chance to score a decent amount of points while shortening the game. If Denver can sustain drives like it did in New England while improving its red-zone offense, there's no reason the Broncos can't score enough points to be in — and have a chance to win — this game.
I am a huge fan of Phillip Lindsay and I absolutely enjoy watching him play. if you could tell him for me just how great of a job he's doing, that'd be great!! I draft him every year on fantasy. I just love watching him run his heart out. He has amazing energy on the field. Is there a noticeable difference for the team when Lindsay is in play? And when Gordon returns will Lindsay see more snaps? This last game he proved he can play the game well. averaging almost 5ypc and a couple big runs here and there. Just wanna see him play more. Philip Lindsay is electric!!! — Franky B.
Franky, I'm sure Phillip appreciates the kind words. He definitely provided a boost of energy to the Broncos on Sunday, and his speed was good to see, especially without KJ Hamler in the lineup. I wouldn't worry too much about Lindsay's production declining, even if Gordon returns to the lineup this week. Before Lindsay suffered his injury in the first half against the Titans, Gordon carried the ball six times and had two targets in the passing game. Lindsay, meanwhile, carried the ball seven times and was targeted once. You can't get any more even than that. Both players bring a unique skill set to the field, and Denver is better when they're both involved. I would expect to see each player featured against the Chiefs.
Why didn't Coach Fangio call a timeout in the first half when we got a first down on their 21-yard line with 1:17 minutes to go before halftime? — Eric
Eric, I had the same thought when I was watching initially. Looking back at it, that's a difficult tight rope to walk, as you want to give your team every opportunity to score and not restrict which plays you can call based on timing. That said, you also don't want to give New England too much time to drive down for a score of their own. I certainly wouldn't have called a timeout before the Royce Freeman run for a first down, as there were still more than 90 seconds on the clock and the Patriots still had all three timeouts. When the Broncos snapped the ball again with 42 seconds left, they still had plenty of time — and timeouts — to either pass or run. If the Broncos were able to continue to move the ball rather than take a sack, I think there would've been plenty of time to get in the end zone.
Great to have Lock back and props on the win, but I have questions about the play calling. First scoring drive get to NE 27 and we're passing for a touchdown? What happened to continuing to drive? Several examples all through the game. Also, [on the] last meaningful possession and we need to try to run out the last 3+ min and we're going deep? This play calling is awful! Let's take the ball down field and control the clock! It's not like they were stuffing our run game. - John K.
I did not like the way we passed at the end we should have ran the ball and used the clock what do you think and after the turnover we should of gone for the end zone not ran what do you think? - Vincent L.
I'm answering both of these questions in one, because I think it shows just how easy it is to second-guess play calling and how difficult it is to make these decisions in the moment. In John's question, he's first referring to the sequence after DeShawn William's interception where the Broncos ran the ball twice for a combined 8 yards and then took a shot to Albert Okwuegbunam in the end zone on third-and-2. Vincent, I believe, is referring to the series after Justin Simmons' fumble recovery. The Broncos played things relatively conservatively and ran the ball twice before Lock and DaeSean Hamilton failed to link up on a short pass. The first of those series was an aggressive-minded approach, while the latter was a measured approach to guarantee points. Both ended with a field goal, but both sparked debate. As for the final drive, I personally would've preferred to run the ball a few times to work some time off the clock and drain the Patriots of their timeouts, but I also can understand the Broncos' desire to stay aggressive. If Lock does complete that long pass, the game is likely over, as the Broncos would've been in field-goal range.
Albert O. flashed enough to gain a regular spot on the 53 over Butt or Vannett even when Fant is back? - @2020_Broncos
Okwuegbunam has been on the 53-man roster all season, but this question is hinting at whether Albert O. will be active on game day when Fant comes back, which could be as early as this week. Fangio said Monday the Broncos would have to evaluate that situation before making a decision, but he added that the team was highly encouraged by what they saw from the rookie. Personally, I think Okwuegbunam did enough — despite the two drops — that he deserves to remain active. His 27-yard third-down reception in the first half was a nice catch and run by him, and it's clear Lock trusts him, as he targeted him six times. Plus, it's fun to think about how Fant and Okwuegbunam on the field at the same time could stress defenses. The likelihood of Okwuegbunam being active, though, likely depends on the week-to-week matchups and whether the Missouri product can continue to develop his blocking ability.
Why on earth did the Broncos punt instead of going for a seventh consecutive field goal that would have put them up by three scores? — @JustinShofler
That's a fair question, Justin. I considered the same thing in this situation, too. A field goal would've put the Broncos up 18 points with just over 14 minutes to play, and even if you presume that Lock was still going to throw two interceptions, it's unlikely the Broncos would've faced the same danger that they did late in the game. Attempting a 57-yarder, though, would've asked Brandon McManus to tie his career long. No matter how good he was, that's still a tall ask — especially since he missed a 58-yarder a few weeks earlier in Pittsburgh. Plus, you have to consider that the Broncos would've given the ball to New England at the Denver 46-yard line with a miss. The Patriots had struggled to move the ball consistently and score points, so it didn't make a ton of sense to jump-start New England's offense by giving them free yardage. If the Broncos could've gained even 5 yards or so, that may have been enough to tilt the odds in favor of attempting the field goal.