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Mason's Mailbag: Opponents working underneath routes and the necessity of Orlando Franklin


As always, you can tweet questions to me with the hashtag #AskMase, use the submission form or scroll to the bottom of this page.*

The Broncos have given up a lot of passes to running backs lately. Is that because of injuries at linebacker, or because teams are avoiding their Pro Bowl cornerbacks?
-- Byron Smith

It's as simple as matchups. Opponents see a new starting weakside linebacker (Todd Davis) and a middle linebacker who became a starter in Week 10 (Steven Johnson) and adapt accordingly.

"I think teams will try and do whatever they can to get to the matchup where they feel like they have a chance," said Defensive Coordinator Jack Del Rio. "If they are not having success outside, they move in and that is just part of it."

The numbers tell the tale.

In Weeks 1-14, 53.2 percent of the receptions and 57.2 percent of the receiving yards amassed by opponents came via wide receivers. Since Week 15, when the Broncos lost Danny Trevathan and Brandon Marshall to injuries, just 32.2 percent of the receptions and 31.7 percent of the yardage came via the wide receivers.

Tight ends picked up some of the slack; the percentage of catches and yardage by opposing tight ends rose from 22.9 and 23.7, respectively, to 30.5 and 26.7.

But the big bump came from opposing running backs, who increased their average per reception from 7.89 to 10.14 and accounted for 37.3 percent of the receptions and 41.6 percent of the gross passing yards against the Broncos in Weeks 15-17, compared with 22.9 and 18.5 percent in Weeks 1-14, respectively.

Davis was "a little more comfortable" in his second career start against the Raiders, Del Rio said. He showed increased assertiveness in attacking the run and was more comfortable in coverage.

"To look at the situation he's been thrust into, you've got to give him credit," said Del Rio. "He's done a nice job of holding up and being reliable in several situations. It wasn't perfect, it rarely is, but he was better the second time out. We expect him to continue to improve."

But at the same time, Del Rio hopes that he has a full complement of inside defenders in the back two lines for the divisional round, which would include Marshall and safeties David Bruton and T.J. Ward, both of whom were injured by the end of Week 17.

"It'll be important that we get those guys back," Del Rio said, "but the other guys that are being called on are doing their job and playing well within the roles that we asking them to and growing and getting better with the experience and exposure."

League-wide, the Brock Osweiler-to-Virgil Green connection isn't even the first time it's happened this season. In Jacksonville, Blake Bortles' first touchdown pass came to fellow rookie Allen Hurns in Week 1.

The last time it happened for the Broncos was in 1987 during the players' strike, when replacement quarterback Ken Karcher found fellow fill-in wide receiver Rick Massie for a 21-yard touchdown against the Houston Oilers. Both stuck with the Broncos beyond the strike.

Do you think the Broncos with the O-line as it stands can win its first game against any team not named the Colts?
-- Justin Pizmmore

Yes, but it needs left guard Orlando Franklin, who is currently in the post-concussion protocol. Since the increased run emphasis in Week 12, it can be argued that he's playing the best of any Broncos offensive lineman; with Will Montgomery to his right, he's excelled at pulling and creating holes for C.J. Anderson and the other running backs. Among all guards, Franklin ranks third in's rankings since Week 13.

So the Broncos need him. And as Franklin wrote for Yahoo! Canada on Friday, he's making progress.

"I definitely think I'll be all right," Franklin writes. "I was able to pass a lot of the concussion tests this week. It's just a matter of easing back into it. I think I'll be healthy enough to go."

Ben Garland had a solid performance in place of Franklin in the second half against Oakland, but is still learning how to play offensive line after moving there in 2013, when he was on the practice squad.

"He did really well," Offensive Coordinator Adam Gase said. "The one thing about Ben that you love is that he knows what to do and he's going to play as hard as he can. He just hasn't done it a whole bunch. He's still trying to learn the little ins and outs of that position. It's tough. It's just like Manny [Ramirez] moving from center to guard. It's not an easy thing to do. It's a different position.

"For him to get thrown in there, that's a former D-Lineman in there trying to still learn how to play that position. He did a great job. He sees a caught ball down the field, and you see him running 40 yards down the field. The guy is high motor all the time."

Garland can make up for his lack of experience with energy, discipline and athleticism. But that can only go so far, and the Broncos need the experience Franklin has (six playoff starts) and the lessons he has learned from them.

If we have been keeping Shaquil Barrett on the practice squad and paying him then why do we not bring him up to the 53-man roster and play him some? Does Todd Davis really offer that much more over a guy that has been there all season learning the schemes and is he a bit faster than Steve Johnson?
-- Bill Venditto

It's about position fit. Todd Davis is a 230-pound weak-side linebacker: Shaq Barrett is a 260-pound strong-side linebacker, and if you added practice-squad players to the depth chart, is effectively the third-teamer there. His promotion to the 53-man roster in October came when Lerentee McCray, the second-teamer on the strong side, was coming off a knee injury.

As I've mentioned before, this isn't Madden. Linebackers aren't equivalent, and the strong side has a completely different job description than the "will" or "mike" positions, with a different skill set and body type that fits the role.

@MaseDenver do fans overreact to von/ware being dropped to coverage? Do you see it changing IF Broncos play New England #askmase — Johm (@Johm1211) December 31, 2014

Yes, people do overreact, because if you go by the numbers compiled by, Miller has dropped into coverage 113 times -- and rushed the passer 511 times. Remember, he's a strong-side linebacker in the base defense, and sometimes when the Broncos go into their sub packages, he stands up at the snap on the edge. Coverage, on at least an occasional basis, is part of the job description for an all-around, every-down, multi-position player who works about 40 percent of his snaps at linebacker like Miller is.

With the direction the offense is going and the emergence of C.J. Anderson and Ronnie Hillman reaching his potential, how likely would it be that the Broncos hold a quarterback competition next season? Peyton Manning is a legend but on his way out and Brock shows that he has that fire a starting quarterback has in the NFL.
-- Luis Ponce

And are you implying that Peyton Manning doesn't have that fire?

Look, I think Brock Osweiler has handled his lengthy apprenticeship as well as anyone possibly can. He aches to play, but he understands the unique situation: a quarterback in the conversation for being the best in the sport's history sits in front of him. But we don't know enough yet. The touchdown drive against the Raiders was an outstanding recovery from the three-and-out in the two-minute drill at San Diego two weeks earlier, and progress in Osweiler was evident from all the practices we watched in training camp this summer, but the regular-season game sample size remains way too small to make an accurate call.

Allow me to put the notion of a competition out of your head. If Manning returns and is healthy, the job is his when training camp begins for 2015, end of discussion. Fourteen Pro Bowl selections, including one this season, when he was second in touchdown passes, fourth in quarterback rating and yardage, fifth in yardage per attempt and sixth in completion percentage earns you a little security atop the depth chart.

How come Broncos mobile app doesn't allow viewing or posting of comments? Believe it or not, some people consider Twitter and Facebook suitable only for revolutions and attention-craving 14-year-olds.
-- Scott He

There are limitations to most apps compared with a full website, and at this time, this is one of them. And because the comments on the site are tied to Facebook, it sounds like you'd be out of luck, anyway, even if commenting was possible on the app.

But I will argue that Twitter is also for attention-craving writers in their late thirties. And to paraphrase Thomas Jefferson, a little revolution every now and then is a good thing.

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