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There are two keys:
- Better execution in short yardage. One of the most frustrating aspects of the Broncos' performance the last two weeks was their inability to convert third-and-1 in the red zone. That sounds simple, but it requires a collective execution.
"It's on all of our shoulders," Head Coach Gary Kubiak said. "It's finding the right call for them, making the right play and converting on short yardage. That's two weeks in a row that we've missed three third-and-ones. That keeps you from running three more plays down there. It's on all of us. We have to look at it and do a better job. That's all we can do."
- Better protection of the football. Although turnovers in prime scoring range offer the defense a chance to ensure the Broncos emerge unscathed from their giveaways, there's still the matter of the lost opportunity for points. Without the three giveaways against Carolina and second-quarter interception by Indianapolis' Darius Butler last week, is either game even close?
That isn't something that has spurred a lot of discussion to this point. Further, the notion of expanding the schedule has been largely put aside in part because of the concern about additional burden on the players.
But if the schedule were expanded, I would hope that the additional games would not be incorporated into annual rotations. Instead, I would suggest having two fixed, non-divisional opponents every year to help cultivate rivalries that could be strong, but are largely dormant because plenty of teams that would be natural rivals are not because they don't share a division.
Geography would be a driving force for many of these fixed games in my proposal; for instance, the Broncos would be paired with the Seahawks and Cardinals, allowing them to resume a fierce AFC West rivalry while playing annual games against the only other team in the Mountain Time Zone (although Arizona is effectively on Pacific time from March through early November because it does not observe Daylight Savings Time). The Florida teams would meet each other every year. Jets-Giants duels would become annual affairs, as would cross-state duels like Steelers-Eagles and Texans-Cowboys.
Because the rest of the schedule would remain intact, the Broncos would play the Cardinals and Seahawks twice a year every four years, when they had their usual games with the NFC West.
You'd see some new rivalries develop. For instance, the Falcons and Titans are separated by just four hours of interstate highway; I think they would develop some enmity from annual meetings. The Colts would go three hours northwest by car to face the Bears and two hours southeast to grapple with the Bengals every year. The three Lake Erie teams would have annual games, with the Browns, Bills and Lions facing off each year.
Personally, I'm not in favor of schedule expansion. Sixteen games is enough. But if it was created, it would be an opportunity to develop rivalries that should, but currently do not, exist.
It's enough of a consideration to where the Broncos piped in loud music during the offense's work in practice this week to try and simulate the din that will greet him in Cincinnati. How he does in it, and whether it affects him -- we'll see. If he can use signals to make the necessary checks and calls at the line of scrimmage before the snap and the offense can run without impediment, then it won't be much of a factor at all.
Hi Mase, first off I love your work, on the mailbag, video content and keeping us all informed on Twitter, so thanks! My question is: How many 'elite' players would you say the Broncos have on their Roster? I'd class elite as top 5-6 at their position.
-- Josh Nadarajan
First, you're welcome.
Here are the players I would classify as "elite" who will be on the field for the Broncos on Sunday:
On the cusp:
DeMarcus Ware is also clearly "elite," but he will be out the next four to five weeks. It's a sliding scale, and to describe one as "elite" doesn't mean they're in the best "five to six." Some positions only have three or four elite players league-wide. Some have double digits, including wide receiver.
Running back is another deep position, and I put Anderson in the "elite" category because of his blend of toughness, pass-protection skills, ability to make defenders miss in space, and his core running ability.
It's not a coincidence that the players in the "elite" class have earned at least one Pro Bowl nod apiece.
Let me start by saying I love what I see out of Trevor Siemian, he's poised in the pocket and shrugs off mistakes like a seasoned vet. But being the die-hard fan that I am I still want to see improvement. I know we can't teach Trevor to be taller (LoL) but what type of things could he do to improve tipped passes or plays like the near pick-six?**
-- Darrien Manker
Height is overrated when it comes to reasons why any quarterback's passes are deflected at or behind the line of scrimmage. On downfield passes, you're generally throwing to a lane. Some passes are going to be batted down because the defender makes a good play on the ball; as the cliche' says, "The other guys get paid, too." But the quarterback also can create his own lanes by moving around in the pocket; Siemian has done that on multiple occasions already this season.
As for screen passes being knocked down; these are unusual and can be attributed more to great plays on the ball by the defender than anything Siemian is or isn't doing. Perhaps he can get the ball a little bit higher, but doing that consistently means sacrificing the quickness you need on the football to create space for the intended receiver before defenders can peel back and try to defuse the screen pass from behind.
I am from Denver and a huge Broncos fan but I live in Massachusetts (and I obviously hate the Pats) but my question is: Even though Jimmy Garoppolo got hurt people here basically treat him like he is the second coming of Tom Brady. I get that there is a deadline on how long he plays and the situations are different but I think Siemian has played at least as well as Jimmy G if not better. However, in Denver it seems all the fans do is complain about Siemian. I just don't understand why Denver fans and media can't at least give him a little more respect? Isn't he doing at least better than people expected? Thanks!**
-- Julia Mason Wedgle
If you look at Siemian's quarterback rating of 74.4 in a vacuum, one would probably say, "That's to be expected for a young quarterback." The interception percentage of 5.1 in particular is a bit worrisome; last year, Peyton Manning and Brock Osweiler combined for an interception percentage of 3.8 percent. And for all Siemian can do on the positive side, if he throws three interceptions for every single touchdown over a sustained period, he won't be a viable NFL quarterback; that's just the bottom line.
A deep connection -- or the threat thereof -- would help, and I think that's coming as Siemian continues to hone his timing with his downfield targets. The improved viability of the play-action will help set that up; the Broncos' ground game must be taken seriously by any defense, and that will create windows for downfield shots.
But statistically speaking, screen-pass interceptions are rare. There's every reason to believe this is a statistical anomaly, and not a pattern, so then you're only talking about one interception via conventional means. Still, Siemian has to make better decisions, as Kubiak noted.
"He's made some poor decisions, athletic decisions," Kubiak said Wednesday. "I know that sounds kind of crazy, but it's just learning that, 'Trevor, that guy can make that play. You're not in college anymore. You're not going to throw that ball through that guy.'"
I can't speak for the fan view. Maybe some fans want to hurry up and start the Paxton Lynch era now. Maybe some have preconceived notions of Siemian because he's a seventh-round pick, and their minds aren't open to the notion that he might develop into a quality quarterback. (The odds are not in any seventh-round pick's favor, but I think it's time to let go of that crutch in fans' perception of him and focus solely on the quality of his play.)
For fans that do look at the numbers, I think it's human nature to focus on the ones that fit your preconceived narrative. A fan that is a Siemian believer will focus on stats like these:
- His completion percentage (67.8 percent, seventh-best in the NFL);
- His first-down percentage (40.7 percent of his passes move the chains, sixth-best in the NFL);
- The offense's average first downs and yardage per possession (both of which are second in the league);
A fan that isn't on board the Siemian Express will cite:
- The afore-mentioned quarterback rating (31st among 35 QBs with at least 20 attempts);
- His average air yards per attempt (5.85, last in the NFL among qualified passers);
- His three interceptions.
Those paint an extreme picture. Reality is somewhere in between, which isn't bad for a quarterback taking his first steps as an NFL starter.
Being 2-0 helps, although you can play lousy in a win and play well in a loss, so in regards to any player's individual development -- even that of a quarterback -- the raw win-loss record is overvalued.
As for Patriots Nation, I can't speak for how it views Garoppolo's performance in light of the Brady suspension. But I can say that he is worthy of ample praise. To rack up a 119.0 rating, complete 71.2 percent of his passes, throw no interceptions against four touchdowns, lead the Patriots to a win at Arizona and to do all without Rob Gronkowski available ... frankly, how can anyone not be impressed with that?
It doesn't matter what system you're in or what geniuses are making the calls from the sideline, Garoppolo was terrific in his two starts. But that's all they were: two starts.
With any young quarterback, the test comes when opponents get plenty of game film and can study his tendencies and find weaknesses. It will come for Garoppolo. It will come for Siemian, as well. How each quarterback and team adapts will determine their long-term viability.
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The analysis, opinion and speculation in this story represents that of the author, gathered through research and reporting, and does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the Denver Broncos organization.