ENGLEWOOD, Colo. --Down the stretch, it's not just good enough for Trevor Siemian to be okay, average or adequate.
For the Broncos to maximize their potential, Siemian needs to grow. He can't just be the player throwing passes; he must lead and improve his own play.
"I would rate him like a lot of guys: He's got to get better," Kubiak said. "I want to see him continue to lead better and better with this football team. I want to see his play become more consistent. "He's got to continue to play big for this team," Kubiak added later. "Not OK; we need him to play big."
The first thing Siemian must do better is to protect the football. Two interceptions Sunday spiked his giveaway total to six in the last three games after he had just three in his first six starts.
Pressure is not an excuse.
"I don't like the fact that we've turned the ball over the last few weeks," Kubiak said. "He's in charge of the football, whether you're getting hit or not, you're in charge of the football.
"I want Trevor to play big. I don't want Trevor to play OK or good. I want Trevor to play big for this football team," Kubiak said, reiterating the point he'd made a moment earlier. "If he can do that and get the ball in the right spots and protect the ball, with the formula that we had going yesterday, I think some really good things can happen for this team.
"I have big expectations for him and he knows that."
But first Siemian -- and the entire team -- will have to recover during a much-needed bye.
SIEMIAN "BEAT UP" AFTER THE WIN**
Saints pass rushers hit the second-year quarterback 11 times Sunday -- six for sacks and five others on passes Siemian got away. Siemian went 3-of-5 for 29 yards with an interception on passes he attempted as he was hit.
Not all of the hits were simply the fault of the Broncos' protection scheme.
"Some of them, he's got to take responsibility for," Kubiak said. "We've got to make sure he's stepping up in the pocket and doing those type of things."
But Siemian's dropbacks, particularly in the shotgun formation, can leave him too deep, and poorly positioned to avoid contact in the pocket.
"He gets on the road, it gets loud, we get in the [shot]gun and you start getting away from the center a little too far, and now all of a sudden you're back there, you're hitting 11 yards -- well, we're not going to be able to protect you if you're doing that," Kubiak said.
Kubiak added that Siemian also occasionally is "drifting" in the pocket, a critique he made of Brock Osweiler late last season after a spate of sacks.
"Sometimes his depth is bad in the shotgun. It's something we've got to work on," Kubiak said. "When it's good, he's stepping up, [but] sometimes he's drifting and getting hit. It's something we're addressing -- and we have been addressing for about a month."
LEADERSHIP BY EXAMPLE**
Siemian's growing leadership qualities are already in evidence, both in his persistence playing through the sore shoulder and his willingness to shake off the hits and not focus on blame. Instead, he consistently turns his focus to the next play.
"He will sit in there and get hit right in the mouth and make a play," Kubiak said. "That is a great characteristic of a quarterback, because you have to do that sometimes."
That gives his receivers extra time to get open downfield, helping the Broncos post a season-high 14 passes of 10 or more yards Sunday -- an average of one every 2.86 pass plays that was 21 percent better than their season-long average.
"He was getting a lot of pressure last night," said WR Jordan Taylor, who caught Siemian's first-quarter touchdown pass Sunday. "Just the way that he stands in the pocket and can take those hits and still deliver a ball and give us receivers a chance, I think is big for him."
"You realize how many shots he did take. His toughness, it's been incredible so far. He's taken a lot of blows."
POTENTIAL SOLUTIONS UP FRONT?**
Kubiak inserted Ty Sambrailo at right tackle in place of Donald Stephenson for the final 31 snaps of Sunday's game after Stephenson struggled against New Orleans defensive end Cameron Jordan, who had a sack, another hit of Siemian and three tackles for losses.
"Ty deserves to get on the field some more. Donald's got to play better along with other guys up front," Kubiak said.
Kubiak added that Sambrailo "did some good things," but the line needs better play across the board.
"We have to get more consistent in what we're doing up front, and consistent in our play throughout the course of the game," Kubiak said. "If that means we've got to play six, seven guys, we've got to go find it. That's why we're in evaluation mode big-time everywhere, but we'll definitely do that [on the line]."
Waiver-wire pickup Billy Turner and fifth-round pick Connor McGovern could be in the mix and will continue to get some looks in practice, but Kubiak's flexibility is constricted by the 46-man game-day roster, which generally leaves room for only seven offensive linemen in uniform.
"It gets down to who you suit. I can sit there and have all these solutions for you, but it's not the preseason. You can't suit them all up and let them all try," Kubiak said.
On the positive side, the Broncos controlled the flow of the game. A week after the Raiders amassed a better-than-2-to-1 advantage in time of possession, the Broncos held the football for 39 minutes and 22 seconds, ran 83 plays to New Orleans' 51 and kept drives alive by converting 58 percent of their 19 third-down attempts.
"That's a really good formula for our football team, and it was just the opposite [in Oakland]," Kubiak said.
THE YARDS LEFT UNGAINED**
Devontae Booker and Kapri Bibbs combined for 98 yards Sunday on 31 carries in a workmanlike performance.
It was good for the Broncos to put a greater emphasis on the run after just 12 carries a week earlier against the Raiders, but a combined average of just 3.2 yards per carry was not what they were hoping to achieve against a Saints run defense that is average against the run (15th, allowing 4.1 yards per carry).
There were plays when both backs saw a cluster of black jerseys as soon as they received the handoff, but there were others where the hole was there, but it began closing before they arrived, or they failed to break through a tackle, setting for modest gains when breakaway potential existed.
"I know I left extra yardage on the field," Booker admitted.
"For me and my part, it's just exploding through contact and breaking arm tackles and stuff like that," he added. "I know I can find extra yards on stuff like that. I can continue to work at it."