Next-Day Notebook: Numbers reveal progress made by offense in preseason

*DENVER -- *Trevor Siemian's work for the preseason is almost certainly done, and for him and the No. 1 offense, the indicators are positive.

On a per-possession basis, the first-team offense -- with Siemian working behind the No. 1 offensive line -- averaged 2.0 net points per possession, 2.1 first downs per possession and 35.1 net yards per series on 10 drives over the last three weeks.

All three figures represent substantial improvements over last year's rates (1.54 net points, 1.53 first downs and 27.3 net yards per possession) and would put the Broncos above the 2016 league-wide averages in each metric.

It's only a first step, but these numbers offer tangible signs of progress for the offense. Head Coach Vance Joseph pointed to penalties and third downs as areas in need of improvement, but he felt the offense was trending in a positive direction on the whole.

"We had some good drives going that stalled with penalties and that stalled with the lack of converting third downs," he said. "Overall, I was pleased with the offense, just watching the overall structure and operation of it. Again, penalties and third downs, we have to fix those issues."

If the Broncos can keep running like they have, they'll be in better position to remedy those problems. All of their running backs succeeded at finding space behind the first-team offensive line, and with some timely scrambles from the quarterbacks, the Broncos averaged 4.46 yards per carry behind the No. 1 offensive line -- a marked improvement over the team's 3.62-yard average last year.

Perhaps the most promising aspect of this was that the Broncos' improvement wasn't bolstered by a single run or two, but a series of solid gains that kept the offense on schedule. Last year, the Broncos struggled for these types of runs; just one of every 3.2 carries picked up at least 5 yards; this rate ranked 26th in the league.

But on 39 carries behind the No. 1 offensive line this preseason, the Broncos gained at least 5 yards once every 2.29 attempts. That rate would have led the league last year, far exceeding the league average of one 5-yard gain every 2.98 attempts.

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GROUND GAME OPENS HORIZONS FOR TAYLOR, RECEIVERS**

Last year, the Broncos ranked 22nd in the rate of pass plays that gained at least 15 yards, only averaging one completion of that length every 7.35 pass plays (league average: one every 6.75 pass plays). In 36 pass plays with Siemian behind the No. 1 offensive line, they improved that rate to one 15-yard gain every 6.0 pass plays.

Jordan Taylor was on the receiving end of three of those passes of at least 15 yards: 16- and 20-yard plays against the Packers on Saturday and a 19-yard touchdown catch from Siemian last week against the 49ers. He leads the Broncos in receiving yardage this preseason (78) and is tied with Cody Latimer for the team lead in receptions (7).

From Taylor's perspective, the success of the passing game is due in part to the work taking place on the ground.

"Big-time. That's critical for any offense to be able to run the ball and get defenses in one-high man coverage, and then it's just one-on-one [coverage]," he said. "Having this offensive line has been big. It's critical, and having this offensive line is definitely benefitting the receivers, so that's a good thing."

The Broncos' success this summer is a welcome sight compared with late last year, when injuries to C.J. Anderson and Andy Janovich robbed the rushing attack of its two backfield first-teamers, igniting the fuse for struggles in the second half of the season.

"Absolutely. It's tough to have a deep threat when you're struggling to run the ball," Taylor said. "So it's definitely been positive for the offense. Hopefully we can continue to keep that going."

DESPITE INJURIES, NO. 1 DEFENSE PROVES STINGY

The absence of several starters over the last three weeks did not prevent the first-team defense from its usual dominant performance.

In approximately a full game of work over the last three weeks, the No. 1 defense allowed just 10 points, with its only touchdown surrendered coming on a 2-yard drive set up by an interception.

On a per-possession basis, Denver's first-team defense surrendered just 16.3 yards, 1.11 points and 0.89 first downs per series in the preseason. All three numbers were better than their 2016 season-long averages.

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