ENGLEWOOD, Colo. --The Broncos know they'll face the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday. But they don't yet know who their starting quarterback will be.
A look at the most important matchups that could help decide Sunday's game against the Atlanta Falcons. (Photos by AP)
- SIEMIAN QUESTIONABLE FOR SUNDAY**
Trevor Siemian is still "working through soreness" in his left, non-throwing shoulder, Head Coach Gary Kubiak said after Friday's practice. But he continued to throw, and will get some more throwing in Saturday as Kubiak determines whether Siemian or rookie Paxton Lynch will start.
Kubiak said he doesn't necessarily need to warm up Siemian on Sunday to determine whether he plays, unlike with other positions.
"I don't think I need to work out a quarterback to know if he can play or not, like we do other players that run, cover and do those types of things," Kubiak said. "It's more me watching him over the next 48 hours, and seeing how he does [Saturday]."
Kubiak said he felt good about Siemian's ability to avoid contact and a hit that would exacerbate the injury.
"He's shown the ability to move and do the things he needs to do," Kubiak said. "It's really just us watching him [Saturday] and seeing what we think, and going from there."
- THE SHORT WEEK NEXT WEEK WILL NOT FACTOR INTO THE QB DECISION**
Kubiak made it clear that the quick turnaround and trip to San Diego for a Thursday game next week will not impact this weekend's choice.
"Thursday really has nothing to do with Sunday," Kubiak said.
And that extends to three other players who are also listed as questionable: right tackle Donald Stephenson, tight end Virgil Green and safety Shiloh Keo. All are questionable for the Falcons game.
Green and Stephenson have not played since Week 2 because of calf injuries. As with Siemian, their status will be determined this weekend.
Cornerback Kayvon Webster was ruled out for Sunday; he spent Friday's practice doing rehab work following the hamstring injury he suffered last Sunday. Lorenzo Doss is expected to be active in his spot.
"Doss has really stepped up. It's time for him to contribute," Kubiak said.
- LIKE LOOKING INTO A MIRROR**
In zone-blocking based offenses, the offense can keep the defense off-balance because runs and passes look similar at the snap. That gives the Broncos' defense an advantage most foes won't have against Atlanta's high-octane attack, because Denver's defenders saw it all summer.
"We've practiced against it. We know what to expect," inside linebacker Brandon Marshall said. "It's not too far-fetched as far as what we've been seeing [in practice]. It helps us out a lot."
"It definitely helps when you play against a team that's similar, that wants to do the same thing our offense does," added cornerback Chris Harris Jr.
But the same is also true for Atlanta's defense against the Broncos' offense. Sunday's winner may be determined by which offense can better deceive its opponent.
- FIGURING OUT THE START**
Atlanta has jumped on its opponents early, outscoring them 31-10 in the first quarter of games this season. Its plus-21 point differential in the first quarter has helped fuel the Falcons' 3-1 start; they have a negative point differential in the second (minus-1) and fourth (minus-3) quarters.
"They're a fast-starting team," Kubiak said. "They've been jumping on some people pretty early. It's obviously important that you play well all game long, but they have been a fast-starting team."
Meanwhile, the Broncos have a minus-11 point differential in the first quarter, their worst figure for any quarter of the game. Denver has allowed 24 points in the first quarters this season, and just 40 in the final three quarters of each game.
In particular, the Broncos have had trouble with the first 15 plays, allowing 5.55 yards per play on those snaps, compared with 3.71 yards per play in the rest of the game.
"It's always tough when you go against the first 15," Marshall said.
But after that, the Broncos' defense has dominated.
"We might start off slow, but we come into halftime and we've got some adjustments, or the game has slowed down, so to speak," Marshall said. "By that time, we're killing them in that third or fourth quarters."
- FAMILIAR FACES**
You start with the obvious connection: Falcons offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan is the son of longtime Broncos head coach Mike Shanahan and a former member of Kubiak's staff in Houston.
"Kyle is as sharp of a guy as I have ever worked with," Kubiak said. "He's exceptional at attacking defenses and knowing what he wants to get done. We all know how he grew up and being around ball all the time. He's great with players and knows how to get guys the ball."
But Falcons defensive coordinator Richard Smith served two stints on the Broncos' staff, from 1993-96 as a special-teams coach and again from 2011-14 as the linebackers coach.
Shanahan's offense has some of the same nomenclature and concepts as the one Kubiak and Offensive Coordinator Rick Dennison guide, and Smith's teaching played a key role in the development of Broncos starting linebackers Marshall, Von Miller and Todd Davis.
"He really played a huge part in my development," Miller said. "The type of football player that I was when I first got here, he helped me become the type of player that I am today."
Through Miller, Smith's lessons continue to guide Denver's linebackers.
"I try to send those same messages, those same techniques and just those same vibes that he portrayed to me, I just try to give the same vibes to the rookies," Miller said. "I still have some of the same quotes that he used to tell me and some of the same techniques."
A history of the Broncos' series with the Falcons through photos. (photos via Denver Broncos photo archive/Eric Bakke unless noted)