ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — As the Broncos cross the midway point of their season, their offense faces a dual reality.
The unit must feel urgency ahead of its Week 10 matchup with the Raiders. And it also must be patient.
The urgency, of course, exists because Drew Lock and Co. are searching for a win over the 5-3 Raiders to improve to 4-5 on the season and remain in the thick of the wild-card race. The group is aiming to improve on an uneven performance against the Falcons in which the team scored six points through the first three quarters and then added three touchdowns in the final frame. Against the Chargers, the Broncos capped a 21-point comeback with another explosive fourth quarter.
As Lock watched the film from the team's most recent loss, he saw small mistakes that could result in major improvements when corrected.
"There was a lot that when we went back and watched, it was the same old song and dance," Lock said. "There was a couple plays that could have kept us on the field. We found ourselves in long third downs. They were dropping eight on those long third downs and forcing us to check it down and getting us off the field. They came at us early and we didn't make those little plays that they were making. There's [specific] things that we talked about, but we'll keep that in the quarterback room."
Lock and the offense have been significantly better in the fourth quarter of games, in part perhaps because they're able to play more freely. They'll look to translate that approach to the first half against the Raiders.
"Maybe just let things flow a little bit in the first half — just trust it, go with my reads, just calm it down in the first half," Lock said. "We know that these first couple drives they're going to throw some different things at us. It might not be exactly what we practiced against, but if you stay calm and in your reads, the guys around you will help make plays too. We can have a cleaner first half, that's bottom line [of] what it is. We practice, we bust our asses during the week, we come out there on Sunday and the little plays weren't happening for us. It was back-to-back weeks of that looking like that. So, we're trying to make statements so that we can come out and not let that happen."
Yet while Lock said he'll "stop the [being] young excuse" for the offense, it's clear a degree of patience could benefit the offense. This is a group that didn't have the benefit of an in-person offseason program or preseason games. Lock then missed nearly three complete games with a shoulder injury. The offense is certainly going through some growing pains, but that doesn't signify it cannot improve.
That's equally true for a quarterback that has struggled at times but has also shown flashes of brilliance over the last two fourth quarters. And while Lock has faced criticism for the first time in his young professional career, Head Coach Vic Fangio believes he's responded correctly.
"I think he's handled it well," Fangio said Wednesday. "Obviously, he's a young player at a very high-profile position. He's going to have to deal with the ups and downs of the game and of the way people react to the game. I think he's done well with it so far. He probably will get better at that as he goes through his career, but overall, I think he's done better. I think the key for him is just to keep practicing and keep playing. Like I said, we need him to play all these plays that we have left in this season so that he can improve. Game reps is the only way that you can continuously improve and the practice reps that go with it."
Impressive performances over the last two weeks from young players like Jerry Jeudy also suggest the offense's potential — and what could still be to come.
"It says a lot," Lock said. "Can't forget about KJ Hamler, can't forget about 'Court' [Courtland Sutton], can't forget about Noah [Fant] and Albert [Okwuebugnam] — all the young guys. Dalton [Risner] at guard, Lloyd [Cushenberry III] at center — we are a very young team but we're not going to run with that as an excuse. The future is bright. It's one of those situations that you find yourself in that you hope you can all stay on the same team for a long time. Unfortunately, it's a business, things happen, but it is a very positive future in my eyes for this organization and the positive future starts this week on Sunday.
"That's the mentality we have to have. It can't be the future, it has to be this Sunday against the Las Vegas Raiders."
UP-TEMPO UPS THE RISK
Lock was asked about the value of going up-tempo earlier in games to try to move the ball with greater success, and the young quarterback wisely pointed out that there is a risk associated with such a strategy.
"I did that all of college," Lock said. "I saw when it works really, really good, and I saw when it works really, really bad. … Sure, if you go up-tempo and push the ball and get things rolling, it's going to be awesome. You'll be like, 'Ah, this is breaking science in the game of football,' but when you go three-and-out in 30 seconds because you're trying to go up-tempo it puts your defense in a really bad spot. That's why I said it works both ways. [In college], I've seen us score 60 points in a game and the defense is going out there every minute and a half because you score so fast, but I've also seen it where you go three-and-out, you went up-tempo and shot yourself in the foot. That's just the game that you have to juggle when it comes to going up-tempo. If you feel like you have great set plays that you feel like you can go up-tempo on, then sure. But I think you see us going up-tempo because we're coming back from being down and if we go three-and-out — we're already losing by X amount of points — we have to go fast. You're not going to win the game by slowly moving the ball down the field, and that's why you see us going fast in that second half."
JEUDY VS. RUGGS
As Jerry Jeudy prepares to face his former college teammate Henry Ruggs III on Sunday this weekend in Las Vegas, Fangio was asked how the team viewed Ruggs in the draft process. Ruggs was off the board by the time the Broncos made the 15th-overall selection, but the two Alabama players and Oklahoma's CeeDee Lamb were largely considered the top prospects in the draft.
"We liked Ruggs a lot during the draft," Fangio said. "Obviously, he went to the Raiders a few picks before us, but obviously the first thing that you think of when you watch him is his speed. He's very, very fast, as we all know. I think he's done a good job in improving throughout the season in his play, his route-running ability, his catching ability. They got a really good player there who's going to be good for them for a long time."
Jeudy holds an edge over his Alabama teammate midway through the season, as he's totaled 30 catches for 484 yards and two touchdowns. On Sunday, he posted his first 100-yard game and is up for the NFL's Rookie of the Week award. Ruggs, the 12th-overall pick, has tallied 10 catches for 220 yards and a score. His most productive game came in Week 5 as he caught two passes for 118 yards and a touchdown in a win over the Chiefs.
BROUGHT BACK BAUSBY
The Broncos claimed De'Vante Bausby off waivers from the Cardinals on Tuesday, and while he will not be available for this week's game because of COVID protocols, it's clear the Broncos are glad to have him back.
"Corner is a position that when we had the chance to get 'Baus' back, [we took advantage]," Fangio said. "We really didn't want to cut him. It was a roster crunch with injuries, special teams, COVID issues. We're happy to have him back and we'll get him back in there in the mix."
After the Broncos struggled at times in the secondary against the Falcons without A.J. Bouye and Bryce Callahan, Bausby should provide needed depth. He tallied three pass breakups in the two games in which he played defensive snaps for the Broncos this season.