Since Peyton Manning left the building, the unfortunate truth about the Denver Broncos is that they have a bottom-of-the-barrel offense. Many options have been pursued over the years to right this wrong, but everything so far has come up short, leaving the Broncos dependent on perfect defensive game-plans to win games.
This season has not quite seen the offense take the next step in improving on this glaring issue, but there are some signs of life moving forward that could be harbingers for the rest of this season.
Here are three offensive areas that are trending in the right direction that could hint the Broncos are in for a big December and possibly beyond.
Third Down Percentage
Please do not get out the pitchforks quite yet as I know the Broncos' third-down offense has not been anything spectacular this season. In fact, the Broncos are sitting exactly 1% worse than they were last year on third down.
Two factors have this stat though trending in the right direction over the second half of this season, however.
- The run game is finally finding some consistent footing. Negative plays are being minimized in the run game, giving the Broncos some more manageable third-down opportunities.
- The other reason for optimism is the return of Jerry Jeudy. He is the ultimate third-down conversion machine.
Nothing highlighted this more than on the very first drive against the Los Angeles Chargers. On a 3rd-&-8 play, quarterback Teddy Bridgewater hit Jeudy on a quick strike on an inside route. The pass was thrown short of the sticks, but Jeudy’s ability to make people miss turned a seven-yard play into a 13-yard gain and a Broncos' first down.
In the four full games that Jeudy has played, the Broncos are 24-of-52 on third down and that includes the Philadelphia Eagles loss where the offense went a putrid 1-of-11. When Jeudy plays, the Broncos are sitting at 46.2% on third down, which is the fourth-best in the NFL.
Without Jeudy in the lineup, the Broncos only convert third-down tries 32.6% of the time, which ranks 31st in the NFL. It truly is incredible how much Jeudy opens the entire offense for success.
Red Zone Efficiency
Another area where the Broncos are starting to see a trend in the right direction is that of red-zone efficiency. On the year, the Broncos rank No. 26, converting trips inside the 20-yard line into touchdowns at just a 54.05% clip. The Eagles game is destroying a lot of what would be a promising statistical improvement by the Broncos.
Denver went 1-of-5 in the red zone against Philly. In the three most recent wins, though the Broncos were 7-of-8 in the red area. The running game is proving to be a force that can move people with six of those touchdowns coming on the ground. Some would say that Bridgewater must be failing as a quarterback in that case, but he has two of those rushing touchdowns.
The Broncos seem to have found an identity by bullying teams on both sides of the line of scrimmage. On many running plays, the numbers were not advantageous for the Broncos to attack on the ground, yet they still found great success.
The offensive line with Quinn Meinerz at right guard has set the tone early in a lot of these games. This has nothing to do with red-zone efficiency, but the most underrated part of this past Sunday's win was the four-minute offense that finished off the game, keeping the Chargers from getting any chance to mount a comeback.
This identity might not lead to a lot of high-scoring offensive outputs, but the level of efficiency the Broncos are operating at right now is going to scare a lot of teams left remaining on the schedule.
Points Per Possession
A lot of people get caught up looking at the total points scored at the end of the season and then decide how good or bad an offense was for the season. This is not the worst thing to do, but it can miss part of the picture because a team like the Broncos wants to be defined by a power-running game that limits possessions. It can result in teams going on 8-to-12-play drives consistently.
For example, many look at Denver's points per game so far this season and assume that this offense hasn’t been any better than what the team had last year. As of this week, the Broncos are averaging 20.7 points per game.
Last year, Denver averaged 20.2 points per game. If you dig a little deeper into the full picture, you realize that the Broncos have changed up their offense, leading to an average of 10 drives per game on offense which represents the third-fewest drives on the season.
The Broncos averaged 11.5 drives per game last year, which was the second-most in the league, averaging about 1.7 points per drive compared to this year's 2.07 points per drive. Looking at the entire season, Denver's offense has been quite a bit better compared to 2020. This offense is getting more bang for the buck
The Broncos are showing incredible potential for the offense to become a true motor, instead of an albatross around the defense's neck. Analyzing the games that Jeudy has actually been in the lineup, the Broncos average 2.65 points per drive — fourth-best in the NFL.
I can't emphasize enough how much Jeudy means to this offense and the success or failure of the game plan. He isn't the only reason of late the Broncos' offense is having success, but he makes teams have to respect the middle of the field and the quick-hitting passes that can turn into big plays.
I don't expect this to be a top-5 offense the rest of the season. That would be asking a lot of a team with so many young players having to step up into big roles.
However, this offense could surprise a few people with how well it keeps the Broncos in big games, helping to make a push for the playoffs. The Eagles showed how to derail the Broncos' offense by forcing them to become a drop-back passing offense, but that requires a team to get a big lead early on.
Usually, December is when we start seeing some of the high-powered offenses slow down a bit with the colder weather settling in and teams come to rely more on the running game to carry some of the load. Thankfully, the Broncos have the exact identity of a team that wins in the trenches which could allow this squad to sneak out a few tough wins and hopefully see the season extend well into January for the first time since 2015.
Follow Carl on Twitter @CarlDumlerMHH.
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