ENGLEWOOD — Let's be blunt. The Broncos own a 2-4 record, remain winless at home and have shown visible signs of frustration.
They are sitting at the intersection of Irrelevancy and Contention. It is dangerous to label an October game must-win, but this Sunday takes on added significance. A victory leaves the Broncos heading to Atlanta with a decent opportunity to reach the halfway point at .500. Perhaps those are delusions of adequacy. But they have merit if the Broncos bounce back over next two weeks.
"For us, this is a huge game for us and I think that this one is definitely one of those games where we can get that taste out of our mouths from last week and just try to get back on the right track with a win," safety Kareem Jackson said.
The challenge is daunting for an unexpected reason. Justin Herbert has blossomed into a star, earning AFC October Rookie of the Month honors. He posted a 122 passer rating with 10 touchdowns and one interception. Former Broncos cornerback Chris Harris Jr., now with the Chargers but sidelined with an injury, weighed in to Denver7 recently.
"He's a quiet guy. He's just a kid. But in practice all he does is throw great balls," Harris said. "And he can run."
Herbert, a former Oregon star with a build not unlike Clemson's Trevor Lawrence, has demonstrated poise in the pocket and a slow heartbeat in big moments. He nearly pulled off dramatic wins against the Saints and Chiefs, only to have the Chargers defense falter. Regardless of his record — 1-4 — he has widened eyes around the league.
"It looks to me like he’s made up of the right stuff to be a quarterback in the NFL," Broncos coach Vic Fangio said, "and fortunate for them and unfortunate for us I think they found their quarterback for the next 10 to 15 years.”
The Broncos are hoping to find out if Drew Lock is their guy after the next 10 games. The Broncos have struggled in almost every meaningful offensive category, a reflection of youth and lack of execution. Lock aims to bounce back after his worst game, focusing on improving his footwork, his decision making against blitzes and accuracy.
"Most often when you miss the throw, not the short ones, but as you start to throw intermediate and longer throws, it comes back to feet and the fundamentals of that," Broncos offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur said. "As teachers, we go back to the fundamentals and keep working."
Herbert has microwaved his development. At 6-foot-6, 236 pounds, he is completing 67% of his passes, and averaging 8.8 yards per attempt. Slowing the rookie is critical to the Broncos pulling off the upset.
"I feel like his confidence -- you can definitely tell he believes in himself and I feel like that’s half the battle. Not only for quarterbacks in this league but for any player in this league," said Broncos promising outside linebacker Malik Reed, who has four sacks in his past two games. "He definitely has the confidence and the ability, and he’s shown that over the first few games. We’re excited for the opportunity to go against him.”
Reed and Bradley Chubb could hold the key to creating a Herbert hiccup. Herbert has been sacked 10 times in his five starts. He will hold onto the ball at times. The Broncos know the best way to apply jumper cables to their offense is to create a short field.
Herbert has their attention. So does the schedule. The Broncos recognize it makes no sense to minimize the importance of this game.
"I know (things are) going to change. I know it for a fact and I 100% believe it. Now it’s just time for us to go out and show it," Chubb said. "So, I know 100% that this whole team is going to change this around and I just want to be that kick start to getting it turned around.”
Running back Phillip Lindsay was a limited participant in practice as he continues to clear hurdles in the concussion protocol. ...
Broncos general manager John Elway elaborated on KOA radio Thursday about Shelby Harris' meeting with coach Fangio after the two exchanged words last Sunday. "I think it’s anger, and more frustration. Shelby talked to Vic and apologized. That frustration we need to make sure we are sending that in right direction. These are all things we can learn from." ...