CENTENNIAL, Colo. -- Gratitude requires perspective.
There is real world stuff that leaves us grateful, like life, love, family, friends and pets. Then, there is work. The NFL remains a job, driven home by practice Thursday. Playoff berths, careers and depth charts hang in the balance. It's easy to find reason to be thankful in the Broncos locker room with the Super Bowl 50 trophy encased in glass and their coach Gary Kubiak leading the way after a chilling health scare last month.
All this is macro, legitimate reasoning. The micro? The Broncos are thankful for a 7-3 record. Take off the orange-tinted glasses for a second, and it's easy to see the Broncos at .500. They could have fallen to Carolina in the opener, and the victory over the Saints will rank as one of the franchise's top 20 regular-season wins of all-time for sheer brilliance and oddity.
"We haven't played our best yet. We have been too inconsistent," safety T.J. Ward said.
With six weeks remaining, the Broncos can realize all their goals. It doesn't matter how they reached this spot, they can see the mountaintop. The Super Bowl trophies provide a daily reminder of what's at stake moving forward.
“It’s good there are some in this building, I know that. But, those don’t do you any good right now. It’s a new year and a new battle. I think this team is really excited: the coaches, the organization, everybody," Kubiak said. "We have a lot of big football games to play in. That’s why we do what we do. We’re all excited and you can feel it around here. We have some big challenges ahead.”
For the Broncos to claim their sixth straight AFC West crown, two things must transpire. They need the offense to perk up and show balance -- there is no guarantee it will -- and the defense must stop the run. Last year's defense was terrific. There was no need to embellish the statistics. Under coordinator Wade Phillips, pictured above with safety Will Parks, Denver did everything well, anchored by the No Fly Zone secondary. This season the Broncos, in losses, have dug a hole against ground attacks. They are yielding 40.1 yards more per game than a year ago, 123.7 compared to 83.6.
"We just have to deny (opponents). It is a mentality," linebacker Shane Ray said. "We can't let teams run on us anymore. Every week from this point is like our Super Bowl."
Only three teams have been gashed more in the ground game than Denver. As the season grows deeper and the temperatures drop lower, being stout upfront becomes more paramount.
"We just know that this is our time when we have to turn it up another notch. This is our time where a lot of teams fall off and they can’t continue to stay on that ride and continue to get better, but this is where we know that we have to turn our game up," cornerback Chris Harris Jr. said. "We know we have to improve against the run. It's not up to our standard here. We have to tighten up. If we do, it's going to be hard to beat us."
The Chiefs average 97.9 yards per game. However, star Jamaal Charles is out, leaving them to lean on Spencer Ware. He has gained 641 yards with two touchdowns in nine games.
"It's pretty simple," linebacker Brandon Marshall said. "We have to be nasty."
The Broncos created an open competition at right tackle between likely starter Ty Sambrailo and former starter Donald Stephenson. They are both going to receive snaps, but not necessarily the same amount.
"I told them to play in a way that they don't come off the field," Kubiak said.
The Broncos are looking for more consistency on the ground. Elevated play along the line would help. And the backs need to do their part.
"We have to be able to break more tackles," said rookie starter Devontae Booker. "The bye week helped us look at some things where we can improve."
Broncos rookie safeties Justin Simmons and Parks received poster boards of their winning special teams plays against New Orleans. They signed each other's posters, including the inscription: 'Brothas 4 Life.' "It was a special play," Parks said.
... Ray dispensed advice Thursday, reminding reporters of the average human life span. "Some of you might be getting up there (in age), so don't take any day for granted."
... The Broncos' long snapper Casey Kreiter is dealing with a calf injury. If he can't go on Sunday night, defensive end Billy Winn would serve as his replacement.
... Kubiak said one way for Siemian to improve is to use his feet more, gaining yards outside the pocket on short scrambles.