ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Criticism of the Broncos offense remains a cottage industry.
It provides plenty of material as Denver has ranked among the league's worst in every meaningful category over the past five seasons. The Broncos have had three head coaches, five offensive coordinators and nine starting quarterbacks during this time, a Sparknotes explanation behind the struggles.
For the first time as an NFL player, however, Drew Lock is facing the criticism. He earned and enjoyed a honeymoon period last season, posting a 4-1 record, while lifting the Broncos from 15 points to 21 points per game. Then came the hard part. Doing it again, if not better.
That has not happened in his sophomore campaign. Lock has one victory in his four starts, beating New England in a game that featured zero touchdowns. His completion percentage has dropped nine points from a year ago. He has three touchdown passes over his past seven games dating to last season. So how is Lock handling the scrutiny, I asked?
"When you play quarterback, you are going to get criticized regardless. I’ve been criticized plenty of times at the University of Missouri. It just is what it is. It’s what we signed up to do, but this is also what we love to do. Part of the time it’s the people that criticize that can’t be out here doing what we’re doing anyways," Lock said. "It’s a funny thing, but they’re analytics people. They’ll look at it and sometimes the analytics are true, I can’t deny that."
There are reasons behind the slump: A new offense, no OTAs, no preseason, and an interrupted season due to a strained right rotator cuff. Context matters, but Lock and this offense need to do better. Perhaps most frustrating after six games is that the unit has no identity. The only thing the Broncos have done well is rush the football over the past three games.
Los Angeles offers a chance to revive the Broncos passing attack. The Chargers allow 253 yards per game, ranking 25th, own three interceptions, and six overall takeaways.
"We just have to stay consistent in our details and fundamentals (to improve)," rookie Jerry Jeudy, whose production has slowed the past few games, told Denver7.
Added rookie wideout K.J. Hamler, "We need to be sharp on everything because one little mistake can mess up the whole play. Where are you lined up at, are you too close? Just little stuff like that. It's the little things that really matter."
Coach Vic Fangio wants a more efficient offense, pointing to the minus-8 turnover margin, second worst behind the Cowboys.
"I’d like to see us be more successful in the passing game with more positive plays and be able to have a good mix of run and pass,” Fangio said.
Lock believes the offense can still be explosive. But they must strike a balance because the Broncos have thrown ten interceptions when lined up in three-wide sets. It suggests they should simplify and use more double tight end packages, while using the run to set up the pass.
Phillip Lindsay worked on the field with injured players Wednesday, signaling he has cleared part of the independent tests in the concussion protocol. The Broncos hope to know whether he is cleared by Friday or Saturday. Lindsay has rushed for 204 yards on 39 carries, a 5.2 average. Melvin Gordon averages 4.3 yards per attempt.
Creating more manageable third downs would be welcomed. The Broncos are converting 35% of their third downs (29th overall). Compare that to the Chargers who sit seventh at 47% with rookie quarterback Justin Herbert.
"Third down is category in itself in practice. Third down is tough, and I think one of the things -- if we go back and look at our stats -- yes, we can be better at third and shorts, but we have to keep ourselves out of the long third downs. I know, personally, last game I could have at least made two or three of those third downs on third and two to six or third and three to six, somewhere in that range," Lock said. "I missed a couple of baby throws, those that I made in Pop Warner, and that’s unacceptable by me."
Gordon apologizes for arrest
Veteran running back Melvin Gordon made one thing clear about his DUI arrest two weeks ago: he cares. He expressed that sentiment to Broncos Country on Wednesday.
"Because of the legal things, I haven’t been able to publicly go out and say what I need to say, but just from me to you to put it out, I’m sorry I was even in the situation. I don’t want people to feel like, ‘Oh, because Melvin didn’t say anything, or he didn’t speak on it, he just doesn’t care and he’s not apologetic about the situation.’ That’s not the case at all," Gordon said.
"I try to do my best to walk a straight line and lead by example with things like that. I’m a little upset that I even put myself in the situation for it to be brought to others, including my family who was reaching out. I had a hard time dealing with it myself. Like I said, I hadn’t been in trouble before, so it was tough. To the people of Denver and everyone, I don’t want anyone to feel like I don’t care and say, ‘Oh, he got his money, he doesn’t care.’ I do. I’m not happy I was in the situation."
Gordon believes his best football this season is ahead of him. He called his performance this season 'OK,' but not meeting his standards. He has rushed for a team-best 389 yards on 82 carries with four touchdowns.
Offensive line coach Mike Munchak was placed in COVID-19 quarantine and will not coach this week. Coach Vic Fangio did not say whether Munchak had tested positive or was around someone who had. Assistant Chris Kuper will coach the line in Munchak's absence from practice. Running backs coach Curtis Modkins, who tested positive before the Patriots game, has returned to practice. ...
Defensive end Shelby Harris missed practice with a non-COVID-19 related illness and is expected to return Thursday. ...
Outisde linebacker Jeremiah Attaochu (quadriceps) and tight ends Andrew Beck (hamstring) and Jake Butt (hamstring) returned to practice. Those working on the side included Tim Patrick (hamstring), Diontae Spencer (shoulder), Josh Watson ( hamstring), Levante Bellamy (knee), Mark Barron (hamstring) and Elijah Wilkinson (fractured shin). Linebacker Austin Calitro, who is on the IR, was practicing.