CENTENNIAL, Colo. -- Gary Kubiak knows quarterback issues. He sidestepped a controversy last year through transparency, benching Peyton Manning, showing confidence in Brock Osweiler and returning to Manning. He began this season with his top two quarterbacks having never thrown an NFL pass.
Kubiak and the Broncos have navigated the choppy waters to post a 7-3 record, leaving all of their goals in front of them. And yet, none of them will be achieved -- AFC West title, home field in the playoffs -- without an improved offense. Kubiak put it this way:
"Trevor must play big," he has said on multiple occasions.
Translation: He must play better. Every week becomes a referendum on his status and future (Will Paxton Lynch be ready this year, next summer, or will Tony Romo become a viable option).
Perhaps no quarterback on a contending team remains more dependent on the running game than Siemian. When asked to take chances, he takes a nosedive, turning the ball over. Siemian's issues are not uncommon for a rookie starter. With Denver's offense too often one dimensional, Siemian holds onto the ball a tick long, leaving him vulnerable to sacks and struggling to complete passes in the middle of the field.
Kubiak used the bye week to self scout. It makes it likely Ty Sambrailo starts at right tackle, and fullback Andy Janovich assumes a larger role in blocking with the club on his right hand gone.
"It will make a difference," Janovich told Denver7.
There's no other major card to play, save for quarterback. Again, repeat, Siemian has to improve.
The Broncos boast seven turnovers over their past three games. They can't beat good teams if they compromise their defense with short fields and minimal time of possession. With protection, Siemian shows accuracy on short timing routes. He also admittedly is more willing to throw the ball down field to Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders, who "are open when they are covered," he acknowledged. The issue remains consistency with Siemian, and the offense.
Denver averages 5.15 yards on first down, ranking 25th in the NFL. It creates long second downs -- limiting the playbook -- and eloquently explains why the Broncos sit 28th in three-and-out drives. Talk to the offensive players and they articulate how important it is for the Broncos to "stay on schedule." That means second and shorts. Converting third downs. Staying. On. The. Field.
When Denver's defense can play 55 plays instead of 80-plus, the pass rush becomes even nastier, and the rush defense improves. While Derek Wolfe will likely be limited in his return because of his elbow injury, DeMarcus Ware's role will expand to 50 plays, a 15-play increase.
Look back at the New Orleans game as a template. Denver scored only its second first-quarter touchdown of the season. The Broncos, who have totaled 23 first quarter points, delivered their most impressive first drive. It helped set the tone for a defense, providing a margin for error and tilting New Orleans game plan more pass heavy than expected.
"The team that plays the best defense is going to win (this Sunday)," cornerback Chris Harris Jr. said.
Linebacker Brandon Marshall echoed his comments, saying, "It will come down to that."
But what if the defense has a boost? This is the point of contention that traces back to the offense and Siemian. The offense must show more, must establish the run to open up the playbook on middle routes to tight ends A.J. Derby and Virgil Green. Denver has shown it can win ugly. The Broncos don't fear close games. However, holding the advantage in leverage situations goes back to an offense capable of sustaining drives and winning field position.
Want Broncos news? Denver7 Broncos insider Troy E. Renck is your source. He talks to the players, covers the games and reports scoops on Denver7 and the Denver7 app. He is a CU grad who has covered pro sports in Colorado since 1996, including 14 years at The Denver Post. Follow him on Facebook, Twitter and TheDenverChannel.com’s Broncos page. Troy welcomes most of your emails at Troy.Renck@kmgh.com.