Sun, 27 Nov 2022

Aric DiLalla

It's Raiders Week - and with the Broncos sitting at 2-1 and poised for their first division game of the season, it's time for another edition of "Ask Aric."

In this week's mailbag, I take a look at the Broncos' offense and when to expect improvement, how Denver will approach its game against the Raiders and where the Broncos stack up in the AFC West.

To ask a question for a future mailbag, click here.

In the meantime, let's get to it.

How long will it take for the Broncos' offense to click? - Drew K.

That's the million-dollar question, Drew. It's important to remember that this is a new system for Russell Wilson, and Head Coach Nathaniel Hackett said Monday that they're still working through making sure they're calling the right plays with the right route combinations. I think it's important to note that there's no way to predict whether things will click from one week to the next. There's no guarantee the Broncos will jump from 16 points one week to 35 the next - and even if they do, it doesn't mean the progress will be linear. It's more likely that over the coming weeks, the Broncos will continue to show flashes and demonstrate gradual improvement. I remain convinced the Broncos' offense will be firing on all cylinders by the latter part of the season, but we may not see perfection right away and every week. I do think, though, that the Broncos are close to finding more success and that the points will follow.

On the touchdown drive against the Niners, it looked like vintage Russ. After not going anywhere all game did Coach call those plays or did he let Wilson be Wilson? - Shawn D.

The play calls weren't any different, but Wilson was able to extend plays when needed - like on the third-and-10 completion to Kendall Hinton - or scramble for a first down. I think it's still important to play within the system for the long-term growth and success of the offense, but it's obviously a great benefit to have a quarterback who can extend plays and create when it's needed. It's also worth noting that two of the more impressive plays on the drive - a back-shoulder throw to Courtland Sutton and Melvin Gordon III's touchdown - were quick developing and not improvised. Moving forward, I think we'll continue to see a combination of the offense as designed and Wilson's ability to improvise late in a down, if needed.

What is the biggest hurdle that you think can be fixed fairly easily, that is holding back the offense on these quick three-and-out drives? - Brandon W.

A good question, Brandon. I think it's worth nothing that this problem only popped up in Week 3. The Broncos did not go three-and-out in Week 1, and they had just two drives without a first down in Week 2. Denver had the longest average drive length through two weeks, so I'm not overly concerned that this problem is going to persist. San Francisco's defense is among the league's best, while Las Vegas ranks 21st in total defense.

That said, there's obviously still room for improvement. I think it starts, as mentioned above, with the continued increased comfort of being in the system for more and more snaps. The Broncos also must execute on the plays that are there for the taking. Reducing missed assignments, drops and penalties will be helpful to get the offense moving.

Will the addition of Quinn Meinerz be the x-factor the offense needs to get the running game going? - Jolene

Meinerz was active for the Broncos' Week 3 game against the 49ers as he inched closer to returning from a hamstring injury that sidelined him in the first half of Denver's Week 1 matchup in Seattle. Meinerz did not play a snap, but it's possible that could change in Week 4. If he does return, the running game could see a boost along the right side of the line. Before Meinerz's exit late in the second quarter against the Seahawks, the Broncos ran the ball seven times for 49 yards. In Meinerz's absence, the Broncos' yards per carry has dropped from 7.0 to 3.9. It's impossible to pin that all on Meinerz's injury, but Denver will regain perhaps its most physical lineman if and when the bruising player returns.

With Greg Dulcich [eligible to be return from] IR in two more weeks, will they immediately insert him to the lineup or will they bring him along slowly? If they let him fly, will he be a focal point of the offense? - UR29

Dulcich - and cornerback Michael Ojemudia - will be eligible to return for the Broncos' Week 5 matchup with the Colts, and General Manager George Paton previously said the two players would "100 percent be available" for the game. I wonder, though, if the timing of the game could push Dulcich's return back a week. Teams often like to work players back into practice before they return to game action, and it seems unlikely the Broncos will hold a full-speed practice on a short week before "Thursday Night Football." That's not to say Dulcich won't play in Week 5, but it wouldn't surprise me if the team instead targets a Week 6 return.

When he does return, I suspect he'll quickly become a valuable option for Wilson. Dulcich must adapt to the speed of the game after being out for several weeks, but in his limited action in practice, he flashed the ability to make plays. Whether as an in-line tight end or from the slot, I think Dulcich will add a needed element to the Broncos' offense. That doesn't mean he's going to post a 100-yard game, but I do think he could contribute a couple of important catches on a recurring basis.

What is needed to avoid a classic trap game? - Drake

Drake, I understand why you'd ask, but I don't think this qualifies as a trap game in the slightest. Despite the Raiders' record, there's no chance the Broncos will overlook a division rival that they haven't beaten in their last four tries. Denver also hasn't won a road game against the Raiders since 2015, which is yet another streak the Broncos will look to snap. Toss in that this game is the Broncos' first divisional game of the season and that the offense is still looking to find its stride, and I think there are plenty of motivating factors. I also think this is where having a veteran quarterback helps. Wilson and the rest of the Broncos' captains will be charged with making sure the team is ready to go on Sunday.

Now that the offense finally had a spark at the end of the game when Russ started doing his thing, do you think they are now the team to beat in the AFC West? - Chadwick H.

Chadwick, I think the Broncos have taken a step above the Chargers and Raiders due to injuries and record, respectively. But while it pains me to say it, the Chiefs - for now - remain the team to beat. They've won the division in six consecutive seasons, and they're tied at the top with the Broncos. If Denver is able to take the outright lead of first place in the division over the next few weeks, then I think my perspective could change. But as long as Kansas City is up there, I think the Broncos need to prove they can knock them off. They won't get that head-to-head opportunity until mid-December, but if they can build a winning streak now, it will keep them in the race for the final stretch.

Now, what I will say is that the Broncos are neck-and-neck according to advanced metrics. Football Outsiders' Defense-adjusted Value Over Average ranks the Chiefs eight and the Broncos 10th. Especially if the Broncos' offense can find a way to get going, this should be a very compelling race.

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