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Saints May Be Catching the Broncos at the Right Time

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On Sunday afternoon, the Denver Broncos (6-3) face the New Orleans Saints (4-4) in a hugely important game for both teams. What can we expect to see from a Denver team beset by key injuries on Sunday? I spoke with Kelly Fleming of SB Nation's Mile High Report for some insight.

Opponents never gonna make first downs, try and try won't gain no ground
Opponents never gonna make first downs, try and try won't gain no ground
Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

This is quite awesome. I met Kelly Fleming in Seattle five years ago, while she was a grad student at the University of Washington. We immediately became friends because: football...oh and also our mutual dislike of the Seattle Seahawks. She's the most knowledgeable football fan I've ever met and knows her Denver Broncos inside and out. When I found out that she writes for our sister blog Mile High Report, I asked and she was so very kind to take the time to answer a few questions about the Broncos, who play the Saints Sunday afternoon in New Orleans. Without further ado...

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Canal Street Chronicles: The Denver Broncos are 13th in scoring offense in the NFL at 23.8 ppg, tied for 26th in third down conversion (35.1%) and 26th in yards-per-play (5.2). Although this is a team that heavily relies on its defense to win games, what do you think is the cause for these average to below-average numbers? Are these acceptable?

Kelly Fleming: To put it bluntly, no. The Broncos lead the league in 3 and outs, are below average in passing and rushing. The only improvement in the offense from last year is turnover ratio. A huge reason for this regression (and better turnover ratio) is the lack of Peyton Manning. Trevor Siemian has been better at not throwing the ball to the other team, but he doesn’t have the experience to avoid holding onto the ball for too long, or to read defenses and find open receivers to make plays. Siemian is among the lowest in the league for completing long passes. Another problem is the lack of consistency on the offensive line. These types of stats are not going to win the Broncos another championship, and something needs to change to improve them. The answer is a cause for some contention within the Mile High Report community.

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CSC: How has Trevor Siemian looked so far this year? Is he the quarterback of the future for Denver or is Paxton Lynch breathing down his neck?

Kelly: Herein lies the real source of conflict among Mile High Report readers. As I said before, Siemian has thrown less interceptions than the Broncos had last year, but he has failed to inspire confidence in many of us. His QBR has steadily been declining, he consistently doesn’t see open receivers, and generally fails to make long pass completions. When he does make attempts at long passes, they often put our receivers in compromising positions where they are likely to get injured. The Broncos start almost every game at a deficit, which has really limited the options for running versus passing. Many of us believe that the long-term plan has always been Paxton Lynch, but Gary Kubiak and John Elway are waiting to put him in until he is more molded. Lynch came in as one of the most under-developed rookie quarterbacks because he came from a small program in Memphis. He needs to develop those skills and build confidence before he will succeed with the reigning Super Bowl Champions. In case you didn’t notice, Manning has pretty big shoes to fill, and that opens the door for some intense scrutiny. The cause for disagreement is whether or not Lynch will develop those skills faster, or help provide the Broncos a much needed spark on offense now, or if Siemian is the best solution for now.

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CSC: The Broncos’ defensive unit is one of the elite in the NFL, yet they are (only) 7th in the league in scoring defense (18.5 ppg) and Football Outsiders had them ranked 14th in the NFL against the run going into last Sunday night contest against the Raiders, a game in which they gave up 5.1 yards-per-carry and three rushing touchdowns. What’s up with Denver’s run defense?

Kelly: In the offseason, the Broncos lost one of their best run defenders in Malik Jackson. DeMarcus Ware missed 6 games, which also didn’t help. Now with him back, we found out we will be missing Derek Wolfe for several weeks due to a fractured elbow. Add in the time of possession problem the Broncos have, and it can only be expected that the Broncos defense regress a bit because they are on the field twice as much as the other team’s defense. Which goes back to our offensive problem…

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CSC: Offensively, what the Saints love to do more than anything else is pass, pass and pass again. Yet what the Broncos do best is defend against the pass (2nd in the NFL per Football Outsiders). How do you see Denver’s vaunted secondary matching up against the Saints dynamic trio of receivers that consists of Michael Thomas, Brandin Cooks and Willie Snead?

Kelly: The Broncos still lead the league in yards per passing attempt, only allowing 5.7 on average. They arguably have the best cornerback duo with Chris Harris Jr. and Aqib Talib in the NFL. However, with Talib out this week, we will be seeing our rising star Bradley Roby stepping in. The Broncos’ also have dangerous safeties with TJ Ward and Darian Stewart. If the Broncos can consistently pressure Drew Brees with our pass rushers, they will effectively eliminate the pass from being an option. This is how they won the Super Bowl last year against Cam Newton. Brees being a less mobile quarterback will play in their favor. However, as you said above, they need to find a way to stop the run more effectively.

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CSC: Can you tell us about a somewhat less-heralded Broncos’ player that figures to have a big role in Sunday’s contest in the Mercedes Benz Superdome?

Kelly: Broncos Country is hoping to see more from Andy Janovich, our newly coveted full back. In games he has seen significant snaps, the Broncos have excelled in rushing, and they need to do something to fill the void that CJ Anderson left.

Many thanks to Kelly Fleming again for taking the time to answer our questions. Please visit Mile High Report for more coverage of Saints-Broncos with a Colorado flavor.