In The Know: Denver Broncos

Questions for Andrew Mason, senior reporter for Broncos.com
What's the mood in Denver heading into Monday night? 
"I think they're looking for a bit of redemption. Something that I've talked with a few players about in the locker room this week is some of the meetings they've had in the wake of losing two in a row, in the wake of the second game being without Gary Kubiak because he had a complex migraine and missed the Chargers game. Kubiak came back on Monday and really seemed to try to get things back on course. 
I think one thing that really dismayed the team and dismayed Kubiak was the fact that both losses over a five-day stretch were similar. They fell behind early, 10-0 in both cases. They scrambled and did some things right in the fourth quarter, but it was too little too late. The energy wasn't quite there I think as he wanted it to be. A lot of reflection and a lot of understanding, 'Hey, it's two losses. We didn't play well but correcting this is under our control and let's go out and do that on Monday night." 
What has quarterback Trevor Siemian done well and where does he still need to improve?
"Well he's done well at managing the game, keeping things in control, avoiding the big mistakes. He had three interceptions in the first two games that he played. He's had none since then, so that's a good sign for him that he's avoided the big mistakes that could really short-circuit what the Broncos are trying to do. 
Now what they'd like to get more of is a little more of a vertical passing game. Some of that is going to tie in with the ground game getting going and being able to run a play-action off that because you know how Kubiak loves the play-action. He'll do what he wants to get that into the offense. But the deep passes, they were there against Cincinnati, they had a couple of deep shots against Tampa Bay as well. But not many deep strikes in the last couple of weeks. And because of that, you're seeing teams get their safeties closer, get a few more guys in the box, they've been shutting down the run first. The Broncos haven't really been able to go vertical. 
I think they're hoping they can do more of that against Houston. Against San Diego when Siemian came back, they were trying to avoid him taking the big hit on that injured left shoulder, so you saw a lot more of the short, intermediate stuff. But I think they'd like to get the vertical game going a bit more. They had it against Cincinnati; they want to get back to that. 
How different does the Broncos offense look with the departure of Peyton Manning with a young quarterback like Siemian under center? Has it been simplified with no Manning?
"Well I wouldn't say it's been simplified, but I would say it's been returning more to what Gary Kubiak likes to do historically both here and in Houston, and in Baltimore for the one year that he was there. Last year's offense was really a mashup of some of Kubiak's concepts but also concepts the Broncos had been using with Peyton Manning. So there was more emphasis on no-huddle, more emphasis on three wide receiver formations, four wide receiver formations. You'll see some of that on Monday night as well, but there was greater emphasis last year. And also more in the shotgun last year than they are this year. Most of their work this year is coming under center. 
So it's not so much that it's a less complicated offense. It's more along the lines of what Gary Kubiak wants to run. That's what he's teaching Trevor Siemian and Paxton Lynch, so they're learning in that scheme. I think as they get more experience, it's going to resemble the Kubiak offense as they've had over the years more and more."
Did Brock Osweiler's departure in free agency come as a surprise to the city of Denver?
"Well it was definitely a surprise to the city of Denver. I'm not sure about the extent of the surprise internally, and externally they wanted him back. But they reacted pretty quickly once they knew Osweiler was gone. Of course the first thing was trade for Mark Sanchez, but that wasn't so much about finding any long-term answers, just making sure you had a veteran somewhere on the roster in case you needed that. And then they were just really patient. They were willing to let the offseason play out, to let the draft process play out and see what they could get. 
When Paxton Lynch fell to the mid-20's, that was the point where the Broncos were willing to make a trade up to get him and then they pretty much pulled back from the table after that. They said, 'Okay, we've got Paxton Lynch and Trevor Siemian and Mark Sanchez and we need to get them all reps, so we're not going to bring in any more guys.' Of course, they let Sanchez go after a slate of turnovers in preseason. Austin Davis kind of filled that veteran role. They had a backup plan if Osweiler did indeed leave, as he did but it involved being patient. 
In March and April, as Sanchez and Siemian were the only two quarterbacks on the roster, I think a lot of people in Denver fan-wise were nervous, but I don't think this organization was because they knew they had multiple plans in the fire. They all along were looking to get a quarterback at some point in the draft. When Paxton Lynch fell to that point where it was a reasonable trade, they went up and got him. Elway even talked about how going up to the top two, it would have cost them too much in terms of draft picks they'd have to give away to get that high. Their only option in getting a quarterback out of the draft was to sit and wait and see if the right thing came along. And it came along. They do like Paxton Lynch's potential. His first start was kind of scattershot against Atlanta, but they do like where he's going long-term." 
How do you compare Denver's defense right now to how they looked last year at this same point in the season?
"Certainly similar in terms of the pass rush if anything on the edges may be a bit better, especially when they get (OLB) DeMarcus Ware back from the forearm injury he suffered in Week Two. (OLB) Shane Ray has emerged as a strong pass-rushing threat to compliment (OLB) Von Miller off the edge. Really the difference, they come into this game 22nd against the run, and they're struggling a little bit there. That's where they're feeling the loss of (DE) Malik Jackson, who departed for Jacksonville in free agency. (DE) Vance Walker was the guy they had pegged to start in place of Malik Jackson; he tears an ACL in the preseason, so Jared Crick is starting now. Of course I know everyone in Houston knows about Crick's four years with the Texans. 
In the end, they had a second-round pick, (DE) Adam Gotsis, he's taking a while to come along off a torn ACL. He's only played American football for a few years coming from Melbourne, Australia. So I think the loss of Malik Jackson has affected the run defense and that's the biggest change. But in terms of what they do in pass rush and in terms of what they do in coverage and the secondary, that's pretty much the same and even when they have problems it's the same as last year. 
You go back to the AFC championship last year in New England, they had a lot of success getting the Broncos inside linebackers isolated on Patriots running backs and tight ends and that set up some one-on-one matchups the Patriots exploited. San Diego in Week Six did that with the tight end; Atlanta in Week Five did that with Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman as well. So it's interesting how the strengths are the same, but one weak spot of the defense is also the same as it was last year."

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In The Know is an ongoing series with the opposing team's beat writer. Andrew Mason, senior reporter for DenverBroncos.com, gives insight on the Texans upcoming opponent this week. 
*
What's the mood in Denver heading into Monday night? *
*
Mason:
I think they're looking for a bit of redemption. Something that I've talked with a few players about in the locker room this week is some of the meetings they've had in the wake of losing two in a row, in the wake of the second game being without Gary Kubiak because he had a complex migraine and missed the Chargers game. Kubiak came back on Monday and really seemed to try to get things back on course. 

I think one thing that really dismayed the team and dismayed Kubiak was the fact that both losses over a five-day stretch were similar. They fell behind early, 10-0 in both cases. They scrambled and did some things right in the fourth quarter, but it was too little too late. The energy wasn't quite there I think as he wanted it to be. A lot of reflection and a lot of understanding, 'Hey, it's two losses. We didn't play well but correcting this is under our control and let's go out and do that on Monday night.


**

What has quarterback Trevor Siemian done well and where does he still need to improve?
Mason: **Well he's done well at managing the game, keeping things in control, avoiding the big mistakes. He had three interceptions in the first two games that he played. He's had none since then, so that's a good sign for him that he's avoided the big mistakes that could really short-circuit what the Broncos are trying to do. 

Now what they'd like to get more of is a little more of a vertical passing game. Some of that is going to tie in with the ground game getting going and being able to run a play-action off that because you know how Kubiak loves the play-action. He'll do what he wants to get that into the offense. But the deep passes, they were there against Cincinnati, they had a couple of deep shots against Tampa Bay as well. But not many deep strikes in the last couple of weeks. And because of that, you're seeing teams get their safeties closer, get a few more guys in the box, they've been shutting down the run first. The Broncos haven't really been able to go vertical. 

I think they're hoping they can do more of that against Houston. Against San Diego when Siemian came back, they were trying to avoid him taking the big hit on that injured left shoulder, so you saw a lot more of the short, intermediate stuff. But I think they'd like to get the vertical game going a bit more. They had it against Cincinnati; they want to get back to that.

How different does the Broncos offense look with the departure of Peyton Manning with a young quarterback like Siemian under center? Has it been simplified with no Manning?
**

Mason: **Well I wouldn't say it's been simplified, but I would say it's been returning more to what Gary Kubiak likes to do historically both here and in Houston, and in Baltimore for the one year that he was there. Last year's offense was really a mashup of some of Kubiak's concepts but also concepts the Broncos had been using with Peyton Manning. So there was more emphasis on no-huddle, more emphasis on three wide receiver formations, four wide receiver formations. You'll see some of that on Monday night as well, but there was greater emphasis last year. And also more in the shotgun last year than they are this year. Most of their work this year is coming under center. 

So it's not so much that it's a less complicated offense. It's more along the lines of what Gary Kubiak wants to run. That's what he's teaching Trevor Siemian and Paxton Lynch, so they're learning in that scheme. I think as they get more experience, it's going to resemble the Kubiak offense as they've had over the years more and more.


Did Brock Osweiler's departure in free agency come as a surprise to the city of Denver?
Mason:Well it was definitely a surprise to the city of Denver. I'm not sure about the extent of the surprise internally, and externally they wanted him back. But they reacted pretty quickly once they knew Osweiler was gone. Of course the first thing was trade for Mark Sanchez, but that wasn't so much about finding any long-term answers, just making sure you had a veteran somewhere on the roster in case you needed that. And then they were just really patient. They were willing to let the offseason play out, to let the draft process play out and see what they could get. 

When Paxton Lynch fell to the mid-20's, that was the point where the Broncos were willing to make a trade up to get him and then they pretty much pulled back from the table after that. They said, 'Okay, we've got Paxton Lynch and Trevor Siemian and Mark Sanchez and we need to get them all reps, so we're not going to bring in any more guys.' Of course, they let Sanchez go after a slate of turnovers in preseason. Austin Davis kind of filled that veteran role. They had a backup plan if Osweiler did indeed leave, as he did but it involved being patient. 

In March and April, as Sanchez and Siemian were the only two quarterbacks on the roster, I think a lot of people in Denver fan-wise were nervous, but I don't think this organization was because they knew they had multiple plans in the fire. They all along were looking to get a quarterback at some point in the draft. When Paxton Lynch fell to that point where it was a reasonable trade, they went up and got him. Elway even talked about how going up to the top two, it would have cost them too much in terms of draft picks they'd have to give away to get that high. Their only option in getting a quarterback out of the draft was to sit and wait and see if the right thing came along. And it came along. They do like Paxton Lynch's potential. His first start was kind of scattershot against Atlanta, but they do like where he's going long term.

How do you compare Denver's defense right now to how they looked last year at this same point in the season?
Mason:Certainly similar in terms of the pass rush if anything on the edges may be a bit better, especially when they get (OLB) DeMarcus Ware back from the forearm injury he suffered in Week Two. (OLB) Shane Ray has emerged as a strong pass-rushing threat to compliment (OLB) Von Miller off the edge. Really the difference, they come into this game 22nd against the run, and they're struggling a little bit there. That's where they're feeling the loss of (DE) Malik Jackson, who departed for Jacksonville in free agency. (DE) Vance Walker was the guy they had pegged to start in place of Malik Jackson; he tears an ACL in the preseason, so Jared Crick is starting now. Of course I know everyone in Houston knows about Crick's four years with the Texans. 

In the end, they had a second-round pick, (DE) Adam Gotsis, he's taking a while to come along off a torn ACL. He's only played American football for a few years coming from Melbourne, Australia. So I think the loss of Malik Jackson has affected the run defense and that's the biggest change. But in terms of what they do in pass rush and in terms of what they do in coverage and the secondary, that's pretty much the same and even when they have problems it's the same as last year.

You go back to the AFC championship last year in New England, they had a lot of success getting the Broncos inside linebackers isolated on Patriots running backs and tight ends and that set up some one-on-one matchups the Patriots exploited. San Diego in Week 6 did that with the tight end; Atlanta in Week Five did that with Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman as well. So it's interesting how the strengths are the same, but one weak spot of the defense is also the same as it was last year.

Check out the best photos from Wednesday's practice.

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