Broncos at the bye: Offensive numbers aren’t good, but young players showing flashes

The projected third-down running back (Theo Riddick) didn’t make it out of his first preseason game. The mega-money right tackle (Ja’Wuan James) has been limited to 32 snaps because of a bum knee. The only veteran receiver (Emmanuel Sanders) was traded to San Francisco. And the quarterback (Joe Flacco) who was supposed to stabilize the position is out for the year.

Considering those factors, it’s almost surprising the Broncos have found a way to hit 20 points in three of their nine games.

Emphasis on “almost.”

Entering their bye week, the Broncos were averaging 16.6 points per game, 28th in the NFL. They have yet to score 25 points in a game and have been plagued by unit-wide issues that, if solved, would make the offense more formidable despite the aforementioned player absences.

The Broncos are 26th or worse in scoring, yards per game (27th), yards per play (26th), net passing yards per game (28th), first downs (26th), third-down efficiency (30th) and red zone efficiency (26th). It’s been tough sledding for first-year NFL play-caller Rich Scangarello.

Not good, but there should be reasons for optimism, chiefly second-year players Courtland Sutton, Phillip Lindsay and Royce Freeman, and rookies Noah Fant and Dalton Risner. Here is a look back and a look forward at the Broncos’ offense:

What’s working

WR Courtland Sutton: Through nine games, Sutton has 692 receiving yards, tied with Jacksonville’s D.J. Chark for most in the AFC. Sutton has only one game with more than 92 yards (120 against Oakland in Week 1), but he has drawn seven penalties and posted 17 “explosive” receptions (gain of at least 16 yards).

LG Dalton Risner: Drafted in the second round and moved from right tackle to left guard, Risner has been the Broncos’ most consistent offensive lineman. He has played all 587 snaps, been called for two penalties (false start and ineligible man downfield) and booked for only two “bad” run plays (gain of one or fewer yards) and 1 1/2 sacks (among five total disruptions).

Running back by committee: Phillip Lindsay and Royce Freeman have formed an effective 1-1A team at tailback. They are nearly even in playing time (Freeman 319 snaps, Lindsay 282) and receptions (Freeman 27, Lindsay 25). Lindsay has 118 carries compared to 98 for Freeman.