Much has been disseminated in recent weeks about how the Broncos’ offense has not been up to its typical pace in points and yardage. Forty-nine points in four games is hardly what a long-time offensive stalwart like Rod Smith expects from that side of the football.
“We have to keep trying to get better, and that’s what we’re doing,” Smith said. “We’re going to have that game where everything clicks. And we’re also going to have games where we struggle. But are you winning those games?”
The answer the last three games has been, “Yes,” and the offense has played a part, beginning with three scoring drives late in the win over Kansas City. What is working on the offensive side of the ball includes two newcomers to the starting lineup — running back Tatum Bell and wide receiver Javon Walker.
You can get the lowdown on Bell — who’d only started once before this year — and his Week 5 efforts by clicking here; he leads the AFC in rushing yardage per game through five weeks. But let’s focus on Walker, and his first significant contribution to the Broncos: as a third-down receiver. No one in the NFL has more receiving yardage on third downs this season than Denver’s No. 84.
Through five weeks and four games, Walker has 180 yards on third downs. All seven of his third-down catches have gone for first downs, and while he trails a host of players in number of third-down reception (league leader Reggie Bush of New Orleans has 18), his 100-percent conversion ratio, of course, cannot be topped. (Bush, by comparison, has made it to the necessary yardage on 44.4 percent of his 18 third-down receptions.)
Walker, though, isn’t all that conscious of his status as a productive third-down target — at least not within the frenzy of the ongoing game itself.
“Sometimes when the ball is coming my way, I don’t know what down it is,” he said. “I just try to execute and make the catch. That’s stuff that I practice on out here — just try to make the catch any time the ball is coming in my area.
“(On) half of those third-down catches — even going back to New England — I didn’t even know it was third down. I go to the sideline, listen to the call, and whatever’s called, if my number’s called, I just figure, ‘Hey, I’ve got to try to make that play.’”
Of course, Walker’s yardage in that scenario includes the Broncos’ longest play of the season to date, the 83-yard touchdown catch-and-run at New England.
“Any time I can get the ball in my hands, I can make something happen, regardless (of whether) it’s third down,” he said. “It could be first down and I think the same thing would happen.”
First down, third down, Walker also said that the number of opportunities he’s had is to his liking.
“You know what, they are,” he said when asked whether he was getting the ball enough. “Obviously, this year is also a transition year for me, and obviously for the coaches and Jake (Plummer), and hopefully each and every week I can show them the ability that I had when I was in Green Bay, and knowing that everything might not look picture perfect, but I can come down with the ball.”
And as he showed at New England, he can take it a long way after he comes down with it, too.