ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- By the time Denver Broncos quarterback Brock Osweiler threw the fourth pass of his second start, he had already tossed more passes in a three-game span -- one relief appearance to go with the first two starts -- than he had in the previous three NFL seasons combined.
While Osweiler continues to learn the ins and outs of being a starting quarterback, defenses are going to school on him as well. And though Osweiler is 3-0 as a starter, it's been clear in the past two starts, defenses are starting to adjust to the Broncos offense with him behind center.
"I’ve seen some things," Broncos coach Gary Kubiak said. "I think he’s kind of seen a little bit of everything the last three weeks. One thing that he’s learned, probably more than anything, is that you can study film all you want during the week, but on game day people have a plan. When you go out there and it’s time to go execute your stuff, this is their plan for the day, so these are things that you have to do. This is the way that you may have to play today for us to win.
"That’s what he’s learning, because so many times as a player you go practice and practice and say, 'Well, that didn’t look the same.' No joke, it doesn’t always look the same, so you have to adjust. That’s something that he’s learning."
The sample size remains small, but Osweiler’s 16 completions and 166 passing yards in Sunday’s 17-3 win over the San Diego Chargers amounted to his lowest totals in three starts.
The Chargers, aggressive in the defensive front, handled the Broncos’ rollouts and bootlegs with more efficiency than the previous three teams Osweiler had faced this season. That’s not to say Osweiler didn’t have the room to make some plays -- it’s just the Chargers were able to get a rusher in his face more.
"We continue to grow together," Kubiak said. "He’s done a lot of good things, did a lot of good things [Sunday], also a lot of things that he can continue to learn about himself and making decisions and those type of things. It’s also me, [quarterbacks coach Greg Knapp and offensive coordinator Rick Dennison] continuing to understand him better as a player and the things that he is most comfortable with. It’s early. ... What’s that, 12 or 14 quarters of football that I think he’s played this year? I think good football is continuing to come and I think that it will continue to come as he gets more and more experience."
One thing the Broncos have learned is the kid plays with an aggressive edge. Osweiler, with a chance to put the Broncos up by at least 17 points in the third quarter, went for it all on a second-and-10 from the Chargers’ 27-yard line and was intercepted in the end zone.
"Maybe some of those shots I should have taken, maybe I should have taken a completion and should have kept those sticks moving," Osweiler said.
The play resulted in an extended sideline conversation with Kubiak as the learning on the job continues for a player who waited 43 months in the NFL to make his first career start.
"I want to know what you see," Kubiak said. "Your team is up by 14, you make sure you go up three scores. But his nature is aggressive, which I like, but he’s got to learn from those situations."
And that will be Osweiler’s challenge moving forward, how he responds as defenses zero in on the things they believe he does well.
At 10-2, with a shot at home-field advantage in the AFC, the Broncos will face two of the league’s current top-10 scoring defenses over the last four games of the regular season -- the Cincinnati Bengals are No. 1 in scoring defense while the Pittsburgh Steelers are tied for No. 7.
The Broncos' other two opponents -- the Oakland Raiders on Sunday and the Chargers in the regular-season finale -- are 27th and 29th, respectively, in scoring defense.
"I’m learning so much every single time I’m out there on the field," Osweiler said. "It’s OK to make mistakes once in a while as long as it doesn’t hurt your team. The important thing is learn from those mistakes and making sure they don’t happen again."