HOUSTON, TX—If ever a game felt like it was being played on a field of molasses, the Denver Broncos preseason game Saturday night in Houston was it. Throughout their 14-10 win over the Texans, Denver’s offense was plagued by penalties, stopped by sloppiness, and slowed by inefficiency.
The big story coming into the Broncos second preseason game was the return of quarterback Peyton Manning. The five-time MVP rode the bench during Denver’s first preseason appearance in Seattle, and said earlier this week he was looking forward to getting on the field in Houston.
“I think a lot of guys are looking forward to getting out there,” Manning said. “You get to see somebody different and get to play a little bit more.”
Saturday night’s game in Houston had a certain significance for Manning, as he tries to redefine himself in head coach Gary Kubiak's new offense. However, if you didn’t know Manning was playing in a new offense, you probably still wouldn’t. Manning spent the vast majority of his time on the field playing out of the shotgun and running his famous fast-paced, no huddle offense.
While Denver showed versatility in the run game, the Broncos offense struggled to produce points. Manning finished 8-of-14 for 52 yards, with several of his six incompletions coming by way of ill-timed drops, proving that while this offense has the ability to compete, there’s still much work to be done. Head coach Gary Kubiak thought Manning played well during his quarter and a half of action.
“I thought he did fine,” Kubiak told KUSA's Rod Mackey. “We didn’t help ourselves…had a couple of bad drops, but I thought he looked fine.”
Denver’s first-team defense, coming off a scintillating performance in Seattle, struggled to produce at the same level in Houston. Not one of the Broncos first-team defenders recorded a sack, or QB pressure during their first quarter of work. The second-team front seven fared better, recording three sacks midway through the fourth quarter. However, they struggled to get off the field during the second half, giving up long drives, although they only led to three points.
Backup QB Brock Osweiler, who performed so spectacularly last week, struggled to recapture that level of play, posting similar numbers to that of Manning, going 7-of-16 for 121 yards, one touchdown and one interception. The bulk of those yards came on one play—a 57-yard touchdown to Andre Caldwell.
A genuinely boring game didn’t get interesting until the last three minutes, as third string quarterback Trevor Siemian led the Broncos on a thunderous seven-play, 92-yard drive to reclaim the late 14-10 lead they would hold for the remainder of the game. Siemian has impressed both in training camp, and in his two preseason appearances, and appears to have pushed third-year quarterback Zac Dysert out of a job. Kubiak was impressed by Siemian’s performance.
“He’s got a big league arm,” Kubiak said. “He made some plays tonight.”
Denver’s third-team defense held strong against a late onslaught from Texans quarterback Tom Savage, essentially ending the game on a late strip-sack by outside linebacker Shaquil Barrett. Barrett has shown perhaps more growth between this year and last than any other defensive player on this roster.
While there’s certainly much to improve on, especially on the first-team offense, coach Kubiak believes the Denver Broncos appear to have assembled a high quality football team.
“We played really good defensively tonight,” Kubiak said. “We want to stay on the field longer on offense, but there’s a lot to take away from this game.”
The Broncos will return Denver next Saturday to take on the San Francisco 49ers.
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