In the second preseason game of 2015, the Denver Broncos went on the road and defeated Gary Kubiak's old team, the Houston Texans, 14-10. On the surface, it wasn't the most entertaining game, but if you dig down deeper, there was a lot to glean on the Broncos side.
Maybe Too Much Rest For Peyton?
Peyton Manning looked a little out of rhythm in Houston, although, when the highest paid player on the team (Demaryius Thomas) drops a pass that would have converted a third down, that's not on the quarterback.
Even still, the product we saw on the field from the ones was a little bizarre. It looked no different than the Manning system we've seen in Denver since 2012. No huddle, shotgun. It makes sense though.
There's no reason for the Broncos to put the new Kubiak-Manning system on tape for all the league to see, when the games don't even count. However, I do think it could mean that we're going to see more of the system Manning has traditionally liked to run than many first realized.
Manning went 8-of-14 for 52 yards, with multiple drops. He only played 21 snaps, which is perhaps not enough for a 39-year-old signal caller to get into a groove. I couldn't help but wonder whether Kubiak's mandate for rest might be a culprit in the first-team's slow start.
Regardless, 21 snaps in a preseason game don't provide enough empirical evidence to determine anything. We'll likely see more of Manning this week at home vs. the San Francisco 49ers. But we probably aren't going to go any deeper into the Kubiak-Manning playbook.
Shaq Barrett Is For Real
Shaquil Barrett seems to have turned the corner in his development as a pass rusher. And playing outside linebacker in Wade Phillips' 3-4 scheme plays to Barrett's strengths out of the two-point stance.
On Saturday, Barrett was a constant menace on the edge. He played 34 snaps, notching two stops, two QB hits, two QB hurries and a sack. He would have finished with two sacks, but a Kayvon Webster holding penalty erased one of them.
With less than two minutes in the game, Tom Savage and the Texans were driving, hoping for the go-ahead score. Phillips had pulled Barrett for Gerald Rivers and Chase Vaughn, but when Houston started moving the ball, the ol' football coach put Barrett back in the game.
Barrett put the game in the bag for the Broncos by blowing by the Houston left tackle, laying a 'Savage' hit on the QB for the strip-sack.
It wasn't all good for Barrett in Houston, as he did get called for a personal foul early in the third quarter, when he ripped Chris Polk's helmet off from the bottom of the pile. It could have been inadvertant. Either way, it cost his team 15 yards.
With Lerentee McCray missing so much time with a groin injury, Barrett has absolutley taken advantage of the opportunity. McCray, a fellow undrafted player, made the final roster in 2014, but at no point has he shown the play-making, explosive ability that Barrett has.
Factoring in Shane Ray's guaranteed spot on the roster, it's hard to see McCray making it this year. And there's little doubt that Barrett will. He will likely be Von Miller's backup, while Ray spells DeMarcus Ware.
Barrett built on his phenomenal Seattle preseason performance on Saturday and finished the game with the Broncos highest defensive cumulative grade (+5.6) via Pro Football Focus. What an impressive summer for the former CSU Ram.
Running Game Already Impressive
We knew that when Kubiak came to Denver, there would be a renewed emphasis on the running game. The zone blocking scheme has returned to the Mile High City and so far, the results have been encouraging.
In Houston, the Broncos averaged 5.3 yards per carry, rushing for a team total of 121 yards. Ronnie Hillman again led the way with 54 yards rushing, averaging 6.8 yards per clip. Montee Ball was the only Broncos RB to struggle in Houston, carrying four times for four yards.
But Ball wasn't helped by the Broncos backup O-line. Juwan Thompson bounced back from a sub-par performance in Seattle to average 6.4 YPC. He looked motivated and ran with decisiveness and authority, like we're accustomed to seeing from him.
Kapri Bibbs is yet to tote the rock this preseason, although he was on the field when Trevor Siemian led the 92-yard go-ahead score late in the fourth quarter. Bibbs did a good job picking up the blitz and giving Siemian the necessary time to make his throws downfield.
I expect Bibbs to get some carries this week vs. the 'Niners. He's had a good camp, but is buried behind some good players on the depth chart. Bibbs is a natural for the ZBS, and if he ulimately gets waived by the Broncos, I would be surprised if another team didn't claim him.
Bonus: Siemian Showing Legit Poise
Trevor Siemian is playing Zac Dysert out of a job. Siemian is showing no signs up being slowed by the ACL tear he suffered late last season at Northwestern. He's strung together two excellent preseason performances, and his come-from-behind drive in Houston showcased his arm, mobility and will to win. No wonder John Elway liked him.
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