In the Denver Broncos 2015 debut at home on Saturday night, they pulled out a 19-12 victory over the San Francisco 49ers to emerge 3-0 in preseason action. As cool as it was for fans to see Gary Kubiak in person stalking the sidelines in orange and blue, it was evident that the Broncos offensive attack is still a work in progress.
Let's get to the three main takeaways from Saturday night's game.
Don't Hit The Panic Button Yet
The Peyton Manning-led first team offense is yet to score a touchdown in the preseason. But, it's important to keep in mind that Manning has played a grand total of 63 offensive snaps. He did not play in the opening preseason game in Seattle.
Everyone is accustomed to seeing Manning drive the Broncos up and down the field for six points. However, there have been several obstacles for the first-team offense to overcome this summer, including a new offense to fuse together, Demaryius Thomas' hold-out, Ryan Clady's injury and the absence of Emmanuel Sanders (hamstring).
“There are a lot of things that concern you on a regular basis," Kubiak said post-game. "The biggest thing offensively is we don't have a lot to show for some of the good things that are going on. You hold the ball for 20 minutes in the first half, you're over 50 percent on third downs, you think you'd be scoring some points. That's the thing that's discouraging. I had us in a couple of tough situations that I've got to do a better job of with our quarterback. They're things that we can fix. Now there needs to be a sense of urgency. We've got a couple weeks yet to get some things cleaned up. We'll get there. We'll just keep working. I've got confidence in the people doing it and the guys coaching it and we'll get there.”
Manning led the Broncos on four drives last night, not counting the final play of the quarter, which was the equivalent of a kneel-down. Two of those drives went for 14 and 13 plays, respectively. Manning did not struggle to move the ball. The issue was in the redzone, as Kubiak pointed out.
The second drive that featured double-digit plays resulted in a rare redzone interception by Manning. Frankly, it looked like a miscommunication between Manning and Thomas, hinting that the NFL's most prolific QB/WR duo over the last three years still has some work to do to get on the same page in this new offense.
Manning put the ball inside, instead of outside, or back shoulder. It's possible that it was simply a bad throw. But based on the empirical evidence of Manning's track record, I doubt it.
The Broncos dominated in time-of-possession in the first half and had little trouble converting on third down, except for in the redzone. It wasn't all bad last night, but Kubiak and Manning have to iron out the kinks inside the 20. The 'ones' won't play on Thursday night vs. the Arizona Cardinals, but the Broncos have plenty of time to right the ship. It'll take some time to get firing on all cylinders. Manning isn't panicked, and neither should you be.
“I think it’s important for us to improve through the season, and like I said, would we like to be a finely-tuned machine going into Week 1? Sure," Manning said post-game. "With some newness, some different players and some different things that we’re doing, that’s what we’re working toward. Certainly, I think the key is for us to improve through the season."
The Broncos Defense Will Win Games
Even if Manning and company struggle to find consistency early in the regular season, the defense will be there to pick up the slack and win games for this Broncos team. The Broncos were a top-5 defense in 2014, but watching the games, it didn't feel like it. There were few circumstances where the defense made a play, or a series of plays, that swung the game in the Broncos favor.
Under new defensive coordinator Wade Phillips, this defensive unit will make a difference on the scoreboard. They've yet to allow a touchdown in three preseason games and they've been opportunistic and aggressive across the board. With Von Miller, DeMarcus Ware, Shane Ray and Shaquil Barrett wreaking havoc on the edges, and Malik Jackson, Sylvester Williams and company pushing the pocket from the inside, the turnovers are going to come.
Aqib Talib and Chris Harris, Jr. could very well see career highs in interceptions this year. There will be many a rushed throw, tipped passes, and forced fumbles caused by the Broncos pass rush. At the end of the day, being a top defense in the NFL comes down to turnovers and points allowed. The Broncos will be top-5 in both categories in 2015.
“That’s what it’s all about," Von Miller said post-game. "To be a great defense, you have to make great plays and that was a great play by DeMarcus [safety-sack]. During the regular season, we have to get a whole bunch of those. That’s where our mindset is. Preseason, it’s been good, we got a lot of work in and still have another game next week, but we’ll be ready to go for the regular season.”
Brock Osweiler Looks Ready
Brock Osweiler has patiently been waiting for his opportunity to shine for the Broncos, since being drafted in the second round of the 2012 NFL Draft. Each year, he has progressed and developed and in Kubiak's system, he looks ready to lead this team if something happens to Peyton Manning.
Last night, it took a couple of drives for Osweiler to get into the groove, but when the chips were down and the Broncos needed points to win the game, he came through with a nine-play, 80-yard drive for the go-ahead touchdown. It's that type of ability—poise, will to win, execution under pressure—that John Elway has been waiting to see.
In three preseason games thus far, Osweiler has gone 37-of-56 (66%), with two touchdowns, an interception and a quarterback rating of 87.9. He's been a difference-maker and a leader on the field.
Osweiler hasn't been perfect this preseason, but he has been the most impressive Broncos quarterback—hands down. That statement isn't a call to bench Manning. But it does mean that we can likely expect to hear news soon on the Broncos agreeing to an extension with the fourth-year gunslinger.
Osweiler is in a contract year. And the Broncos don't want to risk losing him on the open waters of unrestricted free agency in 2016. Plus, right now, the Broncos are in the driver's seat in negotiations, as Osweiler has yet to start a regular season game. They hold the advantage and should be able to work out a short-term extension that would keep Osweiler in Denver for the next few years.
Animated Images via NFL Game Pass.
To get instant Broncos notifications, download the NEW Scout mobile app for iOS HERE!
Be sure to check out the ever-growing benefit package of being a Mile High Huddle Insider! Check it out HERE.