The backups of the Denver Broncos were given the keys to the kingdom last night in the preseason finale. Tasked with taking on the Arizona Cardinals, without the help of any the first-teamers, it was a bit of a mixed bag for the Broncos last night, as they fell 22-20 to finish off the preseason.
Even though the game didn't count in the standings, it meant everything to most of the players out on the grid-iron last night. For many, jobs and careers were on the line. Here's what I gleaned from last night's action.
Trevor Siemian Played Better Than The Box Score Says
Last night, rookie seventh round quarterback Trevor Siemian led the Broncos in the second half. Although he went 11-of-24 for 104 yards, a touchdown and an interception, he was under constant duress from a defense unafraid to dial up the pressure.
Siemian was harrassed all night and was sacked three times. The Broncos third and second-string offensive line failed utterly to protect him. Siemian may have failed to complete 50 percent of his passes, but many of his throws were impressive, including his 16-yard scoring strike to WR Bennie Fowler.
The touchdown was a beautifully thrown ball to the back shoulder. Siemian placed it in the only spot Fowler could come down with it. The rookie signal caller had a few low, underthrown passes and serveral tipped balls, but considering the situation, he played well.
His interception was entirely on him, however. The safety read his eyes and broke on the ball. Those situations only get remedied through trial and error.
At the end of the game, with the Broncos down by two points, they needed to get into field goal range.
Siemian led a 13-play, 46-yard drive to put the Broncos in a position to win the game. Unfortunately, kicker Brandon McManus failed in the clutch, hooking the kick wide right. But Siemian did his job—the second such come-from-behind drive in the clutch this preseason.
Whether it will be enough to win a spot on the 53-man roster remains to be seen. He's played well enough to deserve it, but I don't see a need for the Broncos to carry three QBs. The concern is exposing Siemian to the waiver wire.
But, even though he's played well in the preseason, he is coming off of an ACL tear from late last season while at Northwestern, and even a QB-needy team might be reticent to open up a roster spot for a guy who's still likley not 100 percent—and untested in the regular season.
Struggles On The O-Line
As mentioned above, the Broncos O-line really struggled in pass protection and failed to open up any running lanes. The Cardinals backup defense stymied the run game and pressured the passer incessantly—especially in the second half.
Besides Max Garcia, I have a hard time finding confidence in any of the Broncos backup O-linemen. Michael Schofield, the guy projected to be the Broncos swing tackle in-season, was terrible in the second half. Like, really bad.
The Broncos starting unit is impressive—at least on paper. However, even with Evan Mathis in town, they're still a unit in flux, with two inexperienced players in LT Ty Sambrailo and C Matt Paradis. Mathis' presence should stablize the left side, but if something happens to Sambrailo or RT Ryan Harris, Schofield will get picked apart by NFL front sevens.
I don't see how the Broncos could feel comfortable going into the season with Schofield as their fail-safe. The decision to trade Chris Clark to the Texans is going to haunt them, unless they can find a suitable upgrade in the roster cuts coming across the league today and tomorrow.
The Running Back Battle Took Shape (Kinda)
Due to the struggles up front, neither Montee Ball or Kapri Bibbs were really able to get into a groove on Thursday night. And it's unfortunate, because both players were fighting for their football lives. They needed the big boys up front to step up.
Ball averaged just 1.7 yards per carry, while Bibbs, who carried the ball 10 times less, averaged 4.5. Bibbs looked more explosive and he made a big play on special teams, body slamming a hurdling punt returner.
Either way, both guys played behind the same OL. Bibbs did more with his opportunities. If the Broncos decide to keep four running backs, I can't see how Ball could be one of them, at this point. He just hasn't produced—plain and simple.
Honestly, with such a small sample size from Bibbs, who saw his first carry of the preseason Thursday night, the Broncos are better off keeping just three RBs and waiving both Ball and Bibbs, with the goal of re-signing one of them to the practice squad.
Ball does have practice squad eligibility left. Sadly, it might be time to move on from Ball, a 2013 second round pick. John Elway's decidion to pass on Eddie Lacy to select Ball will stick in the craw of Broncos fans for a long time to come.
Perhaps it's time to cut their losses.
Decisions To Be Made On Defense
Outside linebacker Shaquil Barrett sealed his phenomenal—and I mean phenomenal—preseason performance with a two-sack, seven-tackle game last night. There's no doubt he's making the final roster. Rookie first rounder Shane Ray also played well, notching a strip-sack and harrassing the quarterback all night.
Safety Josh Bush stepped up and shared with Barrett the honor of being the team's leading tackler. With T.J. Ward's suspension, it might have been enough to buy Bush another couple of weeks with the team, but there's no guarantee.
Defensive lineman Sione Fua played very well and likely earned himself a spot on the final squad, notching two tackles, a sack, a tackle for a loss and a QB hit. I've been impressed with Fua in the short time he's been back in orange and blue.
The Broncos have to trim down from the 75 guys they have now to their final 53-man roster by Saturday at 2 p.m. MDT.
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