After flashing their dominant depth in the opening preseason game at Chicago—from the first to the third string—the Broncos took a step backward as a team in their home debut.
You could chalk Denver's regression up to a multitude of things. The way I see it, the Broncos expended too much of their collective energy during their joint practice sessions with the Niners in the week leading up to Game 2.
http://www.scout.com/nfl/broncos/story/1698102-broncos-fall-to-niners-in... Things got chippy between the Broncos and Niners during the joint sessions. And like John Lynch observed as the color commentary voice during the television broadcast in-game, top-tier teams must always be on guard for lesser teams trying to get under their skin.
The Broncos fell victim to this over the last few days and it culminated in their loss. Preseason or not, it is uncharacteristic for a Wade Phillips-coached defense to relinquish 30-plus points in a game. But they did.
Chip Kelly's squad clearly gassed the Broncos defense. Now, had it been a regular season game—one that counted—it wouldn't have mattered who Denver started at quarterback—they wouldn't have allowed the Niners to hang 31 points on them.
But let us not forget. The preseason isn't about winning or losing. It's about developing players, putting them in real game situations, and fleshing out the depth chart and roster.
To that end, the Broncos got much closer to figuring out which players are worthy of a place on their 53-man roster and how the respective depth charts should be ordered. Here's what jumped out to me in Game 2.
The Future Is Now
Trevor Siemian started the game and for most of his time with the first-team offense, looked very sharp, going 10-of-14 for 75 yards, zero touchdowns and one interception. He had some very impressive throws, especially on the opening drive that resulted in a 19-yard touchdown scramble by C.J. Anderson.
However, Siemian botched what should have been an easy read on Niners safety Eric Reid—targeting Demaryius Thomas on a slant route—leading to an pick-6. His inexperience in reading NFL defenses was on full display in the faux pas.
But it wasn't the missed read and interception that will give Gary Kubiak and company cause for concern. It was how he responded to it.
http://www.scout.com/nfl/broncos/story/1698199-watch-every-siemian-throw... On the ensuing possession, Siemian was clearly shaken. He lost his composure, becoming tentative and ineffectual.
Mark Sanchez took over and appeared to steady the ship. Then, in the closing seconds of the first half, with the Broncos down by seven points and in the redzone, Sanchez coughed up the ball on third down, recovered by San Francisco.
The Broncos defense was able to immediately force a turnover and give Sanchez the ball back at the San Francosco 15-yard line with 31 seconds to go. Alas, no points would result as Sanchez would again fumble, recovered by the Niners.
The Broncos gave Sanchez one more series to start the third quarter. He looked shaky coming out of halftime, throwing late and off-target.
Through two preseason games, Siemian and Sanchez have given the ball away four times—in limited reps. Unacceptable for Kubiak.
The rookie Paxton Lynch came in the game on Denver's second possession of the second half. It took a couple possessions, but he sparked the Broncos offense, leading them on two touchdown drives.
Lynch flashed his immense talent and an intensity and enthusiasm that his position-mates frankly lacked. With less than a minute to go in the game, the Broncos got the ball back on their own 20-yard line, down by seven.
Running the hurry up, Lynch pushed the ball down the field, targeting Durron Neal on a seam route. Lynch's pass was high, but it was arguably placed in the only spot the receiver could secure the catch. It passed through Neal's fingers and was intercepted.
Lynch was very effective in his snaps, going 15-of-26 for 113 yards and two TDs, with the INT on the last throw of the night. The margin between Siemian/Sanchez and Lynch is slim.
http://www.scout.com/nfl/broncos/story/1698189-watch-broncos-qb-battle-v... Why not start the rookie? He was clearly the most effective QB on the night. Yes, he was going against San Francisco's third-team defense, but the tools he was given were made of mostly third-teamers.
The gap between Siemian/Sanchez and Lynch is very narrow. And Lynch clearly has the upside. We need to see what Lynch can do playing with the first-teamers. A lot of our questions will be answered in that event.
“I’m going to play the guy that I think is best for our team," Kubiak said after the game. "We have three guys out there battling. Obviously [Lynch] is a young kid. He did some really good stuff tonight. He made some mistakes, too. I think I’ve continued to tell you guys that he is behind the others from a knowledge standpoint as far as running the group. Obviously we need to keep coming, keep bringing him along. We’re going to keep working here, find the guy that we think is best for our football team and go from there.”
I would be surprised if Gary Kubiak doesn't tap Lynch to start the third preseason game. And even if Lynch doesn't light it up, but plays within the offense and doesn't turn the ball over, he should be named the starter for September 8 vs. Carolina.
There's Virgil Green & Then There's Everyone Else
In two preseason games with limited snaps, tight end Virgil Green has caught seven passes for 83 yards—with almost half of them coming on third down conversions. He is head-and-shoulders above everyone else in the Broncos TE group.
It seems as if the Broncos are finally surrendering to the notion that Green can be an impact player in the passing game, if given the opportunity. He's sure-handed, runs crisp routes, and is a beast to bring down with the ball in his hands.
“It’s always been me," Green said after the game. "I’m getting more opportunities now and I’m taking advantage of them. I just have to keep building on those things, get better and let things take their course.”
First-year Jeff Heuerman is nowhere close to Green. And he didn't even suit up Saturday night with a hamstring issue.
“Jeff was nicked on us a couple of days ago and was missing some time with a hamstring," Kubiak said. "He’s had a hard time staying healthy. Virgil’s been a warrior. He’s stayed in there. He’s been battling. This is an opportunity in Virgil’s career to become a starter. He’s obviously taken advantage of it.”
The guy few saw coming is John Phillips. Phillips missed most of training camp with an injury but got back on the field this past week.
He played well in his first action as a Bronco. Phillips is known for his blocking prowess, but showed good receiving ability Saturday night, catching two passes for 17 yards and a touchdown.
Right now, it's Virgil Green, then everyone else. But don't sleep on Phillips making this team.
Zaire Anderson Is On A Mission
Following Mark Sanchez's first fumble, it was Zaire Anderson who forced the fumble on the ensuing NIners drive, getting the Broncos the ball back in scoring position with little time left in the half.
Anderson's performance didn't stop there. He forced another fumble in the third quarter. The kid was always around the ball and showed great instincts and physicality for his 5-foot-11, 220-pound frame.
For a first-year former college free agent, the preseason games are vital. They give the young guys without a draft pedigree the opportunity to step in and win a job.
“It’s very important to me just because I want to show the organization and people upstairs that I can play, and I can be a guy to count on each year," Anderson said post-game.
Anderson has been a difference maker whenever he's on the field. With Corey Nelson injuring his wrist Saturday night, the Broncos are thin at inside linebacker behind starters Brandon Marshall and Todd Davis.
Thankfully, they have Zaire Anderson.
Adam Gotsis Coming Along
Although he was far from perfect, rookie second-rounder Adam Gotsis gave an encouraging performance in Game 2. Still working his way back from the torn ACL he suffered last Halloween, Gotsis is being asked to turn the corner as a rookie a little bit sooner than the Broncos initially anticipated.
I liked what I saw from Gotsis in his second game. He's incredibly powerful and he flashes his motor consistently. The Broncos have veteran Billy Winn but the team explored other veteran DE options around the league, signing free agent Henry Melton on Sunday, a former Pro Bowler.
Melton's experience will help. He's inexperienced and still has a lot to learn, but the chances of Gotsis making an impact as a rookie and answering the bell are good.
Jordan Taylor Finally Shows Up In Preseason Action
Jordan Taylor is known for his acrobatic training camp catches that light up the Twitter-verse. As an undrafted rookie in 2015, he displayed the same ability in camp, but was unable to translate it to game action.
In the opening preseason game at Chicago, it was more of the same for Taylor. He received his targets, but was mostly unable to capitalize on them.
I was beginning to fear a repeat of last year. But finally, in Game 2, Taylor received a large dose of snaps and he finished the game with three catches for 36 yards. Not huge numbers, but each one of his receptions were noteworthy.
Taylor continues to get targets in the endzone. Redzone catches he's been making in camp practices have eluded him in the preseason games. Hopefully, he can parlay his solid performance in Game 2 into an even bigger showing in the last two preseason bouts of the year.
Chad Jensen is the Publisher of Mile High Huddle. You can find him on Twitter @ChadNJensen.
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