Preseason NFL games, especially the first ones of the year, are notorious for not meaning much in the big picture.
Injuries keep many starters in street clothes and those that do play usually only get a series or two. Offensive and defensive schemes are being installed and refined, so play calling on both sides of the ball can be rather vanilla. This results in ragtag lineups and to put it nicely, pretty ugly football at times.
Of course the hometown fans always like to see the good guys get the victory, but the reason the matchup against the 49ers was an overwhelming success came down to one thing: The Denver Broncos made it out of the game healthy.
There were some highlights and noteworthy performances but the health of the team is the most important thing at this stage of the season. This rings especially true for Denver since they came into the game having already sustained several camp injuries.
Even though fans and the media will wring their hands over every tiny detail of each preseason game, the Broncos will be just fine as long as they can win the battle of attrition prior to the regular season. Hopefully they keep it going this week against the Seattle Seahawks.
Here are some thoughts on the Denver Broncos 10-6 victory over the San Francisco 49ers:
- The most talked about man in Denver after the game had to be undrafted safety Duke Ihenacho. He seemed to be all over the field and finished with 7 tackles, a tackle-for-loss, and a pass defended. He also forced a fumble and helped the defense make a statement. Ihenacho is making a strong push to be an opening day starter, and his camp battle against incumbent safety Mike Adams will be one to watch over the next few weeks.
- All told the defense forced 4 turnovers and held the 49ers offense to a paltry 2 for 10 conversion rate on third downs. They gave up a couple of long drives and some big runs, but they managed to come up with a big play when they needed to shut the door. Offenses typically struggle with backup quarterbacks in the game, but holding San Francisco to 6 points has to be considered a good start at the very least.
- There wasn’t a ton of competition for the “play of the game” so the lone touchdown scored by Shaun Philips easily qualifies as the highlight of the night. Even though it was one of the easiest plays Philips will make all year it sure looked nice to see him celebrating in the end zone. It wasn’t a bad start at all for the man tasked with replacing Elvis Dumervil’s sack production.
- The spotlight was on quarterback Brock Osweiler coming into the game and he produced a mixed bag of results. He completed over 70% of his passes but only amassed 105 yards. He showed flashes of why many argue he could be the future of the franchise, but he also showed some uncertainty with his decision making. He didn’t have the benefit of solid protection up front but he didn’t help any by getting rid of the ball quickly either. Still, Osweiler clearly has improved from a year ago and he impressed with his strong throwing arm and his overall physical presence.
- Undrafted running back C.J. Anderson turned a lot of heads with 69 yards on 15 carries, but I’d like to see that production against some tougher competition. He definitely earned the right for a few more opportunities so he’s at least given himself a chance to make the final roster. Either way, the fact he has injected some more competition into the running back battle is a good thing.
- The performance of the offensive line sent the Twitterverse into a small hysteria on Thursday night. My reaction was more like this: Meh. The line that started against the 49ers will look drastically different when the Broncos open up the season on September 5th. Most glaringly, starting Pro-Bowl tackle Ryan Clady will be back on the field by then. Furthermore, newly acquired Ryan Lilja is still getting acclimated to the system and worked with the second team most of the night. He will most likely end up starting in the middle and once he reaches full speed he will give the starting unit a boost. It would be wise to withhold final judgment until the real starting group sees some action together.
- Not much to report on Peyton Manning and the big three wide receivers. The starting offense only saw a single series of work and Demaryius Thomas, Eric Decker and Wes Welker only had one reception among them.
- Placekicker Matt Prater only had one shot at a field goal and he split the uprights with his 46-yard attempt. Prater has been adjusting his mechanics and the word out of camp is it has reduced his distance some. It didn’t look like the kick was crushed in old-Prater fashion, but I’ll take a higher percentage on mid-range kicks over the occasional 59-yarder any day.
- Next up is a road game against the Seattle Seahawks on Saturday, August 17th. Go Broncos!