Don’t blink. Really, if you’re watching the Denver Broncos offense this season, don’t blink.
“We don’t sub and we just play and keep this high tempo pace going, it tires them out, especially in this altitude,” Eric Decker said following the 27-26 win over the St. Louis Rams.
Under Peyton Manning, the Broncos ran 49 first half plays. Despite the win, the team from the Show Me State really showed the Broncos a thing or two, mostly that there’s still a mountain of work to be done in all three phases before their September 5 rematch against the Ravens.
The Broncos were down throughout until the third-stringers went in and Lerentee McCray blocked a punt. Lance Ball was able to rush one in from five yards to put the Broncos up 27-20 with 3:43 left in the game. A one-yard touchdown pass from the Rams put them down one at the two-minute mark, but a failed two-point conversion ended the competitive rainy game.
For guys that are on the roster bubble, special teams has left a lot to be desired. After giving up a 107-yard kickoff return to the Seahawks last week, the Broncos let Tavon Austin scamper down the east sideline for 81 yards on a punt return. That set up a Sam Bradford to Jared Cook 3-yard touchdown pass for the game’s first points.
The Broncos let their fast-paced offense offset the mistake when Manning hit Demaryius Thomas in the back of the end zone on a bootleg on 4th and 1.
Manning was done at halftime, but went 25-for-34 for 234 yards with one touchdown and an interception. His favorite first half target was Decker who had six first half catches for 66 yards.
After Manning’s only touchdown throw and the defense forcing the Rams to punt, the offense put Prater in great position for a 34-yard field goal attempt. That’s where things for special teams went sour again. Poor blocking up front allowed T.J. McDonald enough room to block the attempt.
Not all was special teams’ fault on this 79-degree summer night. For the second time in as many weeks, Ronnie Hillman fumbled a ball, which immediately led to a touchdown. This time it was rookie Alec Ogletree stripping Hillman and running it in 13 yards for the score. For Hillman, that’s three fumbles (two lost) in the past two weeks.
“I still have great confidence,” John Fox said after the game. “I think the (fumble) this week was altogether different. I personally thought his progress was stopped, otherwise he’s got to get on the ground faster or do a better job of holding onto the ball when guys yank on him late in the down.”
Hillman ended the night with 6 carries for 34 yards (avg. 5.7) as well as 3 receptions for 15 yards. If it weren’t for the fumbles, Hillman would be the clear cut starter.
His backfield counterpart Montee Ball was able to punch the ball in from the one-yard line to make it 20-17 with five minutes left in the third quarter. He ended the night with 14 carries for 43 yards (3.1 avg.), and 2 catches for 27 yards.
Knowshon Moreno saw plenty of action in the second half and looked more suitable for a starting role than either Hillman or Ball. Moreno finished with 5 carries for 33 yards (6.6 avg.) and 3 receptions for 42 yards. Most of his work came against the Rams’ backups, but it was a solid work day for him nonetheless.
The Broncos defense was thin at the one’s. Even though Von Miller played the entire first half, Champ Bailey, Derek Wolfe, and Robert Ayers sat this one out with injuries. New middle linebacker Wesley Woodyard led the team in tackles with 5 and he added a sack to the mix. It was a good day for him in the limited action he saw. Miller had just one tackle, but his presence was felt throughout. The team put him with the starters because it was going to be the only reps he got with them before week 7 when his suspension is over.
Brock Osweiler got the call in the third quarter and had the chance to play with the first team offense. With them, he led the team on a 79-yard scoring drive, which was capped off with Ball’s touchdown from the one-yard line. Once Osweiler started with the second team, he looked vulnerable and lost. He threw an interception early in the fourth quarter and finished the game going 9-for-15 for 89 yards with one touchdown and an interception.
The Broncos big problem for the second week in a row was turnovers. They had four and didn’t create any of their own.
For the Broncos, the first round of cuts comes on Tuesday. This game against St. Louis was the welcome to the (AFC) West for many, but for others, they’ll hand in their playbooks and clean out their lockers.
The dress rehearsal is over. With one more preseason game to go, where the second and third string will see most if not all of the action, the Broncos can smell the Ravens coming as well as the sweet odor of revenge.