Aug 24, 2013; Denver, CO, USA; Denver Broncos running back Knowshon Moreno (27) runs the ball during the second half against the St. Louis Rams at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. The Broncos won 27-26. Mandatory Credit: Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports

Denver Broncos Dress Rehearsal Analysis


The third pre-season game is in the books for the Denver Broncos, and that likely means we’ve seen the last of Peyton Manning until the Broncos take on the Baltimore Ravens in the Thursday night opener.

If we do see any more of Peyton Manning, it ought to be on a very, very limited basis.

At this point, the Broncos know what they’ve got, and the starters don’t really need to risk injury in another final tuneup before the Baltimore Ravens come to down. The fourth pre-season game should be strictly utilized to find out what players are going to round out the bottom of the roster and the practice squad, and you can almost rest assured knowing that’s what it’s for.

As we await the final pre-season game, here are some things that really stood out to me as the majority of Denver’s starters concluded their pre-season.

1. Knowshon Moreno is still the best back the Broncos have

Yep, I said it. Go ahead and hate on Knowshon all you want to. Perhaps the hate is warranted, but two things have been out of Moreno’s control ever since he entered the NFL.

1. Moreno didn’t choose what pick he was drafted at.

2. Moreno can’t help freak injuries.

Of course, the problem with Knowshon has always been that he can’t stay healthy. He was the Broncos’ best running back last year as well (at least in my opinion) after getting benched against the Atlanta Falcons, and his injury and absence against the Ravens in the playoffs was as big as any absence the team had all year.

Moreno is the Broncos’ best receiver at the RB position. He is the best back in the blitz pickup department. He is also the most experienced runner. While Ronnie Hillman provides the explosiveness, he had three fumbles in three pre-season games.

That simply will not fly in Peyton Manning’s offense, especially since the Von Miller suspension leaves the Broncos with marginal room for error offensively.

Montee Ball is eventually going to be the Broncos’ workhorse back, but it’s not going to be week one. He may emerge shortly thereafter, but at this point, he is still pretty raw and is going to have to be eased along.

I’m shocked that Knowshon didn’t receive the first team reps all offseason based on his performance at the end of last season. Sure, he only has four 100 yard games in his career and has proven unable to stay healthy for an extended period of time, but a fully healthy Moreno is the Broncos’ best option at running back, at least for week one.

2. Operation “Hurry, hurry!” is full systems go.

Peyton Manning threw 34 passes in a pre-season game–and he didn’t play a down in the third or fourth quarter. The Broncos didn’t even have Wes Welker on the field, and the passing game was nearly flawless.

Manning orchestrated a couple of touchdown drives and had a pick, but the volume of attempts was astounding, especially for a pre-season game. The Broncos are going to be moving the ball a heck of a lot this year, and the offense looks like it’s starting to click. I was really impressed with the play of the Denver offensive line, though I’m obviously still not sold on Manny Ramirez. Teams are going to throw a lot at him, but the fact that he’s had the same role all offseason is comforting, at least.

The Broncos are sure to have one of the most explosive and high-scoring offenses in the league, and it was apparent after the first half of Saturday’s game that they plan on running a lot of plays. Peyton Manning seems to have his health back fully at this point, and he looks as sharp as ever.

3. Manning likes him some Orange Julius

Peyton has been locked in on Julius Thomas this pre-season. He made a comment earlier this offseason something like, “If you can’t get the ball to Julius Thomas (as a QB), then there’s something wrong with you.” Manning has proven there’s nothing wrong with him as he has consistently found Julius, who has been playing in place of injured Joel Dreessen.

Thomas is a freakishly gifted athlete, and his story is well-documented at this point. Manning has hit him 12 times this pre-season, but he got himself into a bit of trouble on Saturday, twice trying to force the ball to Thomas with one resulting in an interception.

Manning should have no reason to force the ball to anyone this season, with as many weapons as he has at his disposal. The Broncos designed plays to get the ball to Thomas, so obviously the Broncos are planning on him being a big part of the offense this year.

4. Special Teams needs a tune up

I can’t imagine it was a pleasant week for the Broncos’ special teams units this past week, and they promptly allowed Tavon Austin to return a punt 81 yards, nearly for a touchdown.

There were a couple of other returns given up by the Broncos that had me on edge, and Trindon Holliday muffed another punt. Matt Prater also had a gimme field goal blocked because of a missed block by Julius Thomas.

Needless to say, it will be another painful week for the Denver special teams. This unit needs some work and they better get it together quickly.

5. Not overly worried about the defense

It will be nice to have Champ Bailey back, as well as Derek Wolfe for the season opener. Otherwise, I feel like the Broncos have the personnel to be very good defensively even without Von Miller for six games.

Is the pass rush going to take a blow? Yep. Huge.

The combined losses of Elvis Dumervil and Von Miller are absolutely concerning for the Broncos, but there’s something about the unit that gives me confidence. They need to stop giving up as many big plays as they are, which could be an Achille’s heel in the early portion of the season.

I think the Broncos are set up to defend the run very well, especially up the middle. Their starting DT duo of Kevin Vickerson and Terrance Knighton is absolutely beastly, and they rotate in guys like Mitch Unrein and Sylvester Williams who can hold their own as well.

Side note–very impressed once again this pre-season with Mitch Unrein. I don’t see any way he’s not on the final 53-man roster.

Another reason I’m confident in the defense is the defensive backfield. The Broncos are just so talented back there. Like I said with Bailey back, it’s hard to imagine a crew involving him, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Chris Harris, Rahim Moore, and the rest of the crew is going to be bested all that often.

6. Rookie Report

The rookie that stood out most to me in the pre-season to this point is Kayvon Webster. When the Broncos picked him, I was scratching my head, digging through my notes to find absolutely nothing on the guy.

I would later find out that Webster idolizes Champ Bailey in his football craft, and he is physical on the perimeter.

It’s been clear through three games that Webster is capable of making an impact for the Broncos’ defense, but they’ll be wise to bring him along slowly. He showed off his physicality against the Rams, has made some nice tackles this pre-season, and had a pick a couple weeks ago. I am really impressed by this guy, and I think he’s going to be a good find for John Elway and company.

7. Chemistry not lost

I don’t think Eric Decker is going to be an odd man out like some experts do. I’m sure this has been touched on before, but I think Decker could have his best season yet. He developed a great chemistry with Peyton Manning last year, and provided he doesn’t allow the turf monster to tackle him this season, he can be great once again.

Decker is going to make plays this season.

8. The Wizard of Oz

Brock Osweiler is still really green. He makes some things happen out there, but he’s still too raw. The Broncos need Peyton Manning probably to play at least another season before Brock will be ready for game action, at least in a way where he can put out a quality product.

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