Five Things to Watch: Broncos vs. Rams Preseason Dress Rehearsal


Aug 17, 2013; Seattle, WA, USA; Denver Broncos running back Ronnie Hillman (21) rushes against the Seattle Seahawks during the second quarter at CenturyLink Field. Mandatory Credit: Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

As is typical for the third pre-season game, the Broncos will let a good number of their starters play into the third quarter of Saturday night’s game against the St. Louis Rams.

Other top teams in the AFC in action for their third pre-season game–the Patriots and Ravens–looked terrible with their starting units. In the case of both of those teams, they are going through major change.

So it’s NOT just the Broncos who are having to deal with major losses? By the way the media is treating Denver this offseason, you’d never know it.

Forget the fact that Tom Brady’s top targets are Danny Amendola and…Kenbrell Thompkins? Forget the fact that the Ravens lost Dennis Pitta for the year and traded away top receiver Anquan Boldin for a bag of Sun Chips.

Forget the fact that Ray Lewis retired and Ed Reed bolted for the Texans–the Broncos’ loss of Von Miller and Elvis Dumervil are the real changes that are going to cost Denver a shot at the Super Bowl.

What I’m getting at here is, despite the fact that the Denver Broncos are going to be missing their defensive MVP for six games and another darn good pass rusher has left for what he feels are greener pastures, they are not the only team in the NFL that is going to struggle with change in 2013. Specifically, they are not the only team in the AFC that is going to struggle with major changes.

We’ll get our most extended look at those changes on Saturday night, as the Broncos open up Sports Authority Field for the first time since they were dropped by Baltimore in the game that shall not be mentioned again by me.

Obviously after a 40-10 blowout in Seattle, the Broncos need to make some improvements. That game should have easily been 14-10 if not for a bogus fumble and kick return, but those types of things happen in real games, and it happened to the Broncos’ starters. Instead of cutting the Seattle lead to three with a Ronnie Hillman touchdown, the second year back decided to fumble two inches from the goal line and the Seahawks returned it for a score.

The Broncos need to show something on Saturday night, and here are five things I’ll be watching out for.

1. Give me some pass rush

This was something I highlighted before the team’s previous game–the depth along the defensive line and the Broncos’ ability to send pass rushers from other positions. They actually managed to get some good pressure on Russell Wilson, and now we’ll get to see how they do against a quarterback with more typical wheels in Sam Bradford.

The Broncos’ first two pre-season games have been against elite scrambling quarterbacks, and they have to be ready for that in an early-season matchup against the Philadelphia Eagles. But playing against the likes of Joe Flacco, Eli Manning, Tom Brady, etc., the Broncos really don’t have to worry about mobility at the QB position, especially within the division. Alex Smith is a pretty mobile QB, but that’s beside the point.

Jack Del Rio’s defense is going to have to live on without Von Miller for nearly half the season, which is a huge loss–make no bones about it. The Broncos have a gaping hole at the “Superstar” position on defense for the first time since the team went 4-12 in 2010. Of course, Champ Bailey will still be there and Denver’s group is vastly improved from the 2010 squad, so they expect to not miss a beat.

Shaun Phillips will likely be the team’s top edge rusher in Miller’s absence, so it would be great to see him get some hits on Bradford Saturday. Obviously Derek Wolfe won’t be playing the rest of the pre-season, and I can’t say I’m disappointed by that. The fewer injuries the Broncos’ first-team D sustains, the better.

The pressure is on for the Broncos’ interior linemen as well as their backups at the DE positions. Malik Jackson has had a stellar offseason, and rookie Quanterus Smith could see more action than the team initially anticipated.

2. Running game rhythm

The Broncos can’t decide on a starting tailback, and that’s been more of a hindrance than anything else through two pre-season games. Neither Montee Ball or Ronnie Hillman has been able to latch on to the #1 spot, though it remains Hillman’s by way of technicality.

The team’s best, most proven back, is still Knowshon Moreno whether you like it or not. Moreno is the Broncos’ best all-around third down tailback, and he could very well open the season as the starter.

Whoever is taking carries from Peyton Manning, the Broncos need better rhythm and more explosiveness. I realize the offensive line is a bit in a shambles at this point, but someone has to seize the opportunity.

I want to see some rhythm from the Broncos’ running game in setting up the pass.

3. Consistent Orange Julius

I think the Broncos have potentially the greatest collection of nicknames in the NFL as a team. Julius Thomas, AKA “Orange Julius” has had a breakout offseason and has backed it up in the team’s first two pre-season games.

With the injuries to Jacob Tamme and Joel Dreessen at the TE position, Thomas has shined though not without some blemishes in his game. He missed some blocks against San Francsico, and had a fumble on the back end of a big catch against Seattle. Those kinds of mistakes can’t be tolerated with the way the Broncos are operating business nowadays. The pre-season has been a great time for Julius to grow and hone his craft, and while he will be prone to some mistakes, I think the Broncos undeniably have a big time talent on their hands.

4. Cause Turnovers

The Broncos probably will be without Champ Bailey and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, so it would be great to see the young players step up and cause some turnovers.

The more confidence the young players have going into the season, the better for the Broncos. The veterans are already going to be fired up for Baltimore, but this is a great time for the young guns to get the butterflies out and make some plays. If the Broncos can force some bad throws from Sam Bradford, the young DBs need to take advantage.

5. Holliday on Offense

The Broncos got Trindon Holliday involved a bit offensively against the Seahawks, and I’d like to see more of that. You don’t want him to get hurt out there, but I think 4-6 additional touches per game shouldn’t be out of the question for the speedy little machine.

Holliday is such a dynamic athlete, it’d be a shame if the only time he touched the ball was as a punt returner. He is so electric in space, it’d be great to see Peyton Manning slinging him some quick passes to see what he can do.