Broncos preseason: Offense struggles, defense shines in win


The Denver Broncos won their third straight preseason game, and for the third straight week, the defense was incredible while the offense looks like it’s in a state of transition.

Which is okay, because they are.

The Broncos have an incredibly talented team, but things are coming along much more slowly offensively than they are on defense right now. Peyton Manning and the starters have not yet scored a touchdown in the preseason, which is both concerning and something we need to not be too quick to overreact to.

There’s plenty to react to from Saturday night’s win, so here are my biggest takeaways.

Defense is playing at an otherworldly level

I realize it’s preseason, and I realize you need to take everything with a grain of salt, but the Denver Broncos defense looks like it’s in the best shape it’s been in since I’ve been a fan of the team.

And by the way — Chris Harris Jr. hasn’t even played yet this preseason.

The starters already look in midseason form, and haven’t barely allowed teams to get past midfield, much less give up a lot of points or touchdowns. Against the 49ers, it was one late-2nd quarter drive that was helped by a penalty that earned the Niners their first reasonably successful drive of the game, but the defense was stellar on the night.

Von Miller notched another sack, while DeMarcus Ware got on the board with a sack for a safety, using some great change of direction skills to cut inside a tackle and bring Colin Kaepernick down in the end zone.

Shane Ray played his best game as a Bronco to this point. Obviously that’s just from my perspective, but he looked great against both the run and pass, and notched another sack in this game. He’s going to be an impact player for this defense.

Derek Wolfe is not going to play for the first four games of the season, but he appears to have found a 2nd gear in this defense. He is playing at the highest level I’ve seen from him as a Bronco, and this being a contract year, it’s going to be imperative that he plays his best football with the 12 regular season games he’s given this year.

Shaquil Barrett shows off other set of skills

Aug 29, 2015; Denver, CO, USA; San Francisco 49ers quarterback Blaine Gabbert (2) runs out of the pocket under pressure from Denver Broncos linebacker Shaquil Barrett (48) during the second half at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. The Broncos won 19-12. Mandatory Credit: Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports

The Broncos’ preseason superstar Shaquil Barrett was at it again against the 49ers, but this time, he was flexing a different skill set. In addition to his pass rushing skills, which were apparent again in this game, Barrett proved he can make an impact on 15 special teams snaps where he had a tackle in coverage.

Not only did Barrett play a lot on special teams, he had his best game of the preseason against the run, shutting down a couple of plays at or behind the line of scrimmage.

If he hasn’t earned a roster spot at this point, I’ll be pretty upset. He’s a beast in the making and would be a huge asset to the Broncos’ rotation this season. He played plenty with the starters in this game, but also played until the final drive defensively as well.

Darius Kilgo continues to impress

Darius Kilgo was the best player on the night defensively for the Broncos. At one point, NFL Game Pass shifted over to the 49ers’ broadcast, and they were talking about a failed run up the middle for the 49ers and commended Kilgo by saying something along the lines of, “Yeah I don’t think you’re running up the middle at big number 98 tonight.”

It was a dominant performance for Kilgo, who made a couple of tackles for loss in addition to blowing up a few pass protections. He’s going to be a great asset for the defensive line rotation and can play a couple of different positions.

Manning, Osweiler don’t impress

I hate to overreact, but I was really disappointed in both of the quarterbacks for the Broncos on the night. I think there are simply some loose ends that need to get tied up with Peyton, but both players were not overly efficient and they made it look hard out there.

I’m not saying it’s easy, nor am I saying that it should be, but for what we’re used to seeing it didn’t look like these guys were comfortable at all.

Montee Ball pushed further yet

Montee Ball was pushed further down the depth chart than we thought. Not only has Ronnie Hillman replaced him in the 1A role the coaches talk about, but Juwan Thompson has replaced him as the third in line for carries.

It’s a concern for Ball, but with his rookie contract and tag as a 2nd round pick, he should be safe for at least another year with this team as he’s an inexpensive option that the team drafted and is a guy who has shown flashes at times in his career.

Still, this was telling of where Ball is at right now, though he did have his best play of the preseason with a catch and run on third down for a big gain.

Aug 29, 2015; Denver, CO, USA; Denver Broncos wide receiver Jordan Norwood (11) catches a pass during the first half against the San Francisco 49ers at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. Mandatory Credit: Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports

Cody Latimer, where art thou?

And for that matter, where’s the Demaryius Thomas we all know and love?

These guys combined for one pretty awful game that included two dropped touchdown passes and an interception right in front of the face of DT, which he could have fought a little bit harder for in my opinion.

Again, it’s preseason, but these guys dropped some pretty routine passes and some nice throws by Peyton Manning that they shouldn’t have, and hopefully that doesn’t happen come time for the regular season. We have been expecting some big plays from Cody Latimer, and to this point, we’ve yet to see them.

Jordan Norwood impresses as the slot

Jordan Norwood looked really good as the slot receiver. He made a couple of great moves to get free with his quickness from that slot position, and had some key third down catches. His development is a big deal because the Broncos really struggled without that slot element last season.

There will be plenty of involvement from the tight ends this season of course, but having a great slot receiver is a must in today’s NFL. A healthy Norwood is a big weapon for the Broncos, and a really underrated player heading into the regular season.

Next: Montee Ball on the roster bubble?

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