Pre-Season Week #1 - Denver Broncos at San Francisco 49ers - What to watch for

We are finally here.  We get to talk about, watch, react to, and get into some real football.  Who cares if it is the preseason?  Not me.  This team has 80 men trying out for 53 spots and 8 practice-squad positions.  This isn't the Broncos of yesteryear where any one of us could probably pick the 53-man roster by now.  It's all new, it's all different and it is worth watching for 60 minutes, that's for sure.

With a new season comes new features here at MileHighReport.  This year, as part of the preview to each game, I am going to ask each of the contributors here at MHR to give me a few of the things they are watching for during the game.  We each look at different things so why not get them all out in the open.  Our goal here is to educate, as well as entertain, and by providing to you what we are going to look for might help you watch the game in an entirely different manner.

For tonight, I asked 2 simple questions -

1.  Who is the player or position you’ll focus on?

2.  Who is the player or position you’ll focus on?

I guess I'll go first.

1.  What is the one thing you will be watching for tonight?

With this being preseason game #1, I am going to be pretty general in terms of my viewing.  I'm not going to look for Kyle Orton to throw the ball all over the field, or the Broncos running game to dominate.  Surely I am not going to look for the defense to shut the Niners down.  No, tonight is all about getting a sense of where the Broncos are as a team, coming together as a 53-man unit under Josh McDaniels.  I am going to be looking for work ethic.  I am going to look for guys hitting the other team, and enjoying it.  I am going to look for the Broncos to become a physical team in all 3 phases - Offense, Defense and Special Teams.  I am going to look for a team that is physical, yet athletic at the same time.  I want to see if the culture I know Josh McDaniels is trying to instill in Denver is starting to take root.

2.  Who is the player or position you’ll focus on?

For me, this one is easy.  On offense I'll surely be watching the quarterbacks.  Again, I'm not looking at stats.  I will be looking at fundamentals.  I want to see if their footwork is sound.  Are they floating around the pocket, yet always keeping their upper bodies in the correct throwing position?  Are they able to move around the pocket without taking their eyes off the receivers?  Can they sense the pressure? Are they making quick decisions with the football, and are they the right ones?

On defense, I want to see the linebackers.  How are they reacting at the snap of the ball.? Are the outside guys getting pressure on the QB, or are they dropping into their zone effectively?  Is their hip movement fluid or are they stiff? On the inside, is the triangle (NT, LILB, RILB) effective at stopping the run?

Now, for the rest of the MHR Team -

Milehighreport_small_medium STYG50 -

1.  What is the one thing you will be watching for tonight?

For the live viewing tonight, I'm going to be looking for "effort around the edges." What I mean by this is that I am going to be watching the fringes of this team, the second and third teamers, the special teamers, the nickel and dime backs, the receiver blocking and routes, etc, and looking for which players stand out in the hustle and energy departments.


This "effort around the edges' is probably going to be the one thread that is continuous throughout the whole season, because you can bet that the players who stand out in that area in this, the first pre-season game of the year, stand the greatest chance of making the cut, and of being there at the end. If this thread snaps early, or is tenuous at best, the efforts of our stars, and even of our highly important unknowns (re: Orton) may have simply too much of an uphill battle to overcome. Of the three phases, special teams will afford the most opportunity for seeing the "edges" of this teams roster, but there are other opportunities as well: anyone starting in the place of an injured player (i.e Bruton subbing for Dawkins), the extra defensive backs added for coverage (Barrett will likely be spotted here a time or two), the third and fourth WRs on the field, the extra TE in 3TE sets(including players motioning to those roles). I should note that when the second and third team units come on the field, I'll still be watching for the same thing, i.e. which players are filling the fringe roles lined out above, rather than the backup QB or backup linemen. The ability of someone to step in and be a starter is a totally separate type of analysis: I'm looking for the solid all around effort that acts like a mortar holding the bricks of our offense and defense together.

2.  Who is the player or position you'll focus on??


Depending on the unit on the field, this will necessarily shift around, but for the live viewing I plan on watching:

Offense: As mentioned above, I'll be watching for exemplary drive and effort from that 3rd or 4th WR, the extra TE, maybe the 2nd back in a 2-back set. If those things aren't happening on any given play, I'll be watching that Orton fellow, as a lead in to more in depth re-watching later on where I'll be putting together a baseline analysis for his execution of McDaniel's offense. Can't wait to watch this guy grow....

Defense: I'm taking my cue from Hoosierteacher here and watching the space behind the LBs. For as long as Dawkins' replacement is playing (i.e., for as long as the "first-teamers" are in) I'll be watching him quite specifically, but I'll also make a mental note of the play of extra DBs when they are in there.
STs coverage units: Keep my eye on the gunners. We have been terribly soft in this area for the last two years, and I think McD's attention to this unit should spring these guys loose. I want to see speed, tenacity, and control on approach, once the ball carrier is in their sights. I'll be looking for the gunners to make plays tonight.

STs return units: I'll be watching the returner here, because that is the funnest thing to watch. :) All work and no play makes Styg a very boring boy!

Milehighreport_small_mediumHoosierTeacher -

1.  What is the one thing you will be watching for tonight?

D-Line play (not so much penetration as occupying the OL), LB discipline and tackling, Orton's comfort level (I'm expecting mistakes, and that's okay), and what type of play calls we have on both sides of the ball.

2.  Who is the player or position you'll focus on??

I'll miss Dawkins being in the game, and EVERYONE will be focused on Orton.  But for me, I'm mostly interested in the front seven of the defense.  I'll be watching the NT position when the offense hits the field, and I'm interested in seeing how we use the RBs on offense.  (Whilst watching the RBs, I want to see how much zone blitz they'll get set up with by the OL).

Milehighreport_small_mediumZappa --

1.  What is the one thing you will be watching for tonight?

I will be watching how the Linebackers attack the line tonight.  And since I've never coached nor even really played organized football, I will use Hoosierteacher's MHR University post from this past May as a guide.  It will help me identify how things should work compared to what I will actually be seeing on the field tonight.  Edge containment, red zone adjustments, run stopping, pressure on the QB, ect.  I look forward to being more than just a regular-joe fan for a change!

2.  Who is the player or position you'll focus on??

The position I will likely focus the most on is NT.  I believe that if we don't have good NT play then our defense will be in for a long season.  We saw this last year when Bob Slowik attempted a midseason switch to the 3-4.  It wasn't so much that he was a horrible DC and his scheme sucked(which he was and it did), but it was also about not having a traditional NT to play the role effectively.  Therefore, our linebackers got stuffed trying to blitz and consequently we got burned in the running & passing games.

In a horrible twist of irony, our defense did actually improve from Slowik's horribly schemed 4-3 to his 3-4 hybrid.  We went from giving up 394 yards per game to "just" 359 yards per game.  I still think we didn't have the personnel necessary to run a 3-4 effectively.  Marcus Thomas hadn't yet bulked up last season and he was the closest thing we have to a "traditional" NT.

This year the landscape at NT looks quite different, which is why my attention will keep going back to that NT position.

Milehighreport_small_mediumTedBartlett905 --

1.  What is the one thing you will be watching for tonight?

I'll be watching for personnel groupings, both offensively and defensively.  I don't feel like we really have a great sense of how the McDaniels regime is going to approach this yet.  Creating favorable matchups through personnel groupings was a key to the Shanahan approach, and I am sure it will continue to be under Josh McDaniels, maybe to an even greater extent.  I especially want to see how Knowshon Moreno and Peyton Hillis are used, who is playing at nickelback, and how Josh Barrett is being used, as I am intrigued by word that he is getting reps at LB in passing situations.

2.  Who is the player or position you'll focus on??

I want to see how the ILBs look.  I think they are going to be the key to the Broncos ability to be successful against the run this season, and I have been somewhat skeptical of their ability to take on blocks, and play downhill, particularly D.J. Williams.  I would love to be proven wrong, of course.

Milehighreport_small_mediumNYCBroncosFan

1.  What is the one thing you will be watching for tonight?

I want to see solid tackling. We haven't seen that around these parts for a few years now; I'm not sure why, but with both new coaches and players it's something to hope for. It's a new scheme, so maybe guys will still be figuring out where they're supposed to be within the defense; I don't expect a brilliant overall performance from the defense for that reason. But I don't think we should have to wait until September to see guys wrapping up; no arm tackling, please. I'd also like to see multiple players arriving at the ball, with the secondary tacklers trying to rip the ball out. The defense isn't going to be great overnight, but with proper effort and tackling we should at least see more turnovers...

2.  Who is the player or position you'll focus on??

I just want to see Kyle Orton make solid choices and decisions; in other words, I'd like to see him throw to open receivers. I don't really care if the passes are completed, at this point; Orton and the receivers are still getting used to each other. But he's been learning the playbook for almost six months at this point; he should have a decent idea of where his progressions are and where to go with the ball. So, I basically don't want to see the forced throws we got used to with Jay Cutler. Cutler got away with those poor decisions thanks to his strong arm; Orton doesn't have the same luxury (a curse, at times).

I'm also psyched to see Knowshon. I expect him to catch an awful lot of passes this year; maybe around 60. So, I'm hoping his receiving skills will be on display tonight and we'll get to see him operate in space. We've seen glimpses of his moves from practice footage, but obviously that doesn't compare to live action against real opponents. We've read/heard so much about his versatility in the passing game; I'm excited to finally see it.

Milehighreport_small_mediumBroncoBear --

1.  What is the one thing you will be watching for tonight?

I don't believe that McDaniels is going to tip his hand as far as the 'new' approach to the running game/offense: I think that we'll see that during the season opener. However, I will be watching to see if the running backs are able to see their lanes and how they take advantage of them, as well is gauging the number and type of rushing plays that we see. McDaniels was fond of the draw play and of runs between the tackles in NE - I want to see how much of that carries over. In the same vein, I'll be looking to see how much zone and how much gap blocking we'll be doing.

2.  Who is the player or position you'll focus on??

Position - RB

What I'll watch for - I want to see what blocking scheme we will be using, how well the RBs seem to 'see' the field and the type/direction of the rushing plays. I want to see if there are any clues there to the approach Coach McDaniels will take to the rushing game.

What do you guys and gals think. What will you be watching for? And remember to join us for tonight's Open Thread(s), starting 60 minutes before kickoff!

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