There was a very, very… very heavy rainfall about two hours before kickoff, which cooled a very hot Sunday afternoon. By the time I reached my seat, things had dried off and the weather was very pleasant. It was a great day for football. I was seated in section 346 (upper deck) and there was a total of 8 people in the entire section. I thought it was pretty nice. Nothing was obstructed by a guy with a Dr. Seuss hat and I was far enough away from the action that I could see the entire field.
Before we begin, I've got to complement my fellow Bronco fans. They travel very well. I saw lots and lots of throwback jerseys such as Terrell Davis, Steve Atwater, John Elway and even a Floyd Little jersey. I complemented the man with the Little jersey, of course. He seemed like a nice fellow. As I say this, it's worth noting that there were just as many Florida Gator jerseys as Bronco jerseys. That surprised me quite a bit. We'll slowly convert them. Don't worry.
Now for some talk about what happened on the field.
The first thing that caught my eye, even during warm ups, was Kyle Orton. His passes had considerably more zip to them than Tebow or Quinn and he also put the ball in his receiver's chest more consistently than the other two quarterbacks. During warmups, it occurred to me that he spent quite a bit of time talking with Jabar Gaffney. How that would translate to the playing field, I wasn't sure at that point, but it became evident after the first play that Orton wouldn't afraid to sling it to number 10. As I say that, Orton looked to be in sync with his other receivers (Royal and Lloyd), as well.
The one issue I had with Orton was the deep ball to Brandon Lloyd. Sitting atop the stadium and watching Lloyd's route develop, I noticed Orton loading up and said "no… NO… NO!!!". Fortunately, the pass fell harmlessly to the turf. It doesn't take away the fact that it was a bad decision. Throwing deep into tight double coverage is not recommended, by me or just about every coach. If you're going to miss long, that's fine, but don't you dare under throw that ball and allow the defender to have a play on it. Excuse me… allow two defenders to have a play on it.
I didn't think that he looked at another receiver when the play happened in real-time but I let it go, giving him the benefit of the doubt since I saw the play only once. However, after watching the tape again, there is no way he looked at another receiver on that play and he should have. I think he should have looked around and thrown to his check down or the strange looking guy with the Bengal facepaint in the front row.
Yes, I am being extremely nitpicky right now. Orton was absolutely the best Quarterback of the night, but he was not perfect. Why am I talking about it then? Well, nobody is perfect. It is the preseason and you will make mistakes. The great thing about the preseason, though, is that you can make mistakes and it won't hurt your regular season record. You put the game on tape, analyze it, and come back stronger the next week.
McDaniels called the preseason a "learning tool", which I believe is a perfect description. The game film will be evaluated for every player and, if all goes well, every player will improve by next week. McDaniels will certainly talk about that deep ball to Lloyd and they will get it fixed.
Keep in mind that every player will have things to improve upon. Unfortunately, some have a lot more to improve upon than others. Brady Quinn looked lost. There is no two ways about it. He wasn't comfortable in the pocket. He was indecisive. He pump faked more than he actually threw the ball. He floated balls into the flat and was picked off. It was just bad. However, instead of crucifying him like many are doing, I'll spin it a different way.
Brady Quinn has a lot of plays on tape that he can learn from. All of his mistakes from Sunday night are correctable and the coaches are going to make sure that he hears about every single mistake. Am I concerned about how poorly he played? Absolutely. Is it possible that he improves this week? Sure.
Here is another thought. Brady Quinn used to play for the Cleveland Browns. The Cleveland Browns played the Cincinnati Bengals twice a year. Therefore, the Bengals likely have a binder full of stuff about how to beat Brady Quinn and they followed it to a tee on Sunday. Cutler wasn't extremely successful against the Chargers this weekend, either. Sometimes there is just a team you can't beat. Maybe that team is the Bengals for Quinn.
Is that being an apologist? Perhaps. What I'm really trying to do here is just start giving some alternate theories. That's the fun of the preseason. Everybody's got an opinion and you're never wrong until someone disproves your opinion in a few weeks. If Brady Quinn is still horrendous next week, then he is probably finished as a quarterback.
Tim Tebow played pretty well, in my opinion. His delivery is still too long and it looked like he regressed in his delivery a little bit. That was the concern a few months ago when he first talked about changing his throwing motion, though. When the bullets start flying, many thought that his motion would look like it did at Florida. I think it did.
With that said, he looked fine for a rookie quarterback in his first NFL action. Adam Schefter made a great point on Sunday night, noting that Tebow was the only rookie QB (of the notable "big name" guys - Bradford, Clausen, McCoy, Tebow) to score a touchdown in the 2010 preseason. I am happy with that. Furthermore, Tim Tebow was facing a very heavy blitz when he stepped on the field. It seemed like they were sending the house on every play. The Bengals fans were loving that. They boo'd when Tebow stepped on the field in the third quarter more than they boo'd when the Broncos entered the stadium during pregame introductions. I thought the place would explode when they used a corner blitz and hit Tim Tebow. That place was loud.
What excited me most about Tebow was how he played football. General statement? Hardly. A lot of fuss has been made of his long windup and his lack of accuracy and so on. However, he played like a football player. He made his mistakes like any rookie is expected to do, but he made some positive plays, as well. It seemed like his pocket presence was very good and he knew exactly when to flush out of the pocket (except for the one play where he was hit, fumbled, and the ruling was changed to an incomplete pass). After he flushed from the pocket, he seemed to run to his right more often than he ran to his left. I'm not sure if that always happens or if it was just a trend of this game, but it's worth noting and looking at, as his career continues. Despite rolling to his right, I was impressed with how well he threw across his body.
The run at the end of the game just shows everything that Tebow represents. He will do whatever he needs to do to win the game. He'll put his body on the line to score a TD, if he has to. On the previous play, he threw a nice ball (rolling to his right, like I mentioned earlier) that was dropped. The play before that, he threw a nice ball (rolling to his right) that was a gain of about 30 yards or so. He will use his arm, first, and his legs second. I think even Josh McDaniels will accept that, as long as Tebow continues to work towards being more of a passer than a running back.
Tebow could be our number 2 quarterback, especially if Quinn continues to struggle. He should not be the starter, unless Orton is injured.
There was no shortage of vertical passing in this game. Kyle Orton threw three deep balls. One was completed over the middle to Gaffney on the first play of the game. He also threw one deep to Lloyd in double coverage, which we have already discussed. His third was another long ball to Gaffney, who was hit before the ball arrived.
Quinn and Tebow also had their share of deep passes in this game. It could be an indication of things to come in the regular season. We talked about this in the offseason, but the pass protection needs to hold up so we can continue to see long plays like that.
It wasn't very good. JT O'Sullivan looked like Drew Brees out there because we couldn't put a finger on him. Yes, we did record 2 sacks in the game. However, there wasn't any consistent pressure that forced the Bengal offense to speed up their release. A lot of this was probably due to our vanilla defense. We didn't use a lot of blitzing or show our hand very much. There will be more complexities mixed in as the preseason rolls on.
Many have mentioned how the backup cornerbacks looked pretty poor. Yes, they were exposed. Are they as bad as they looked? Maybe not. The pass rush must be considered when discussing cornerbacks. Like I said, the pass rush was poor. The QB had much more time to survey the field and make a decision about where to go with the ball. When a corner has to cover a receiver for an extended period of time, the coverage will break down because you can only cover a guy for so long. Receivers are paid big money to get open, so you cannot give them extra seconds to do so. That's why the Steelers offense is so effective when Big Ben runs around to extend a play.
This was bad, as well. Bengals running-backs had close to 200 yards rushing in the game. I don't think it was necessarily due to a bad scheme. We just didn't tackle. I don't want to put a number on how many missed tackles I think we had, but I do believe that it was closer to "a lot" than "a few". Tackling needs to be a point of emphasis this week, for sure.
If we can sure up the missed tackles, I think our run defense will likely work itself out. Take away about half of those missed tackles and we are looking at somewhere in the neighborhood of 100 or 125 yards rushing. That would have been a much easier number to stare at, right now. I'll say it again because I think it's worth repeating. Tackling needs to be a point of emphasis. I know it's unrealistic to expect everyone on our team to be a Champ Bailey type tackler and up-end T.O. short of a first down with an ankle tackle, but these guys are professionals. If our second and third stringers are going to look like the Broncos 2008 defense and miss 3 or 4 or 5 tackles per play, then they will not be on our team for long. It's that simple. Tackle or get cut. Look for guys to step up and tackle in the next few games, knowing their jobs are on the line. A missed tackle means a missed opportunity to impress the coaches.
Just as I was telling my buddy how impressed I was with Perrish Cox, he dropped a punt and the ball was in possession of the Bengals. I spoke too soon. Our return game looked fine (except for that turnover). Cox looks like a returner back there and even though he didn't get an opening to run through, I could see why people were excited about him on special teams. During pregame warm ups, Eddie Royal was catching kicks and I figured that we would see him return 1 or 2 but we never saw him. Truthfully, I am glad. I'd rather have Cox out there catching kicks than Eddie Royal, just because it eliminates a serious risk of losing our young wide receiver due to injury on special teams. That's never fun.
Prater didn't miss any kicks, which was good to see, but our punt and kick return coverage worries me, a bit. This goes back to the missed tackles on run defense. Let's just say that it wasn't just on run defense. Our special teams missed some tackles, as well. Open field tackles are hard to do. I understand that. However, (like I said before) if you keep missing tackles, you are missing opportunities to impress the coaches. You have to make open field tackles on special teams. There were at least two entries in my notebook where I wrote that the gunner had a clear shot at the returner and missed the tackles. Not because the gunner corralled the returner towards a crowd of waiting Broncos, but because a juke and side step left the gunner laying in the grass while the returner ran up-field. That needs to be cleaned up.
Context of the Game
With all of the mistakes that the Broncos had on Sunday, it is important that we note the circumstances that the game was played under. The Bengals have already played a preseason game. Their offense was more polished, as was their defense. They have had some tape that they could look at and improve upon. We haven't. Their rookies are more experienced than our rookies. Their veterans have knocked off a bit more rust than our veterans had, at that point. The fact that our 1st team offense and 1st team defense was able to take a lead into the second quarter is reason to be excited.
We have tape to learn from and the coaches are eager to teach the guys what they did wrong. If you go watch the post-game press conference with Josh McDaniels, he didn't seem upset. He wasn't angry and he didn't raise his voice. He seemed contented, like he was just glad to have something to talk about. To be honest, I feel the exact same way. I love preseason games, not because they mean anything or because I love seeing mistakes. I love preseason because it gives us a glimpse of what we have. It's not the full picture (thank goodness), but it is a glimmer of a finished product. It's the opportunity to see players that are working towards becoming better football players. It is the job of our coaches to help the players improve and playing this game is a great evaluation tool that can help a player to improve. Playing against the Bengals was an opportunity to challenge a team that has already been through a preseason game and has pieces in place that give the Broncos a good measuring stick of their progress. Losing this game isn't a loss, it represents a tool for improvement.