The Broncos hosted their first of two pre-season games on Saturday night, and I finally was able to sit down and watch the game from cover to cover to make adequate judgements. I must say, the Lions game was a lot like the Bengals' game, the Broncos just didn't play against a bad kicker this time.
The first quarter was all Lions. Their opening drive went 72 yards on 10 plays in less than four and a half minutes, pretty methodical. However, the Broncos were able to come up with a few stops the closer the Lions came to the end zone, and forced a Steven Hauschka field goal to put the Lions ahead 3-0 to start the game's scoring.
The Broncos put together a pretty solid drive of their own, one that included plenty of help from the Lions via penalties, but a pass thrown by quarterback Kyle Orton deflected off running back Lance Ball and into the waiting arms of Dre' Bly. A Bly interception at Invesco was almost a welcome sight to fans, but the blunder from Ball halted a promising drive for Denver that would have most certainly put them on the board.
After the pick, Jahvid Best had a nice run up the middle, setting up a 20 yard touchdown strike from Matthew Stafford to Calvin Johnson, a potentially powerful QB/WR combination for this season and beyond. The victim of the Johnson touchdown catch was Andre' Goodman, who couldn't have done anything to prevent the score. The ball was absolutely perfect, in a place where only the 6'5" Johnson could leap to get it, and it was simply a great play by the Lions, giving them a 10-0 lead.
The Mile High salute by Johnson after the catch, however, was not amusing. That seems to be a fairly popular taunt for scoring against the Broncos.
The Lions started off the scoring in the second quarter with a 27 yard field goal by Hauschka, a drive where the Broncos made another nice stand inside the red zone. Still, the Lions had a 13-0 lead, and the Broncos had yet to show much sign of life offensively since the pick by Bly.
That would change on the next drive, when the Broncos put together a refreshing 15 play, nearly six minute drive that totalled 80 yards. The drive was capped off by a 15 yard touchdown strike from Orton to Lance Ball, who desperately needed to make a play.
The Lions got the ball back and drove the ball right down the field yet again, but the Broncos' defense again would not break, and Detroit was forced into another field goal, putting them ahead 16-7 at that point.
With 59 seconds remaining in the half, the Broncos would have to execute a near flawless two minute drill to get back on the board before halftime and cut into Detroit's early lead.
They did just that.
Orton and Jabar Gaffney starred on a six play, 80 yard drive that was capped off by an 11 yard touchdown pass from Orton to tight end Marquez Branson, cutting the Detroit lead to 16-14.
Following a 65 yard punt return by Perrish Cox, Brady Quinn and the Broncos' offense stalled in what seemed like a golden opportunity for the Denver backups, and they had to settle for a Matt Prater field goal. It was enough to give the Broncos a one point lead, though, with the score at 17-16.
A 13 play drive by the Lions totalling 67 yards ended in yet another field goal, and they re-gained the lead. Matt Prater missed a field goal earlier in the game, but matched Hauschka with a field goal of his own in the fourth, giving the Broncos a 20-19 lead.
The Lions, led by Drew Stanton, marched the ball 80 yards down the field in 10 plays, a drive that was capped off by a 25 yard run by Stanton. The run was an absolutely perfect call by the Lions, who caught the Broncos napping and blitzing from the outside. This was the second big run by a third string quarterback wearing the number five the Broncos have given up in as many weeks, and both times it was etremely deflating for Denver.
Still, the Lions left plenty of time on the clock for Quinn and the Broncos to drive down the field and re-gain the lead for the Broncos, and they almost did just that. A nice play by Eric Decker after the catch negated a bad holding penalty on the offensive line, and an acrobatic catch by Britt Davis gave the Broncos some momentum. More importantly, it gave Brady Quinn some much needed confidence.
Quinn got the Broncos inside 35 yards away from the end zone, but held on to the ball too long on the final play for the Broncos, and he was strip-sacked, essentially ending the game.
Something I'm Confident the Broncos CAN Do at This Point
The Broncos are going to be one of the NFL's most dangerous passing attacks this year, in my humble opinion. I'm not saying Kyle Orton is going to be the MVP of the NFL, but he is going to put up big numbers, especially if the Broncos' running game is ailing as it is is right now. Jabar Gaffney had six catches for 98 yards, inluding two catches that would have looked silly even on Madden's video game.
Orton has built a solid repoire with his receivers, and Broncos fans can be confident in this unit as the pass protection improves over the course of the year, better running backs are added to the mix, and Demaryius Thomas heals from injury.
Through two pre-season games, Kyle Orton has thrown for 278 yards, four touchdowns, and one interception that hit his receiver in the shoulder. He is playing lights out with an offensive line featuring one starter from last year, a starter who is clearly still playing with great caution.
Something I'm NOT Confident the Broncos Can Do
I have yet to see the Broncos stop the run on a consistent basis. I know the run defense wasn't bad for the first unit against Cincinnati, but as a team, this unit has been very unimpressive. A ton of it has to do with injury, I get that, but that doesn't mean I'm confident we can do it. I have to see to believe.
The Broncos got worked by Jahvid Best and what is by all accounts a fairly weak Lions' offensive line. Perhaps improved, but not known for their potent rushing abilitites. Best ran in between and around Bronco defenders last night, and averaged over six yards per carry. That is unacceptable.
Looked Good (Individual)
Jabar Gaffney--this guy could really be a force this year. He is obviously Kyle Orton's favorite target, and he keeps getting open and catching passes. He is a weapon, and his career statistics indicate he is a very reliable touchdown target in the red zone. It should also be noted that he led the NFL in both receptions and receiving yards in the final two games of the year in 2009.
Eric Decker, Matt Willis--Decker is a lock to make the team, and he looked very good in his first game back from injury. He showed good ability after the catch, and aside from one tough pass that he couldn't haul in, he was essentially flawless for this game. Matt Willis continues to catch everything that doesn't hit him in the face. He had only three catches, but he has great field awareness and outstanding speed. I will be impressed if he doesn't win a roster spot.
Jarvis Moss--I don't care if it was only one tackle, one play. Jarvis Moss showed excellent burst on a strip-sack in the second half of the game. This play was much needed in terms of a confidence booster as well as to reassure Broncos fans. It would be nice if he could start at the other OLB spot while Haggan stays in the middle.
Bruce Hall--Hall made some nice runs late in the game, where our offensive line seemingly found something of a second wind. A 23 yard carry highlighted a series that Hall completely dominated, though he wasn't able to punch one in for six, he had a solid day's work in my opinion, and he seems to be a pretty reliable receiving target as well.
Alphonso Smith--Plainly put, Smith is fighting for his roster life, and it showed against Detroit. He was playing like a man possessed, but also perhaps a bit over-aggressive. He seemed to always be around the ball, and one even hit him in the hands, but he couldn't haul it in. He also had a critical offsides penalty late in the game that essentially cost the Broncos 20 yards.
I don't know if that was more a reflection on our coaching staff to put him on the front line blocking for kick returns, or Smith's inability to know his duty. Odd, to be sure, but that shouldn't erase what was a clear improvement over his week one performance.
D'Anthony Batiste--What can we really expect from Batiste? He's essentially a rookie, and he's trying to block the best pass rusher on every team. It's tough, but we really need Ryan Clady for the start of the season. There's no understating his importance to this team.
Running game--we are the third worst rushing team in the pre-season, and we're also the worst run defense. That needs to be fixed as soon as possible.
Third Downs--Offense, sustain drives. Defense, get off the dang field. That should be our motto in practice this week as we prepare for Pittsburgh.
Toney Baker--He needs to get some carries. He's not getting a fair look, and he could be something of a spark that our running game needs in this pre-season to give other players an adequate look.
Riar Geer--Geer's post game comments left a lot to be desired. He should stick to catching passes and staying clear of the media.
Injuries--Need I elaborate? A 16 player injury list is not something you want, but better these guys are 100 percent for the start of hte season rather than getting hurt mid-season.
The Broncos will be in action again Sunday night against pictured, a game that will be nationally televised. You-know-who just might be back for that game, so a lot of the excitement will be renewed, though he might not see a ton of snaps this week. The starters could play well into the third quarter of this game, depending on how coach McDaniels sees fit.
The Broncos took some steps back to start both halves of this game, but I think they played their best ball toward the end of both halves, which is somewhat encouraging.