It appears that there is an unspoken rule that about the pre season. The first two games are used to get the starters back into the swing of things. The third game is when the starters see significant playing time. The fourth and final game is typically used to just keep the starters fresh, but not overwork them. They are being saved for the regular season that is right around the corner.
Well, we are in week 3, the most important week of pre season. On Sunday, we face the Pittsburgh Steelers in front of a national audience. We were fortunate enough to get several players back this week. We are starting to get healthy. Our squad looks much different when the likes of Champ Bailey, D.J. Williams, Ryan Clady, Correl Buckhalter, LenDale White and Chris Kuper are all in the lineup. Here is a scary thought for you, even with those players back in the lineup, we are still not at 100%. Anyway, we will be seeing some of the above mentioned players on Sunday in some capacity. For now, here is my Denver vs Pittsburgh pre game analysis.
Who to watch
J.D. Walton and Zane Beadles- Last week, they played decently against a strong Detroit D-Line. This week, they face the tough Pittsburgh Steelers. The Steelers have been throwing out some pretty vanilla defenses so far in pre season. However, a couple Steelers fans from Behind the Steel Curtain came by this week to answer any questions we had. Kdo09 asked these guys about the Steelers' blitzing in the pre season and this was his response:
Lebeau has been throwing out some pretty ‘vanilla’ defenses so far this preseason. I think this could be the week that we finally see a few of the zone blitzes come out. I doubt he will run them the whole time the starters are in, but you will see a good bit on 3rd down packages. I have a feeling Harrison is going to have a really good game. -Johnny_S
If he is correct, the rookies will be facing quite the challenge from the very well coached Steelers defense. Keep your eye on the rooks.
Cox had a much better game against the Lions then he did against the Bengals. He was definitely better in his coverage. Additionally, Cox showed his explosive play in the punt game. Cox returned a punt 65 yards. Assuming Champ plays on Sunday, Cox will see extensive time in the nickel, and will probably move outside in the 3rd/4th quarter. Following his solid performance last week with a solid performance this week will make it easier to forget the Cincy game.
Robert Ayers and Jarvis Moss
Last week was a monumental game for our defense. We weren't overly impressive, but a couple players did stick out. It just so happens that the players who stuck out were the people we needed to step up most. Robert Ayers got his first NFL sack and Moss was almost unstoppable. He would have been totally unstoppable had it not been for that facemask penalty(Seriously, I was so mad that they facemasked Moss. He would have had 2 sacks on the day). Moss showed the explosiveness and strength that made him our draft choice in 07. Many people around here were pretty shocked about how good Moss looked, but all compliments were followed with (but he was playing against 2nd stringers). Not this weekend. Moss will be starting opposite Ayers this weekend. Moss impressed the coaches enough that they cut pre season starting ILB Akin Ayodele and moved Mario Haggan back to ILB in order to give Moss the starting spot at OLB. Last week was a great first step in the right direction for Moss. If he plays that way against the Steelers, expect me to be humming/singing/screaming his praises in my post game report.
I have sung Orton's praises all pre season. He has been stellar. However, this weekend will be the real test. He has faced Cincinnati and Detroit who are both middle of the pack pass defenses. This week, he faces a top 10 unit in the Pittsburgh Steelers who will be playing their starters well into the 3rd quarter. Now, I am not trying to take away from what Orton has done. Far from it. Everyone has been impressed with Orton this pre season. However, these are the Pittsburgh Steelers. They rank 10th against the pass in pre season. This is the highest ranked pass defense we will play to date. It may be just pre season, but with the starters likely to play a lot, I want to see one final game from Orton. Let's see if he is still as effective against an elite defense.
The game against the Lions was Eric Decker's first game in almost 10 months. He finished the game with 5 receptions for 66 yards. Needless to say, I was very happy with Decker last weekend. He reminded me exactly why we picked him to be our possession receiver. However, I want to see him get more targets with the 1st team offense. The majority of his targets were against the 2nd stringers. If Demayrius Thomas is going to be out for an extended period of time, we are going to need Decker. I want to see him worked into the 1st team offense.
5 Players Who Need A Big Game
Brady Quinn- Tebow might or might not be back this weekend. I believe he won't be back. He will rest 1 more weekend, but get extensive time week 4 against the Vikings. So Brady will be seeing playing time in the 2nd half. He was a little better last weekend then he was against the Bengals, but he desperately needs a big game. There are a lot of people who want Tebow as the back up. If Brady wants to hold onto that spot, he needs to cement his position on Sunday.
Alphonso Smith- Like Quinn, he was better against the Lions then he was against the Bengals. However, there are plenty of critics (especially here at MHR) who believe he is already a bust. Some already believe he is going to be cut. I think that is ridiculous. Nevertheless, he needs a big game. A couple batted passes and an interception is a lot to ask, but it would silence a lot of critics.
LenDale White- White returned to practice this week. He has been wearing the orange no-contact jersey so it remains to be seen if he will play. However, if he does play, he needs to make a statement. Our running backs have been less then impressive in pre season. With Knowshon out and Buckhalter slow to come back, this would be the perfect time to make a statement. I don't know how many people saw LenDale get interviewed this week, but LenDale looks like a man with a chip on his shoulder. He wants to get back on the football field asap. I believe he is almost a lock for the roster, but many people disagree. If he wants to fully lock a spot, he needs to play and show some fire.
Eddie Royal- If you have been following my work, you know that I am disappointed that Eddie hasn't had much of an impact this pre season. He has been targeted just 3 times total in 2 games. He has caught 2 passes for 20 yards and 1 touchdown. Those numbers are not going to win him comeback player of the year. He has not been an active part of the offense. Compared to Jabar Gaffney's 11 targets, 8 receptions, and 135 yards and Brandon Lloyd's 8 targets, 4 catches, 28 yards, and 1 touchdown, Eddie's targets and production is 3rd rate. I want to see those explosive plays like we did in 2008.
Ryan Harris- Last week, Harris was bullied by Sue. Now, let's not forget that Sue was arguably the most hyped defensive player in a long time. Nevertheless, Harris was being manhandled. He doesn't necessarily need a "big game". However, he needs to show he can hold off elite players after being out for the majority of last year. Holding off the Steelers pass rush would ease my mind.
Top Position Battles
With roster cuts on the way, the next two games will be huge in deciding who stays and who goes. Here are a couple position battles to keep your eyes on this weekend:
OLB- Baraka Atkins vs Jason Hunter vs Jammie Kirlew vs Kevin Alexander
2 or 3 of these guys could be kept. It depends on what we do with Doom. Personally, I hope we put Doom on IR. I don't want him rushing back. Let the man heal and get his 20+ sacks in 2011. For now, we have these players competing for roster spots. McD has been very complimentary of Baraka Atkins. I think he is a lock for the team. That leaves Hunter, Kirlew, and Alexander for the remaining 1 or 2 spots. Hunter is new to the 3-4, but both Kirlew and Alexander disappeared last weekend against the Lions. My gut tells me Hunter wins, but we will see this weekend who has a leg up.
DB- Tony Carter, SydQuan Thompson, Cassius Vaughn, Kyle McCarthy
Here are the DB's locked to make the team: Champ, Goodman, Dawkins, Hill, McBath, Bruton, Cox, Phonz, Jones. That is 9 players. Last year, we kept 10 DB's. Assuming we keep the same amount, that means there is 1 spot left for Carter, Thompson, Vaughn, and McCarthy to fight over. Personally, I think this competition is between 2 people: SydQuan Thompson and Cassius Vaughn. McCarthy is PS eligible (and I think we should definitely put him on there). Tony Carter has disappeared. He took time away from Phonz last year, but this year he has regressed IMO. He was beat a couple times last week against Detroit. Additionally, both Thompson and Vaughn are ST players and pretty good ones at that. I was particularly impressed with Vaughn's speed against the Bengals. Although, SydQuan showed some ability last week too. This might come down to who is a better returner. So watch SydQuan's and Vaughn's returns on Sunday. I'm betting on SydQuan simply because he was a 7th rounder pick while Vaughn was a CFA.
RB- Fargas, Ball, Hall
With Knowshon, Buckhalter, and LenDale likely to make the team, we have 1 spot left. I was not impressed with Fargas last weekend. He doesn't look like he has much left in the tank to me. Ball and Hall, on the other hand, are young players who have shown flashes during pre season. I believe it's between Ball and Hall for that final spot with Ball edging out in the end.
I'm Part Psychic
What I'm about to tell you is a true story. I was tweeting with KentuckyBronco before the Lions game. I predicted 3 things. I predicted that Ayers, Moss, and Bannan would all get 1 sack. He scoffed, mocked, and laughed at me through twitter....Okay, maybe he didn't. But it still seemed like an outrageous claim. 3 starting caliber players getting sacks in a pre season game? What are the odds of that? Well, it turns out that Ayers and Bannan shared a sack while Moss not only got a sack, but also forced a fumble. After that happened, it occurred to me that I must be part psychic. I couldn't claim to be full psychic because Bannan and Ayers both shared the sack and didn't get 1 each. So I consider myself a part psychic. I had a vision while writing this and here is my 3 part prediction:
1. Eddie Royal gets a touchdown on an explosive play
2. Jarvis Moss gets another sack
3. Someone gets an interception.
I am sorry that the 3rd prediction is vague. I sneezed mid-vision. Although, I do remember seeing the numbers 32 and the letters C-O-X.
There is your Broncos vs Steelers pre game write up. As always, there is a ton of things to look out for. With the starters likely to play a big chunk of the game, it will be the first time we will see our starters play for an extended period of time. It will sure be fun to watch. I look forward to talking to you all on game day. Man it is good to be in football season.