As we prepare for tonight's third and most relevant preseason game of the 2015 season, here are five things I'll be watching for during the matchup between the San Francisco 49ers and Denver Broncos.
1. Peyton Manning shaking off the rust:
It's no secret that Peyton Manning had a poor outing against the Houston Texans last week. I am not terrible concerned overall, but I would feel a heck of a lot better about Week 1 if the Broncos lit it up in the first half against the 49ers. Overall, Manning's biggest beef with his performance last week was only getting 20 snaps on offense, which isn't exactly enough time to find some rhythm.
Obviously, we only played 20-something snaps the other night, four series. If we do get to play a little bit more, obviously, it’d be nice to work on that chemistry as a unit and be able to move the ball, convert some third downs and obviously try to find a way to get into the end zone. I think that those are the main things that we’re trying to accomplish and no matter how long you play, you want to be able to do that. Obviously, if you get to play a little bit longer, it can allow you, hopefully, to get into a little bit of a rhythm where you can maybe do some things.
Gary Kubiak and the coaching staff is still implementing the new offense and we really haven't seen what that looks like with Peyton Manning under center. It looks mighty fine with Brock Osweiler and Trevor Siemian back there, but they won't likely see much playing time this regular season.
Going up against the 49ers defense in practice will certainly help Manning exploit some weaknesses tonight. His arm might be on the decline, but the mans brain is still the best in football. Facing a defense other than the Wade Phillips' one he shares a bench with is also something that Manning values while working on this new offensive scheme.
I think that’s a good point because our defense—you sort of get used to the defenses that they play and you kind of know what each play is going to look like versus Coach Phillips’ defense. When you have a chance to really practice, to work on something—and maybe it’s ugly out here in practice, but if you can kind of learn about that play and get it figured out, that can help you when it gets to the regular season. I think that it is a good thing, especially when you’re doing some new things and you have a lot of new players. Obviously, they’re a 3-4 defense, but they do some different things that our defense doesn’t do. So for our young players to see some of their different style of defenses, I think, can be a real plus.
2. How about that Ronnie Hillman guy:
With people clamoring to draft C.J. Anderson in the first round of their fantasy drafts, I'm sitting here thinking those people are all going to be disappointed in 2015. Ronnie Hillman has been lighting it up so far in the preseason and Anderson has been dinged up.
We should see more of Anderson tonight, which is something he is definitely looking forward to, saying:
I'm always just trying to get out there and do what I can to be the best I can be. I don't really worry about that as long as I am picking the right spots. I know my ability and talent will flourish that way. It’s pretty good. It's fun to get my feet wet, but of course, I'm looking forward to getting more reps this week.
He should, because that Hillman guy is already going to be pushing for reps. I wouldn't be surprised if we see Hillman several times tonight carrying the ball with the 1's. Either way, Gary Kubiak is already seeing success in his zone blocking scheme and the Broncos will be a more balanced football team because of it.
If you think or were hoping to see Ball's name called, I'm sorry to report that Kubiak deflected a question about what he hoped to see from Montee Ball this week by responding:
First off, I think C.J. and Ronnie continue to get their work. We're not going to stop that, but I'd like to see Montee get more carries. I'd like to see Kapri get a few carries. He played at the end of the game the other day. I don't know how it's going to work out, but we're obviously going to play our starters deeper into the football game, so we'll see how it goes.
Doesn't sound good for the former second round pick, when your coach talks up every other guy getting more reps too.
3. Let the quarterback feasting continue:
With that Denver Broncos defense feasting on quarterbacks through two preseason games with twelve sacks from like thirteen different players or something like that, I just want to see more. MOAR!
Against Colin Kaepernick, the Broncos defense is especially feisty. In their last regular season matchup, the Broncos defense notched six sacks of Kaepernick en route to a 42-17 drubbing of the then high-powered 49ers team.
4. Mc"The"Manus kicking solo once again:
Brandon McManus will be taking the field tonight as the long placekicker on the Broncos roster for the first time since early last season after the Broncos dumped Matt Prater. McManus changed his kicking style, which has greatly improved his consistency and accuracy.
It's time to see how he responds in live game action with all of the pressure on him for the first time since he crumbled under that pressure early last season. He's not overly concerned, saying this about his confidence level after getting the starting job earlier this week:
Personally, some guys lose confidence. I never did in myself. I don’t know if that’s my personality or my mental strength, but I never lost confidence in myself. I knew what I was capable of doing and I just had to come out there and prove it to, not only myself, but to the team—my teammates, who see me in the locker-room every day, to Coach Kubiak and to the office upstairs—that I was the right [kicker] to keep.
We'll see. He has all of the leg strength one would want in a placekicker, but all that is for nothing if he shanks a critical field goal in a real game. I shudder to think how the team might respond to his first missed kick of the year, because it will happen. Few kickers go perfect for an entire season.
5. That not-so-special teams play:
My mind keeps coming back to that first game against the Seattle Seahawks. Where the Broncos dominated on both sides of the ball, yet due to the horrible special teams play the game was almost lost.
Stuff like that keeps me awake at night as a fan. I'm not naive. I know there will be big special teams plays throughout the year as its just a nature of the game, however, I'd prefer not to see them happen against my team each and every week. That will make me crazy.
What are you most looking forward to?