Week 1 always makes me nervous. Sure we’ve seen some preseason action, but for a guy who relies on the eye test, that is just false gold. Teams don’t play for keeps in the preseason (at least not the good ones).
Every year even if you bring back a solid core of players, your team is a different animal than before. In the NFL you have to keep evolving, growing, and changing. If you don’t, you are going to quickly become a mediocre team who’s fans who crap themselves when their teams win a wild card playoff game and are actually perennial 8-10 win teams who have a history of going 20+ years between playoff appearances (Never change, KC).
It may only be one game (and it is), but at least we get a snapshot of what the 2016 team looks like and appears to be trying to do that was different than last year. Let’s dig in and see what we can glean from this game.
It has been said many times already, but let’s put the nail in the coffin on Gary Kubiak from 2015: He wasn’t running his offense last year. Even a casual fan should come away from this game saying that this offense did not look the same as what we were doing last year.
I’m really excited to see the changes. Last year’s offense was poor. Denver came into this season needing to improve (in order of importance) the offensive tackles, right guard, find a fullback, tight end, and running back depth.
The hope this offseason has been that the Broncos could retool their personnel and hone in on executing Kubiak’s offense. Even with a 2nd year QB. I think that so far, what we’ve seen is encouraging and leaves this fan looking forward to what happens in the next few weeks.
Let’s kick this off by giving some major props to the guys who hardly get mentioned in the mainstream media: This offensive line looked leaps and bounds better than anything we saw last year. There were actual 3-5 foot holes opening up in the run game. The pass blocking didn’t look like a 2.5 second sieve.
Russel Okung didn’t have the best game on the line, but I just want to point out, the dude is probably 1.5 times better than any tackle we had on the left side last year. The one thing I really noticed with him though is that the guy plays very physical. He’s out there looking to make some poor fool chew turf. This team is going to be able to win a lot of games this year with this guy starting at left tackle.
Matt Paradis has turned into easily one of the best linemen we’ve seen in recent history on the Broncos. Seriously. His game in week one was exceptionally executed. It may be my orange and blue tinted glasses, but the guy looks bigger, too.
Michael Schofield needs to never be moved back out to tackle again. He looked very solid at RG and some of those holes I spoke about earlier were due to him imposing his will on his blocks in the run game.
Also, color me wrong on Donald Stephenson. I really was scratching my head about the Broncos picking him up as a free agent from the Chiefs this offseason because his work last year looked really poor. He was an anchor on the right side of our offense in week 1.
Was there some failed plays from the line? Aboslutely. They weren’t perfect at all. But they were the vast majority of the time getting their damned jobs done. I honestly couldn’t say that about most of our regular season games last year. Keep in mind when you read this opinion that this line was going against one of the most talented front 7s in the NFL. Carolina’s defensive joke is the real deal. They are a team I’d love to pick some guys from to add to our defense and our line consistently won the battles in the trenches with them.
C.J. Anderson is a really good running back in case you didn’t know. It is so refreshing to see him come out for the first time of his career in week 1 of the season and really dominate the way he did. His running is powerful and having the offensive line get him holes to run through made all the difference in week 1.
Devontae Booker better get with the training staff and work on how to grip that ball stronger. That fumble was from the kind of swatting you see on every play in the NFL and hopefully his first play of his career on the NFL field will wake him up to the fact that he’s not in college anymore. This team can win with turnovers, but man does it make it tougher.
I liked a lot of what we saw from our wide receiving core in week 1. Demaryius Thomas looked like the kind of big, fast #1 WR every team wants to have. Emmanuel Sanders is honestly one of the best football playing WRs in the game as far as ability and heart go and it showed. I also was stoked to see Virgil Green get so many targets in the passing game. The throw he caught on a seam route between two defenders where he got hit right as the ball got there was one of the better catches you’ll see in the NFL this week.
The one thing I want to point out here was the very apparent lack of the deep ball in the offense. We weren’t dinking and dunking for sure (plenty of passes were 10+ yards deep in the air), but we sure didn’t stretch the defense out. I do think part of that had to do with the gameplan and the other part had to do with what the defense was doing.
The first real game of a young QB’s career usually isn’t the place where you want him to air it out 6 times in a game. Sure, if you are in a true rebuilding year, maybe you do because you want the development to happen. Denver is not in a true rebuilding year though. The coaches have high expectations for this team and if that’s the case, your scheme is not going to call for you to throw deep often with a young QB...not when you have such a strong defense on the other side of the ball.
Carolina employed a lot of sound zone coverage looks in this game with a lot of cover 3 from what I could see. They were playing off most of the time trying to keep the ball in front of them. This is a very sound strategy when you have a great pass rushing front 7 like they do and a young secondary. Basically, Denver was kind of taking what the Panthers were giving them.
Trevor Siemian threw 26 passes, completing 18 of them for 178 yards, 1 TD, and 2 INTs. Meh. Overall, I thought he looked like what you would expect a rookie to look like maybe 1⁄4 of the way through his first season. He looks exactly like you would expect a young QB who spent a year on the bench as a 3rd stringer would look in his first start.
Both interceptions were bad throws. On the first one, he needed to throw quicker and get his angle up more so the ball couldn’t be batted down. This kind of play hopefully was a wake up call for him about the NFL much like what we talked about earlier with Booker. The linemen in the NFL are very big, tall, and athletic. You have to get the ball out fast, and you have to account for their long arms.
The second interception was the same kind of problem. It took him a split second too long to start his throw and because of it he was throwing off his back foot. That’s never good and leads to these kind of turnovers. Sadly, had he just made that decision quicker, it probably would have been a TD.
I’m not saying he’s trash. That’s not it. I’m saying he’s young and inexperienced. We will hopefully see him get better and better as the weeks go buy. He needs to learn quick and improve quickly as well. Each week that goes buy gives defenses more tape on his play and they will start taking away what he wants to do.
It was kind of a head-scratching night for me with the defense. It seemed like we came out in the first half with the same kind of zone-based defense Carolina was using which isn’t at all what we did most of the time last year. Luckily, Wade Phillips switched it up at half time and we saw the kind of dominating defensive play we got in 2015.
Let’s get the bad out of the way first: The defensive line needs some work in a really bad way. Sylvester Williams had the JAG kind of play we saw a lot of the time last year. He’s not holding down double-teams. He’s not penetrating gaps. If you aren’t doing either of those two things as a NT in a 3-4 defense, what the hell are you out there for?
I had some pretty high hopes for Jared Crick as well, but in this week’s action, I didn’t see much worth talking about. I noticed him causing pressure on one play that looked pretty decent. I saw 2-3 times him bellied up to his lineman with absolutely zero leverage getting stopped from impacting the play at all. He looked better in the pass rush than he did in the run game, which is where most of my concerns come from.
So there you have it...there’s a chink in the armor of the Denver defense. It is on the middle and right side of the D-line. Keep in mind this is only one game we’re talking about. It is possible their match-ups were just better than them and against different competition, we’ll see better results. This is definitely an area I’ll be keeping my eye on in future games.
DeMarcus Ware was a stud. He looked fresh, rejuvenated, and powerful in his 2016 debut. I also love that we used him for about 30% of the snaps. That’s the kind of count that is going to see him to the end of the season and beyond.
Von Miller got the kind of attention that a franchise OLB should get early in the game. He was getting doubled a lot early for the passing plays and in a very effective manner too. For some strange reason, as the game went on, they used that kind of protection less and less and it definitely led to more success in one-on-one match ups.
Todd Davis straight up needs some love from Broncos Country. We may miss Malik Jackson up front, but like I told you guys this off season, Davis was just fine as a starting ILB for us. He was all over the run game. He got some QB hits in on the pass game. He was as disruptive of a force as Danny Trevathan used to be.
Let’s not leave out Brandon Marshall who looked like the same athletic, physical linebacker we saw all last year. He’s the real deal and the kind of linebacker that every NFL defensive coordinator would love to work with.
Let’s talk about Aqib Talib for a moment. There has been a lot of chat at MHR about trading him, cutting him this offseason, or just straight up cutting him now. Let me say that those of you out there in Broncos Country who have been talking like that are out of your damned minds. Talib is the kind of long-armed, physical #1 CB that you can’t just pick up off the streets. His play in this game was nothing short of phenomenal. The dude was all over everything thrown his way and was making Cam look elsewhere constantly in the passing game.
The next best thing in the secondary was Chris Harris, Jr. once they went back to playing man. The TD on him was just poor play on his part mixed with him being matched up with a guy that was way too big for him to defend consistently. The INT he got though more than made up for that. It was the kind of play that you can watch over and over in the highlights and be impressed every time you see it. I loved the presence of mind he had as he was catching the ball to squeeze his elbows in so the ball wouldn’t hit the ground. That’s just impressively smart work on his part to make that turnover happen.
Darrian Stewart was a straight up force in this game. I absolutely, positively hated his hit on Cam late in the game for one reason: his head wasn’t up. Yeah, I get that you have to lay the wood on a big guy like Newton and I’m all about that, but there’s a right way to tackle and a wrong way and that tackle was the latter of the two. Outside of that, though he was the same dominant free safety we saw from 2015. I love his relentless attacking in the run game and his coverage was really solid all game long.
The one thing that stuck out to me on Special Teams was that Denver didn’t do much to improve their return game this offseason. Norwood looked like an average to below average returner in this game. The good thing is he secured the ball well which is what you look for first every time. His returns though had me scratching my head. It seemed to me that there were oftentimes much better angles he could have taken that would have gained more yards.
I really didn’t feel like we have any kind of sample size in the kicking game to see anything big worth talking about. McManus didn’t have to kick anything other than extra points and Riley Dixon looked like an NFL punter who only got to kick 3 times in the game due to lots of turnovers.
I will say that Kubiak icing the kicked sure did work well. The kick when the time out happened sailed a to the right some. It seemed to me like Gano corrected too far on the next kick to the left because of it which cost his team the game. Well played,
A win is a win in the NFL and that was a victory against one of the toughest opponents that Denver is going to see all year long. At the end of the day, I’m feeling good about the direction of the 2016 Denver Bronco team. More areas of play have gotten better than have gotten worse compared to last year including quarterbacking. This team looks like a team that is going to be winning more games than they will lose. They have an offense that looks far more successful than last year and a defense that still looks dominating on the field.