After seven months of waiting, the Denver Broncos finally returned to action in their preseason opener at home against the Minnesota Vikings. Unfortunately, the end result wasn’t the outcome Broncos Country was hoping for — as our beloved franchise lost to the Vikings by a score of 42 to 28.
I’ve changed up the format for Instant Reactions compared to prior seasons, so it will be a bit different from here on out. Without further adieu, here are some of my big takeaways and quick analysis from tonight’s preseason opener.
Positive Outcomes and Reasons for Optimism
- I don’t care if it was against primarily third-string players, but Chad Kelly did enough to merit playing time with the team’s second-string unit moving forward. Dare I say I am more excited about his future with the team than I ever was at any point with Paxton Lynch? Well, I just did. Head Coach Vance Joseph called him a playmaker — and that’s exactly what he is.
He didn’t play a perfect game, but his second half heroics brought the Broncos back into contention. He displayed moxie, poise in the pocket and the ability to get through his progressions in order to make a big play. However, he also made a handful of questionable decisions that personified the gunslinger mentality he earned in college. Overall, Kelly ended the night completing 14 out of 21 passes for 177 yards, two touchdowns and an interception. Not too shabby for a player who was Mr. Irrelevant and hasn’t seen live game action in over a year and a half.
- Darian Stewart and Justin Simmons will most certainly be thee Broncos’ starters at safety for the upcoming season, but Will Parks had a quality game and played an enormous amount of snaps. The third-year pro made several great plays in coverage, as well as a timely third down sack on Trevor Siemian. It’s clear that Parks is playing with a chip on his shoulder after the franchise traded for S’ua Cravens this offseason. Look for the Broncos to employ a myriad of defensive packages that feature three safeties on the field in order to combat the weakness they showed last year defending tight ends and running backs. If Parks keeps impressing like this, he may very well earn that third safety role over Cravens.
Causes for Concern
- One of the most glaring issues in the first half of the game was the Broncos’ inability to stop the Vikings’ offense. The Broncos gave up 269 yards and 24 points in the first half. Whether it was giving up too much yardage on the ground on first down (in particular the first-team defense) or getting gashed for touchdowns on screen plays — Denver’s lack of defensive discipline was alarming. On the night, the defense gave up 42 points and 406 total yards — which certainly needs to be improved upon if they want to be successful when it matters most.
- Folks, it’s only preseason football, but the fact that the Broncos’ offense only produced 61 yards and one first down in the first half is pathetic. Moreover, the offense’s inability to pass the ball early on is a significant issue. I’m not too worried about Case Keenum, but if anything were to happen to the prized free agent quarterback acquisition, the team would be in big trouble.
- Isaac Yiadom saw a lot of action in his first career game, but looks to be a ways away from being ready to compete at a high enough level to be Denver’s third cornerback. The rookie from Boston College was beat by Stefon Diggs for the first touchdown on third and goal in the first quarter and gave up a handful of first down receptions in his professional debut. Second-year player Brendan Langley performed a bit better and did a great job of keeping plays in front of him, but Broncos Country should collectively hope Tramaine Brock can get healthy and be the nickel corner the team desperately needs moving forward.
- I’ve been heading the Royce Freeman bandwagon for several years now, and the rookie out of the University of Oregon didn’t disappoint tonight. In limited action, he displayed excellent vision and power — amassing 38 yards on 4 carries and a touchdown. Devontae Booker might be on the top of the depth chart now, but don’t be surprised if Freeman is the team’s primary back when they start the regular season.
- Isaiah McKenzie earns the stud designation after a 78 yard punt return for a touchdown as the first half came to a close. Critiqued for his penchant for fumbling and turnovers as a rookie, McKenzie has been impressive in camp and likely solidified himself a spot on the final roster with his special teams score this evening. One of the biggest issues the Broncos had last year was their woeful effort on special teams — so if tonight is any indication of future performance during the season, there is a reason to be hopeful for the unit in 2018.
- I’m only going to list one dud, because this player stunk it up more than anyone else. I’m sure that line gave it away, but if it didn’t tonight’s ‘dud’ designation goes to Paxton Lynch. The third-year, former first-round pick struggled with his accuracy and was indecisive throughout the course of the game. You just had to know he was going to be in for a rough night when he threw an interception on his first pass attempt. If there was anything Lynch was consistent with, it was missing his receivers.
Oddly enough, there is still a faction within Broncos Country who believes he can be the franchise’s future at quarterback. But let’s be honest — that is never going to happen. You can have all the physical tools in the world, but if you can’t mentally handle the rigors of the National Football League you aren’t ever going to be successful. I’ve seen enough and anyone who is a realist can firmly accept that he will never overcome that aspect of the game. Give up the fantasy that he is a starting quarterback in the league. Hell, he probably isn’t even good enough to be a backup.
Chad Kelly has won this crowd tonight. They’ve been chanting “Kel-ly” off and on during this drive. Compound that with the boos Paxton Lynch received. Kelly just threw a hell of a ball to Lindsey while getting clocked (roughing the passer was called) for a touchdown.— James Palmer (@JamesPalmerTV) August 12, 2018
Hart’s Quick Hits
- Royce Freeman was mentioned as a standout rookie above, but honorable mentions goes to Josey Jewell who accumulated five tackles and showed a nose for getting to the football in his professional debut. Undrafted free agent Jeff Holland also impressed, registered a sack and a handful of quarterback pressures.
- The Vikings dominated the time of possession battle by nearly 11 minutes.
- The Broncos struggled immensely with their red zone defense, allowing the Vikings to score four times out of four attempts in that regard.
- Denver’s third down performance was also below-average, converting only five times out of thirteen attempts.
- Marquette King saw a lot of action in his first game with the Broncos, punting the ball seven times and sporting a 45 yard per punt average. His longest punt of the evening was 62 yards.
So Broncos Country, how are you feeling after tonight’s game? Sound off in the comments section and give us some of your studs, duds and overall thoughts on the Broncos’ loss to the Vikings.