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Instant reactions: Broncos show signs of improvement in loss to Bears

Despite a strong showing by the first and second-team units, the Denver Broncos lost to the Chicago Bears by a score of 24-23 — but there are several encouraging signs of improvement to be happy about.

NFL: Chicago Bears at Denver Broncos Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

After losing their preseason opener, Broncos Country was hopeful for a quick turnaround this evening when the Denver Broncos returned to action against the Chicago Bears. Impressive play from their first and second units gave them a two score lead at the half, but the poor performance by the third-team offensive and defensive units caused them to fizzle down the stretch — resulting in a 24-23 loss.

Positive Outcomes and Reasons for Optimism

  • If Denver wants to be successful on offense this year, establishing an effective ground game will be essential. The Broncos’ running back stable had everyone on display tonight and for the most part everyone did well. Devontae Booker got the start and had 17 yards on 4 carries and one reception for 10 yards. Royce Freeman continued to impress in his second outing for the franchise and scored a redzone touchdown in the second quarter. Undrafted rookie free agent Phillip Lindsay showed a lot of burst when given the opportunity in the third quarter as a rusher and also made several nice returns on special teams. It looks like the final running back spot will come down to De’Angelo Henderson Sr. or David Williams who saw action with the third-team offense. It’s also worth mentioning that Lindsay saw live reps with the offense before Henderson did, which may hint that the former Colorado standout is a lock to make the final roster.
  • After missing a lot of training camp due to nagging leg injuries, Jeff Heuerman came out of the woodwork and had several impressive catches and reeled in a two-point conversion. If healthy, the third-year pro from Ohio State could have a big role in Bill Musgrave’s offense this season and finally show everyone why the Broncos felt so highly of him coming out of the draft several years ago.

Causes for Concern

  • Case Keenum didn’t have a poor performance by any means, he went 8/13 for 78 yards and was money on third down. However, I counted four overthrows in the quarter and a half he played. While the Broncos first-team offense was able to string together multiple scoring drives under his leadership, it’s still worth noting and something to keep an eye on moving forward.
  • As mentioned earlier, the Broncos’ first-team defense played much better than they did last week. But with the Broncos’ secondary was down a handful of players, their inability to cover tight ends continued into this game as well. Against the first-team defense, second-string tight end Trey Burton had four catches for 45 yards and a score. Additionally, Ben Braunecker had the go-ahead touchdown beating rookie linebacker Keishawn Bierria with moments to go. With Will Parks being sidelined early on with a knee injury and Su’a Cravens missing his second straight game, Denver’s defense struggled in that facet of the game. Hopefully both can return to full health soon and prove to be difference makers that can combat that issue in the regular season when it matters most.

Broncos Studs

  • Outside a few small issues, it was a strong defensive effort for the Broncos, especially the first-team defense. They forced an interception, racked up a safety and only allowed seven points during their time on the gridiron. Their rush defense was much better compared to their preseason opener against the Minnesota Vikings and held Jordan Howard to only 32 yards on 9 carries. Overall, they did a great job. Let’s hope this is a start of a trend that continues into the regular season.
  • This isn’t about hype — it’s about acknowledging execution. In the quarter Chad Kelly played, he did a tremendous job and went 7/9 and threw for 90 yards with a beautiful touchdown to rookie wide receiver Courtland Sutton. Last week Kelly moved the ball consistently against the Vikings’ third-team defense and this week he did the same against the Bears’ second-team defense. No matter how you slice it, Kelly has performed very well through training camp up until this evening. Unless the Broncos make a surprise move to acquire a veteran quarterback to back-up Keenum, Kelly is the franchise’s number two for the regular season.

Broncos Duds

  • When your first pass bounces off the ground, you consistently fail to get the ball out on time or take off running after your first read — you earn the dud designation. I’m talking about you Paxton Lynch! Anyone who watched the game knows how poorly he played and moreover, should know that he has absolutely no future as a quarterback in any capacity in the National Football League. It seems like he has progressively gotten worse as the years have gone by and will likely go down as one of the worst first-round selections in franchise history.
  • While the first and second-team offensive line’s did very well, the third-team unit failed to impress — allowing several sacks and failing to produce enough push in the ground game. It’s not like they’ll ever see the field in the regular season, but the certainly didn’t play well tonight. I’ll go ahead in clump in the third-team defense, who blew a two score lead that resulted in the team’s loss this evening.

Hart’s Quick Hits

  • As I mentioned earlier in the week, second-year defensive end DeMarcus Walker is poised to have a much larger impact this season. I discussed his ability to rush the passer from the interior and that was evident tonight, where he sacked Chase Daniel at the end of the first half and notched several pressures throughout the game. This was an aspect that was missing from the Broncos’ defense last season, so if Walker continues to impress in this regard — it’ll pay off in a big fashion for the team during the regular season.
  • If there is an underrated defender on the Broncos’ defense it has to be third-year safety Justin Simmons. He impressed this evening with a key interception late second quarter on Bears quarterback Mitch Trubisky. An ascending player, Simmons possesses top-tier athleticism, instincts and talent to be a Pro-Bowl player at the safety in this league.
  • Fun tidbit of the night: sixteen different players caught receptions for the Broncos this evening on thirty-three pass attempts.
  • The Broncos’ third-down defense was on point tonight, allowing only four conversions on twelve attempts. Another highlight of their defense was them allowing only 2.4 yards per carry — which is a vast improvement over last week.
  • Shout out to Bradley Chubb who looked much better this week and registered a safety early on in the first quarter.