The Broncos fell to the Chicago Bears by the score of 24 to 23 last night during week two of the preseason. However, the Broncos did have a 20 to 10 lead at halftime and showed big-time improvements from their starting offense and defense which is encouraging. So I give you the five things we learned from the Broncos week two preseason matchup against the Chicago Bears.
1: First team offense shows improvements but still has room for growth
Last week, the Broncos first-team offense had two drives and both ended in three and out. This was an issue last season and something the Broncos supposedly fixed, so of course, there was some panic amongst Broncos fans.
Unfortunately, that panic carried over into last night’s game when they started three and out once again. Keenum had rookie wide receiver DaeSean Hamilton open, but the flea flicker didn’t work because pressure caused Keenum to throw an errant pass. It was disappointing, but the night would get much better for the Broncos first-team offense.
The next series saw the Broncos first-team offense get their first first down and move into the red zone. Keenum threw some dimes on this drive but ended up kicking the field goal.
Keenum continued his nice play by chucking a third-down pass deep down the field to an open Courtland Sutton. This likely would have ended as a long touchdown pass, but the defender grabbed Sutton and drew the flag.
On 3rd & 5 Case Keenum goes yard to Courtland Sutton who has his arm held down by the Bears defender. 1st & Goal for Keenum, Sutton and the Broncos.— MileHighReport (@MileHighReport) August 19, 2018
This got the Broncos offense inside the red zone and eventually led to a Royce Freeman touchdown run.
It was a positive showing by the Broncos offense and Keenum finished the night by going 8 for 13 for 78 yards.
After the game, Keenum told reporters that scoring points always make him and the offense feel better about themselves.
“Scoring points always feels better. First drive, I definitely want that third down ball back. There’s probably about three or four balls I want back. I thought for not being perfect [that] we moved the ball, converted [first] downs and scored points. I think that says something in this league when things aren’t going just exactly the way you want to, still being able to put drives together and score some points. I think it’s important.”
Keenum wasn’t perfect and did leave some points on the field, however, he said it was important that they were able to put some drives together despite these mistakes.
After having a disappointing week one of the preseason and having these questions and doubts hover over them all week, it was nice to see them get back on track. Keenum told reporters “It felt like football again”.
“It felt like football again at that point. It felt like how we’ve been performing and making plays in practice. It was good to have that come out on that field and it felt good to put the ball in the end zone.”
One thing to keep in mind is that this offense is still learning each other. This is the first time these guys have played in an NFL game together so expecting them to function as a well-oiled machine right away is unrealistic. This will take some time but we have seen growth and a glimpse of what could be once they start clicking at 100%.
2: Chad Kelly showing that he can be the Broncos number two quarterback
One of the big questions entering tonight’s game was how would quarterback Chad Kelly look with the second team offense?
He passed Paxton Lynch on the depth chart last week and took the second team reps all week. Questions remained whether Kelly could be the Broncos backup because of his inexperience but he continued to prove his doubters wrong.
Chad Kelly is turning heads this preseason pic.twitter.com/SYHYIjimio— FOX Sports: NFL (@NFLonFOX) August 19, 2018
Kelly looked like he did last weekend against the Vikings third-stringers. He looked confident, was making good decisions, was accurate, moving in the pocket well, and when he did run, he kept his eyes downfield. It was an impressive performance for the Broncos quarterback considering this was his first taste of second team play as a pro.
He finished the game completing 7 of 9 passes for 90 yards and 1 touchdown pass. This touchdown pass was a beautiful strike to the big rookie wide receiver, Courtland Sutton.
Kelly has solidified himself as the number two quarterback over Paxton Lynch, but has he done enough to make sure the Broncos do not add a veteran? Head Coach Vance Joseph kept the veteran door open by saying Kelly is our number two “right now”.
“Chad played well again. Right now, he is our No. 2 quarterback. Obviously we pushed him up a week ago. That’s where he stands. He’s our two right now, and he’s earned it.”
When pushed further about whether or not Kelly has won the backup job, Joseph indicated that he is “right now” but doesn’t know how things will shake out two weeks from now.
“Right now, he’s our backup, so I can’t speak for two weeks down the road here. But right now, he’s our backup quarterback. That’s the answer.”
Now we gotta be fair here to Vance Joseph. If the Broncos bring in a veteran, it will likely be Elway’s/Kubiak’s call. Vance will likely have some input, but at the end of the day, he probably isn’t sure how it all shakes out like the rest of us. This is Elway’s call so pressing Vance for answers likely won’t get you anywhere.
Elway did state earlier this week that the backup needs to come in and win a football game if needed. Kelly has looked great against backups, but how he fairs against starters and a defense that game planned against him remains a big question mark. So I could see a scenario in which they bring in a veteran. However, Kelly is playing really well and may sway Elway and company into sticking with him.
It will be interesting how this all shakes out, but Kelly is doing everything asked of him and that likely bodes well for him moving forward.
3. The running back pecking order becomes more clear
Veteran Devontae Booker received the “start” again but did share reps with rookie Royce Freeman who in my opinion, outshined Booker once again. Freeman finished the game with 6 carries for just 20 yards but did score his second touchdown of the preseason.
It was a short yardage run inside the 10-yard line that led to the score. This was an area the Broncos have struggled in the past few years so it was nice to see him get the score here.
I think Freeman has shown enough to earn the starting job so we will see if anything changes during practice this week. Veteran Devontae Booker wasn’t terrible by any means, but he is best served in the third-down role, not the starter role.
The most interesting development was undrafted rookie Phillip Lindsay getting first-team work and apparently bypassing second-year back De’Angelo Henderson in the pecking order. Lindsay caught a pass from starting quarterback Case Keenum and played a good number of reps with the second-team offense. Lindsay even led the team in rushing with 6 carries for 32 yards including a 15-yard scamper by the rookie. He also contributed as a gunner on special teams and as a kick and punt returner. I think it is safe to say that Lindsay can be sharpied in on your projected 53-man rosters.
After the game, Head Coach Vance Joseph singled out these three backs as three who can be counted on to help them out at this level.
“We’re still competing. Royce played good again tonight. ‘Book’ (Devontae Booker) did some good things. [Phillip] Lindsay is playing well. It’s a good group. And again, it’s going to take more than one guy. So whoever leads the group, that’s really almost irrelevant. It’s going to take two or three guys to push through the season. I’m just happy that we’ve got three or four guys that can play at that level.”
De’Angelo Henderson was fourth in the pecking order right now and is likely fighting for a roster spot with seventh-round pick, Dave Williams for that fourth running back spot. I’d say Henderson has the clear edge in this competition and that Williams likely ends up on the Broncos practice squad.
4: Broncos defense quiets the doubters
Last week, the Broncos first-team defense struggled against the Vikings. Kirk Cousins went 4 for 4 for a touchdown and running back Latavius Murray gashed the defense for two big runs which led to the Cousins touchdown.
It was a combination of poor tackling and poor execution that doomed the Broncos defense that night. We know they are capable of doing better, but questions remained about how well they would do after struggling against the Bears tight ends during the joint practices during the week.
Thankfully, the Broncos defense that we know and love returned.
Broncos held their own against one of the best running backs in the league in Jordan Howard. They held him to 9 carries for 32 yards for the night. They also did pretty well against up and coming quarterback Mitchell Trubisky. He completed 9 of 14 passes for 90 yards, 1 touchdown, and 1 interception. That interception was by future Pro Bowl safety Justin Simmons who made a nice play on the ball.
However, the biggest defensive play of the night was made by the Broncos fifth overall pick, linebacker Bradley Chubb. The Bears were backed near the back of their end zone(Marquette King ladies and gentlemen) and had a poor snap. Quarterback Mitchell Trubisky scurried for the ball but was eventually pounced on by Chubb who recorded his first sack in the NFL and his first safety.
It wasn’t a perfect night for the Broncos rookie but a nice bounce-back performance after a rough week one of the preseason against the Vikings.
The Broncos first and second team defenses held the Bears starters to just 10 points through halftime and in a good position to win the game if they stayed in the game in the second half.
5: Broncos need to add another cornerback into the mix
With Chris Harris Jr. sitting out last night’s game, the Broncos had veteran Tramaine Brock and Isaac Yiadom playing significant snaps with the first-team offense. I didn’t notice Brock too much, but the Broncos rookie cornerback Isaac Yiadom was picked on once again.
Bashaud Breeland's next free-agent visit should be to Denver. It's a sizable risk that they're going to rely on Tramaine Brock. Brock couldn't see the field for Minnesota last year after looking so lost early in the year.— Ian Wharton (@NFLFilmStudy) August 19, 2018
After the game, Broncos Head Coach Vance Joseph was asked about the defenses performance against the Bears. He noted that they were solid but singled out Yiadom as a player who needs to play better.
“I thought we were solid. We had a couple plays I didn’t like. The third-and-15 obviously on [CB] Isaac [Yiadom]. We’re off the field, and that led to a touchdown. He’s a young corner. He’s in good position, but he has to learn to finish, and that’s been an issue the last couple weeks for him.”
Yiadom drew a pass interference flag on third down while covering Bears wide receiver, Kevin White. It was a deep ball that the receiver had to come back for, but Yiadom never turned his head and ran into the receiver who slowed up which drew the flag. This was a tough call for the rookie, but something that will be called on Sunday’s. This gave the Bears a first down and extended the drive.
In all fairness, Yiadom is a rookie and someone who wasn’t expected to contribute right away on defense anyways. These growing pains are expected but are troubling when he is in competition for the third cornerback job.
Again, I didn’t notice Brock all that much but still, the Broncos can do better at corner. Veteran cornerbacks Bashaud Breeland, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, and Kayvon Webster are free agents. All three would serve as improvements for the Broncos and two of the three have already played in Denver.
With this team expected to compete for the AFC West title, it would make sense for Broncos General Manager John Elway to fill this hole sooner rather than later. Check the trade market as well, but there are three proven veterans on the market free to sign who if healthy, would help keep the Broncos “No Fly Zone” strong in 2018.