The first two preseason games were all about individual evaluation, with the score being a secondary matter. Now as the Broncos travel to visit a familiar face in Washington, the focus shifts more toward team performance for the game that’s traditionally a dress rehearsal of the regular season.
The Broncos’ starters are expected to play “at least” as much as they did last weekend, which probably translates to a full half of the 1st teamers and the 2s opening up the second half. With a bit more gameplanning & such happening, if still not to full scale, we’ll hopefully start to get a real idea of what to expect from the Broncos this season based on actual performance.
Case Keenum vs the Redskins Secondary
Keenum had some hiccups to begin the game again last week, so the top item on my to-watch list tonight is how he performs in the opening drives. Some preseason jitters are okay, especially when you’re the starting QB for the first time and suited up for a team you rooted for growing up. But it’s time for Keenum to settle down & start showing the steadiness, decisiveness, and accuracy that defined him last season with the Vikings.
The Redskins do have Josh Norman at corner, but outside of him the most notable guy in their secondary is DJ Swearinger... and he’s only memorable because he pissed Peyton Manning off enough that the Sheriff cussed him out to his face after burning him for a touchdown in preseason action 4 years ago. As a whole, this unit can’t stand up to Demaryius Thomas, Emmanuel Sanders, Courtland Sutton, DaeSean Hamilton, and... you get the idea. There’ll be opportunities. Keenum needs to do a better job of exploiting them early this week.
Chad Kelly vs the Phantom Quarterback
I think that if you asked the fans to make the call, Chad Kelly would already officially be the Broncos’ backup quarterback for 2018. But the team itself has so far refused to commit to that course of action- which is understandable. There’s not much reason for them to commit to one backup over another before they really have to.
Kelly’s play last week vs the Bears silenced any fears that he might not be able to handle the increased level of competition with the 2s. Now, in order to secure his role as the backup for this season, he’s got to prove that he can perform consistently from game to game by tearing up the opposing secondary for a third straight week. If he does that, there’s no reason to think his future in Denver is anything but secure. If he can’t do that, he opens the door labeled “Sign a veteran backup” and possibly delays his own development. The stakes are high for Kelly, but he seems like a guy who does his best work in the spotlight.
Broncos Secondary vs Alex Smith
Smith is a familiar foe for the Broncos’ secondary, and one who’s coming off of a career year and an MVP-caliber season. Is the Broncos’ secondary as vulnerable as it has, at times, seemed? Can Smith continue the standard of play he set for himself in his last season in Kansas City? And can he do it in spite of the significantly reduced talent the Redskins have surrounded him with compared to what he enjoyed in 2017?
It’s a legit sample size of action against an established NFL QB. The results should prove interesting.
Royce Freeman vs Devontae Booker
So far, Devontae Booker is still nominally the Broncos’ starting running back. But the general consensus in Broncos Country & around the league is that Freeman will be the #1 guy when the Seahawks come to town in a few weeks to open up the regular season. Freeman’s had a pretty nice preseason, and this is his opportunity to seize control of the starting role. It’s also likely Booker’s last, best chance to try and defend it. Can he be more than the guy who fell short when asked to take on the bellcow role after C.J. Anderson went down in 2016?
Broncos interior pass rush vs Redskins Offensive Line
If the 2017 Broncos defense had an achilles heel (other than that nagging issue with covering tight ends & running backs), it was a stark lack of interior pressure. QBs were able to consistently step up in the pocket and minimize the impact of guys like Von Miller & Shaquil Barrett. So far this preseason, the Broncos’ front 7 looks to be doing better on that front. DeMarcus Walker, Adam Gotsis, and a healthy Derek Wolfe will look to limit QBs’ evasion options this season. And if they’re successful, Von Miller and Bradley Chubb will snack on tackles and feast on QBs.
Billy Turner vs Cyrus Kouandjio
Turner tends to get a lot more press, but that doesn’t mean the battle for the swing tackle job is over by any stretch of the imagination. Turner struggled last week, allowing a critical sack that knocked the Broncos’ 3rd team offense out of field goal range, and being saved from allowing another by Chad Kelly zipping the ball out quickly on what became the 16 yard touchdown pass to Courtland Sutton.
He has serious competition from Kouandjio, who joined the Broncos last November and started the Week 17 game at right tackle in place of Watson & Stephenson. Kouandjio’s a former 2nd round pick who had a rough start to his career, but has played pretty decently when he’s on the field. And he held his own as the 2nd string left tackle last week vs the Bears.
For what it’s worth, my money is Kouandjio.
Paxton Lynch vs Irrelevance
Last week, I wrote this about Paxton: “If he doesn’t dominate at this lowest level of NFL competition, though? Yikes.”
Well, folks.... Yikes.
Lynch ended well vs the Bears, nearly leading a field goal drive to win the game. It’s certainly not his fault that Isaiah McKenzie fumbled away Lynch’s opportunity or that the Bears played a 10 year veteran backup QB vs the Broncos’ 3rd & 4th stringers. But it is very much his fault that he led the 3rd team to zero points at any time prior to that drive and played a big part in opening the door for the Bears’ comeback. It’s his fault that he didn’t dominate the lowest level of NFL competition.
Now, Vance Joseph won’t even commit to playing Lynch in the 3rd preseason game. If that happens & Lynch doesn’t see the field tonight, then stick a fork in him. He’ll be officially done in Denver. That said, expect to see him in the 4th quarter for a meaningless drive or two. If he didn’t get that much, the Broncos would be torpedoing any trade value he still has themselves rather than taking the bad gamble that he won’t lower it too much more during those couple of drives.
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