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Broncos vs. Redskins: 5 things we learned

The Denver Broncos had their best all-around performance of the preseason in their 29-17 victory over the Washington Redskins. Here are five things we learned in tonight’s game.

NFL: Denver Broncos at Washington Redskins Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

After two consecutive losses to open up the preseason, the Denver Broncos finally found their groove and defeated the Washington Redskins on the road by a score of 29-17. It was an impressive all-around performance for the franchise in all three phases of the game — and one that should give Broncos Country an immense amount of optimism heading into the regular season. Here are five things we learned in tonight’s game.

1. The first-team offense made huge progress

Whether it was through the air or on the ground, the Broncos’ first-team offense had a tremendous amount of success against the Redskins this evening. The unit had eleven first downs and amassed 207 total yards (139 passing and 68 rushing) and helped set the tone very early on in the game.

Even with Ronald Leary sitting out tonight’s game, the first team offensive line played at a high level. Case Keenum had ages to throw on a handful of passes and was very efficient, converting 12/18 passes for 148 yards to six different receivers. Moreover, the unit was able to get ample push in the running game — see Matt Paradis moving DaRon Payne with ease on Royce Freeman’s 24-yard touchdown scamper in the first quarter as a prime example.

I was very impressed with the myriad of different formations Bill Musgrave put on the field tonight and it has me excited about the team’s offense for the regular season. A shout out goes to Andy Janovich, who had two tremendous blocks on both of the Broncos’ touchdown runs in the first half. A lot of people have a feeling he may be one of the odd men out when the coaches concoct their final roster, but those blocks tonight (along with his special teams play) should make him a lock for the final roster.

2. Royce Freeman will be the Broncos’ starting running back in 2018

This is something I have stated for a long time, but if tonight’s performance against the Redskins didn’t solidify that notion — I would be outraged. The rookie running back out of the University of Oregon has notched a touchdown score in every preseason game thus far. Truth be told, it has been a very long time since I’ve been this excited about a running back with the Broncos and I have a feeling he is going to be a great player for years to come.

He runs with vision, patience and is extraordinarily smooth in his movements out of the backfield. Additionally, he rarely goes down on initial contact and is a sure-fire bet to accumulate yards after contact. I raved about Freeman as a prospect in my Future Broncos series for the past two years and couldn’t be more thrilled that he’s with our beloved franchise. I’m all about Rollin’ with Royce, are you? Without question, he is your week one starter against the Seattle Seahawks and deserves consideration as a dark-horse candidate for Offensive Rookie of the Year honors.

3. The Broncos’ pass rush and defense was impressive, but their run defense was suspect

One of the glaring weaknesses in the Broncos’ first preseason game against the Minnesota Vikings was the first-team defense struggling against the run. They improved demonstrably against the Chicago Bears, but took a big step back against the Redskins. Adrian Peterson looked very good in his debut and routinely gashed the right side of the Broncos’ defensive line and ended his night with 56 yards on 11 touches.

On the flip side, the Broncos’ first-team pass defense was impressive. They held Alex Smith to just 3/8 for 33 yards and played a key role in the first-team unit holding the Redskins’ offense to no third down conversions on seven attempts. The only ‘successful’ reception on the defense during the first half was to Paul Richardson, who was able to beat Bradley Roby in coverage for 21 yards. The first-team pass rush was on point and registered several sacks in the first half and played an integral role in shutting down Washington’s aerial assault.

3. Emmanuel Sanders is poised to have a huge year

With the continuous revolving door at quarterback for the Broncos last season, the production of Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders plummeted — but don’t expect a repeat of those woes in 2018. Over the course of the offseason, Sanders has spoken with supreme confidence in Keenum as well as the rest of the offense. If you watched tonight’s game you definitely know why he always had a ear-to-ear smile on his face when discussing his role for the coming season.

Sanders was tonight’s star on the offensive side of the ball and was heavily involved in the Broncos’ offensive attack. He reeled in four receptions for 61 yards and topped it off with a 27-yard touchdown on and end-around late in the second quarter. With all of the weapons the Broncos have acquired on offense, it’s a certainty that Sanders will get a lot of one-on-one looks from opposing defenses and have a chance to shine.

It may be his ninth year in the National Football League, but don’t be the least bit surprised if his production levels rival his career year he had back when Peyton Manning was at the helm in 2014. With Musgrave’s revamped offense, look for Sanders to have a big impact this season and help take the Broncos’ offense to heights not reached over the past two years.

5. Dymonte Thomas impressed and may have earned a spot on the final roster

The Broncos have had a handful of injuries at the safety position during the preseason. Su’a Cravens hasn’t played a snap since being acquired in a trade during the offseason and the versatile and emerging Will Parks suffered a knee contusion last week. With that being said, it’s likely that the franchise keeps five safeties when they calculate their final roster. With Jamal Carter out for the year, fellow 2017 UDFA classmate and second-year player Dymonte Thomas might have earned that fifth spot with his performance this evening.

Thomas was impressive in coverage and had several key stops on third down that brought Redskins drives to a screeching halt. He spent his collegiate career with the Michigan Wolverines and was a versatile defender who saw time at slot corner, as well as single-high safety. Perhaps most importantly in his quest to make the final roster, he was known for being a special teams standout — which is a big deal for coaches when they choose the final players for their team.

So Broncos Country, what were your big takeaways from tonight’s victory against the Redskins? Sound off in the comments section and make your voice heard!