A Denver Broncos game playing second fiddle is near unprecedented.
It almost never happens. But we will see that this week vs the Atlanta Falcons at the Hall of Fame Game on Thursday. There’s no doubt Broncos Country is excited about the return of football. It’s the first time fans get to see head coach Vic Fangio man the sidelines in his 32-year NFL coaching career. It’s the first time the country gets to see the revamped Broncos, minus most of the starters. It’s the first time Denver plays in the Hall of Fame Game since 2004.
But the main act comes on Saturday when Champ Bailey and Broncos owner Pat Bowlen are inducted in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. You get the sense that’s what people are most excited to see. Before that happens, Denver and the Falcons get the week started with actual football.
On the MHR Radio Podcast (ApplePodcasts, Spotify, and Stitcher), Adam Malnati and I previewed the game with what and who to watch for. As a side note, we both think it’s hilarious Tony Gonzalez is representing Atlanta as opposed to the Kansas City Chiefs.
#Broncos football is back! @AdamMalnati16 & I preview the Hall of Fame Game w/what & who to look for. On the @MileHighReport Radio Podcast, we "Chronicle" Riddick's visit to Denver, & I start us off w/a joke from @milehighprophet . @ApplePodcasts: https://t.co/xUxnjDHpvM— Ian St. Clair (@IanStClair) July 31, 2019
Broncos preseason history vs Atlanta
Thursday’s game in Canton, Ohio is the seventh game in the preseason between the two teams. It’s also the second on a neutral site. The first was on Aug. 21, 1971 at Memorial Stadium in Memphis, Tenn. Denver lost that game 27-10. Overall, the Broncos are 4-2 vs the Falcons — 2-1 at home; 2-0 on the road; 0-1 on neutral sites.
Other notable Denver preseason records and stats
- 30-29 in preseason openers
- 1-2 in the Hall of Fame game (last was a 20-17 loss to the Washington Redskins in 2004)
- 2-2 in the American Bowl. The first a 28-27 loss to the Los Angeles Rams in 1987; the most recent a 20-17 win over the San Diego Chargers in 1999.
- The is the first neutral site preseason opener since the HOF game in 2004.
Now to the staff’s keys to Thursday’s game.
Continue to develop good habits
Since Fangio was hired in January, we’ve heard the Broncos will no longer suffer from “death by inches.” They won’t beat themselves and they’ll do the little things. This has been what Denver has worked on since organized team activities and throughout training camp. This is the first time to see it in action for a game. The Broncos need to build on those habits so it becomes second nature. Don’t beat yourself. Play smart, sound, fundamental football. In other words, do your job. — Ian St. Clair
OL needs to show up
The worst part about preseason games is the offense doesn’t get quality reps because the second- and third-string offensive lines are getting shredded. Keep Kevin Hogan, Drew Lock, and Brett Rypien upright, and allow the offense to get some rhythm. — Jeff Essary
Inside linebackers in coverage
It’ll be important to see what the Broncos get from the middle linebackers, especially in tight end and running back coverage. Preseason games are where Fangio and the defensive coaching staff will determine if the solution to that issue is on the roster. — Taylor Kothe
Tight end battle
With Jeff Heuerman first on the depth chart and Noah Fant second, the real battle is who fills the rest of that position group out. Troy Fumagalli is ahead of Jake Butt, probably due to Butt not seeing a full practice for 8 practices in a row now. Austin Fort has also been very impressive and is my dark horse to steal away a roster spot, even if its for the practice squad this season. He looks like he could end up being a good player in the NFL.As Casey Barrett, Jess Place, and I discussed on the Something Something Broncos podcast, we thought this position group would be the most important one to watch in the Hall of Fame Game. — Tim Lynch
Backup QB battle
Word out of camp early is how poorly Hogan looked. Most expect Lock to ascend to the No. 2 quarterback by the end of the preseason, but will the veteran look so poor that John Elway and the coaching staff elect to go into the opener vs the Oakland Raiders with just two quarterbacks or even two rookies at the position? This is also most of Broncos Country’s first opportunity to see how Lock fits Rich Scangarello’s system in live-game situations. While I think we’re due for a lot of rookie moments, any mechanical developments would be really encouraging. — Just_JoRo
Come away from this game with no significant injuries, and then we can take in in the Hall of Fame festivities that follow. — Adam Malnati