Welcome Mile High Report readers to the 2019 season of the No Bull review. I skipped the HOF game given the lack of significant snaps being had by players we’ll actually see make the 53 man roster, but wasn’t disappointed with the look we were given to the team this past week in Seattle.
I’ll echo this in our first regular season game, but here’s some insight into what this review is and what it is not for those of you who are new to milehighreport.com (for those of you who aren’t, feel free to skip ahead since you probably already know what I’m about):
The biggest thing I try to do in these reviews is to call things as I see them and do my best to be as realistic (as a fan can get...we’re all biased after all). We all enjoy watching the game and I have been doing so for decades. I just try to share the little things I notice and especially try to avoid nonsensical hype (because let’s be real...you can get that at any media outlet...it is what Internet news is built on after all). I’m not keen on stats for stats sake because 90% of the time people drop stats, they are cherry picking them to support an opinion instead of considering the whole picture. I also am not reviewing each and every play or player. I note down only what stands out to me and may have some interesting meaning either good or bad. If you are here to worship at the alter of our 3rd string QB, any corn-fed fullback (because fullbacks rock), or the hottest new receiver that ever donned a Broncos jersey, this review isn’t likely for you. I’m going to likely talk trash on your boy when he sucks. I’m going to hype him when he rocks.
The good news is, we always have a good time with picking apart the plays, players, and coaching here. Please feel free to disagree with me in the comments, as I am a rare individual who understands that I’m a human...I can actually miss things or get it wrong. At the end of the day, I write these reviews because they are a blast. I love the Denver Broncos and the game of NFL football. I love learning more about the game with all of you and cheering on our team.
And now on to the meat and potatoes...
Probably the biggest thing I’m looking at this offseason (like many of you) is the offense. The Broncos haven’t really had one for 3 years or so and we’ve brought in a very bright, but green offensive coordinator to run the show. I want to know what we’re going to be looking for in the regular season, how does the line play look most importantly, and will we be running plays designed for the modern era of the NFL?
Sadly, we won’t find a ton of value to the preseason games, but there are glimpses to be had and as always, we can see the diamonds emerging from the rough from the new guys we’ve added to the team.
I liked what I saw from our starting offense in that we lined up and ran the ball with very good success. Most of our run plays were positive with the line winning the battles up front.
I liked that we focused the passing game on using the backs out of the backfield and the tight ends in the middle of the field. I feel like those areas of the field have been largely ignored for years and it is encouraging to see the team working on those in the preseason because it doesn’t really give much away from our big picture scheme and allows the coaches to find out more about who can make those kinds of plays be special instead of just 3-5 yard gains.
Talking about Joe Flacco wouldn’t really be fair in his very small sample size in this game. I don’t feel like there was much we could tell about him this season because the things he brings to the table (big arm, challenges every spot on the field, loves throws to the tight ends) wasn’t part of the game plan. Hopefully we’ll get to see some more of big Joe in the next two games and what he’s about this year.
Kevin Hogan really doesn’t impress me much. A perfect example was one of his earlier throws out of play-action he fast-balled and it just felt like it took forever for the ball to get to the target. It almost seemed like the defender had a half second to play catch up because of the slowness of the throw. I do see a guy that obviously knows the plays and I could tell he was progressing through his reads a couple of times. I just think the team is in pretty big trouble if he’s our back up and Flacco misses any measurable amount of time. I honestly would rather see us train up Lock (and still likely lose) than to waste game snaps on a guy who is less inspiring than a Case Keenum on the football field.
Drew Lock had a ton of action in this game and I was really glad for it. Not because I saw anything great out of him, but because I feel like he got enough action that I could see a lot of what he was working with as a player on the football field.
Let’s keep it real on Lock, though. He’s very raw. I think he’s got a lot of “quarterback talent” that he brings to table in the manner of raw physical tools, but he’s got a lot of work to do to sharpen himself into anything that looks like a real starting NFL QB.
The positives I saw from Lock were his very obvious arm strength. He throws with good velocity and leads his targets fairly well for a rookie. His coach was calling plays for him at different levels of the field and different directions and he wasn’t averse to any of them.
The downside you have with him is that he’s very much still not processing things fast enough to move off of his key or 2nd read much. The best example of this was on his first trip in the red zone where he looked to the left side of the field, which was never going to be open based on how the defense was aligned and how they rotated post-snap. He had at least something on the right side he could have thrown to (likely the RB in the flat who wouldn’t have scored), but it would have had a small chance whereas his throw to the end zone was risky and low percentage.
The other thing I’m not seeing (which is very normal for rookie QBs) was his inability to read defensive intentions and either adjust the blocking, audible, or throw to his hot read to avoid pressure. The best example of this was on the safety he took. The safety was very much more on the RB because of the terrible angle and lack of blocking the right guy, but the QB doesn’t get a pass on that. Both the blitzers showed very early their intentions and the QB has to react to that and get the ball out or throw it away. He can’t just ignore one side of the formation and way for a play to develop when there aren’t enough blockers in to stop the number of pass rushers.
But back to the positives, his throw on the two point conversion was a big boy NFL throw in a tight window. I loved it and thought it showed a nice bit of upside for him. If he can keep taking to the coaching and bring his mental side of the game up to snuff, I can see him turning into a future answer for the team at the QB position. He just needs to put in the work and grow.
It was so good to see both Phillip Lindsay and Royce Freeman get some solid game action behind a very productive offensive line. Lindsay broke of some very good runs and showed off that same speed and quickness that ripped up the NFL last year. He’s going to be a very productive NFL weapon this year.
Freeman showed that he’s no slouch at RB either. I was excited to see him break off a big run in action. I really liked him coming out of college and hope he’s able to build on this game into being the 1b to Lindsay’s 1a this year. When you have two backs with different styles who are productive, it puts a huge strain on defenses because they have completely different ways they have to play from snap to snap and it showed in this preseason game.
The line play went south very quickly when we rotated out the starters though, which wasn’t great for Devontae Booker, Theo Riddick, or any of the younger backs. I didn’t see the same holes available for the running game to work much which is sadly pretty standard for preseason football.
It was really tough to get any serious read on our receivers given how little the game plan called for them to actual see targets. Tim Patrick still looked like a very good target to me. I liked Juwann Winfree’s route on the 2pt conversion. The tight ends looked fairly average though I thought one of Troy Fumagalli’s early catches was very clean and liked what he made of it.
I feel pretty spoiled for this part of the review. Denver has been blessed with such a high level of talent for its defensive players for so long, it is pretty easy for a coach to come in and make them look good (which is probably one of the most damning things I say about the quality of Vance Joseph).
Nevertheless, I found it so very interesting to see this defense functioning in a completely different way on the back end from what we’re used to seeing here in Broncos Country. People can wax poetic all they want about Vic Fangio’s defense utilizing elements of man coverage all they want...the core principles of its coverage in action looks very zone heavy to me which is very different from what was the principle of what we’ve generally seen from Denver for years.
But front to back, when we had the more NFL ready players on the field, the defense looked very solid. We stopped the run, we kept their 2nd string QB to almost nothing passing, and overall played a very high level of defense.
We got to see everyone’s favorite cornerback in Chris Harris Jr. still looking like one of the NFL’s most dominant corners in the game. He gave up one throw with almost no YAC which is the best we normally see an offense get out of him on the field.
I thought De’Vante Bausby showed some very good skill as well with a throw on him early that he broke up. The play was a great example of how to play off-man coverage on a guy on the outside. He read the play and broke up the pass exceptionally well with excellent timing.
Also, Isaac Yiadom showed up a couple of times and was especially sharp in breaking up a pass on 3rd and 9. The cornerback position is one I’ve been pretty curious about and so far I’m encouraged to see their performance early on.
The linebacker play was rough to say the least for most of the game. The starting group did well. But once we started getting into the roster, there was a lot of guys a step too late, making the wrong reads, and not being impactful. This was mostly in regards to the inside line backers. Without Josey Jewell and Todd Davis, the Broncos look like they may have a very significant weakness on the inside of the defense.
I did like what I saw from the edge guys in this defense. I thought Malik Reed especially stood out from all of the guys we saw playing most of the 2nd half outside of Drew Lock. He looked like an impactful reserve player much like we’ve seen in the past from Shaquil Barrett. He has a strong pass rush presence and looked quick enough to handle pass coverage responsibilities as well. He finished the game with a sack, TFL, and a solid QB hit.
I’ve been a Shelby Harris fan for a couple of years, and I think this may be his year to shine. He is such a powerful force up front and his ability as a one gap penetrator in pass rushing situations is a big advantage for this defense. He showed up early would have had a clear TFL had Chris Harris Jr. not beat him to it.
Adam Gotsis is another guy that I’ve cheered on for a couple of years and I was glad to see him make such a savvy pass break up early on.
It is exciting to see football again and a fresh new start for our Broncos. The real action is going to be seen in the next couple of weeks insofar as we’ll see more of the real starters with more significant snaps.
What about you out there in Broncos Country? Any guys really stand out that I didn’t mention? Let us know about it in the comments!