FINALLY, we get to see some Broncos football. Add to that the fact that it didn’t suck and this fan is honestly stoked and feeling cautiously optimistic about the Broncos for the 2021 season.
That being said, it wouldn’t be a No Bull review without some words of warning: As we get geared up for our season remember that at the end of the day, this was just a preseason game. Also, the Vikings used far fewer starters than the Broncos did.
This was mainly a showcase of the Bronco's young starters getting to flex on a bunch of 2s and 3s. We’re supposed to win this game by a sound margin. I’m not saying it wasn’t good...I’m just wanting Broncos Country to temper their expectations based on this one game.
I was really impressed by the soundness of the defense all over the field and by how much depth the team showed through the first three quarters.
Vic Fangio and Ed Donatell had their guys ready to play and play sound defensive football that the Minnesota backups couldn’t do much against.
Shamar Stephen was dominating his guy early and got a holding penalty call in the end zone for a safety. Early in the game, he was getting constant push and pressure which is what you expect for a guy with his experience in the preseason.
Justin Strnad looked really good early in the game. I really like the speed he brings to the ILB position. He showed the ability to close in a hurry laterally, which is something we don’t get from Josey Jewell. I want to see more of him next week for sure and hopefully against some starters to see how well his game translates.
The last guy I want to mention that stood out to me was Andre Mintze. He looked like a raw force at OLB and is a young guy that Broncos Country should keep their eye on. Sure, he beat up on backups for his impressive stat line of 1 sack, 1 TFL, and 1 QH, but there’s something to be said for him making those kinds of plays at all on an NFL field. For an undrafted college free agent, that’s looking like a big hit for the front office and coaching staff. He’s going to be a good depth player for the team with the chance to develop into a quality OLB in the next year or two.
I’ve been wanting to see Patrick Surtain II on the field since we drafted him. I was not disappointed with what I saw. He absolutely looks like the real deal to me. He plays smart, quick, and knows where to be and what to do on the football field. His pick 6 in the 2nd quarter was absolute textbook smart corner play watching the QB and breaking on the pass to get the pick. This is a guy that could have played with the No Fly Zone and probably made them better (no offense intended, Bradley Roby).
Michael Ojemudia made some nice plays on Saturday afternoon including a nice pass defense on 3rd down. At the end of the half, he was on an island with the WR and made a great pass breakup. I thought Ojemudia was one of the better-looking players from our depleted secondary last season, and even though he’s much further down the roster this season, he’s still looking like a solid cornerback that can play.
P.J. Locke was a force of nature in this game from the safety position. He was all over the field and most importantly taking great angles with timing to break up 3 passes and had one of the highest tackle totals on the team.
The young guy from the secondary worth watching to me was Caden Sterns who had a score-saving pass break up in the 2nd half. He also was a safety who was all over the field and constantly putting himself in good positions to impact plays. Players like Sterns and Mintz are the guys that benefit most from these preseason games.
There isn’t a lot to not like from this offensive performance. Our offense looked more comfortable in this preseason game than I have seen them look for two years outside of the outlier Panther game last year.
I thought the play calling was pretty solid and was a good representation of the formula for this team having a winning record at the end of the season: establish a sound running game, mix in plenty of play-action, and utilize the outstanding physical talent the Broncos have at the skill positions to put points on the board.
It is the only one preseason game, but hats off to Pat Shurmur for having his offense ready to play to kick off the season.
Did we learn anything about Drew Lock that we didn’t already know in this game? I think so. If he can stay on-platform as he did in this game the rest of the year, he’s going to be a much-improved quarterback. It was only one pass, but his deep throw to Hamler was put right where it needed to be...he needs that kind of accuracy deep consistently if he wants to be the starter. I really liked the play-action roll to his right hitting Benson for a big gain in the 2nd quarter as well. His timing and ball placement were better than what we saw last season from him on similar plays.
Teddy Bridgewater followed up with a much more tame performance. With no barn-burning speedster taking the top off the defense, he led efficient drives. He capped his first drive of the 2nd half with a beautiful fade pass for a TD to the corner.
The hard thing here with the quarterbacks is the lack of competition for them. We already know what kind of “game manager” type of performance we will likely get from Teddy. He’s had years to show us what he’s good at and what his offenses do (which is mostly matriculating down the field with a few big passes sprinkled in over the course of a game). We also know that games like this with lower quality defenses playing vanilla coverages don’t pose any kind of challenge to Lock. He beat up on this same kind of defense at Carolina last season. It is the more complex coverages requiring him to progress through his reads that cause him to look utterly lost and we didn’t get to see that in this game (and honestly may not at all this preseason).
The offensive line through three quarters looked very well prepared for the challenge. They kept Drew Lock and Teddy Bridgewater supremely clean through the game and the 2nd stringers absolutely dominated in their run blocks.
Javonte Williams started the game with two big runs over 10 yards. I loved the stiff arm contact around the edge. He would have finished the drive for a TD had Jeudy not held his guy on the outside run. I love a fast, powerful back like Williams. They can put big yards up and really put a defense on their heels. I’m ecstatic to see what he does this season with the Broncos especially if we can give him some of the holes he saw to start the game against the Vikings.
Royce Freeman had a really nice run to the outside early in the 2nd quarter. He bounces off a guy and goes for 10+ to set up the team for a 1st and goal inside the 5. He looked like a much better back than LaVante Bellamy in this game and it is a battle worth watching.
K.J. Hamler ran a beautiful crossing route behind the LB to get a great gain over the middle for a 20+ yard gain. He then blew the top off with the big 80 yard TD where he made the Vikings players look silly. There’s been a lot of silly talk about the Broncos making a mistake in picking Hamler where they did in the draft and I find it asinine. He’s got top-flight speed and if you can just set up opportunities for him with a sound running game and other threats on the field, he’s going to make some big plays for your team each and every year.
Trinity Benson did a superb job of taking advantage of his opportunity in this game with a lot of the Broncos talent sitting out. He nabbed 4 passes for 2 TDs and looked like a very reliable target in the passing game. He’s not going to take anyone’s job, but a guy like that is the kind of depth guy you want to stick around and keep developing.
LaVante Bellamy may not have impressed as a RB, but his kickoff return was pretty awesome. He’s got a great mix of speed and quickness for returns and that’s likely the way he ensures his spot on the team.
Like I said earlier: I’m cautiously optimistic. I liked what I saw from both sides of the ball with the Broncos and I don’t envy the coaches on the decisions big and small they need to make for this roster in a few weeks.
Everyone goes goo-goo over the quarterback competition and that’s where all the hot-take talk is this when you have a team like the Broncos that doesn’t have a real good option for quarterback on their team. Don’t be fooled by all the hype one way or the other. I could take this game and make compelling reasons to lean toward either QB. At the end of the day their work day after day with the team in training camp behind closed doors (or at least out of the purview of the local media) is going to mean far more to this decision than a preseason game where more than half the starters on both teams don’t play.