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Instant Reactions: Broncos lose in the final seconds to Cardinals

The Denver Broncos lost their first preseason game to the Arizona Cardinals 18-17, Here are some instant reactions from tonight’s events.

Denver Broncos v Arizona Cardinals Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

The Denver Broncos led most the entire game but wound up losing in the final seconds of the after an Arizona Cardinals touchdown and two-point conversion by a score of 18-17.

That’s not the result fans were hoping for to kick off the Sean Payton era. But hey—the Broncos’ starters won when they were on the field. (Can’t that be a silver lining?)

What did we learn from tonight’s game? What can we expect moving forward? Here are some instant reaction points from Denver’s performance tonight.

The Good

Attacking the Middle of the Field — Payton’s Bread and Butter

Preseason games might be meaningless in the grand scheme of things, but they do allow us to understand concepts and facets coaches on both sides of the ball hope to utilize significantly in the regular season. I’d like to start tonight’s instant reactions by focusing on a bright spot relative to Denver’s offense.

Fans should have liked what they saw in the aerial attack—especially in respect to their efforts across the middle of the field.

Russell Wilson and Jerry Jeudy were able to connect several times on routes attacking the heart of the Cardinals’ defense. The primary highlight came early on in the second quarter when the Broncos were aggressive and went for it on fourth down. That’s when Russell Wilson hit Jerry Jeudy in stride for a 22-yard touchdown score.

That’s the type of production we were hoping to see early on. In fact, several other receivers were able to make some plays in this regard as well. Utilizing over routes that attack the middle of the field will be a focal point of Sean Payton’s offense—so it was great to see them excel right away.

Keep in mind, this is something Wilson has struggled with throughout his career, so tonight’s positive results should give fans across Broncos Country a little bit more confidence moving forward. It’ll be a key catalyst to their offensive success this year.

Denver’s offense was one of the worst in the league with respect to third down conversions in 2022, but these ventures should reap the Broncos big dividends during the regular season. I’m excited to see these concepts develop more as the preseason continues.

The Bad

Broncos’ First-Team Offensive Line struggles in debut

The Broncos were without high-profile free agent Mike McGlinchey for Friday night’s game. With him sidelined, Isaiah Prince played in his stead and didn’t perform well at all. In his first half reps, Prince had two penalties (holding and false start) and gave up a lot of ground in pass protection.

Even more concerning is the play of long-time veteran Garett Bolles. He struggled mightily tonight and was beat for a sack and looked rough in pass protection. We all know he is coming off a really bad injury, but the Cardinals’ defense isn’t exactly stacked with top-tier pass rushers. It might just be the first preseason game, but the first-team offensive line struggling in pass protection was a major concern.

The Broncos have the fourth highest paid offensive line unit in the National Football League. That unit is going to have to play a lot better moving forward in order for the offense to operate as efficiently as it should. Let’s hope they improve in their next game. If not—fans will have a lot to worry about heading into the regular season.

The Ugly

Broncos’ Special Teams unit sputters in first preseason effort

The more things change the more they stay the same. The Broncos embarked on a complete overhaul of the unit over the offseason in hopes to repair a unit that has failed to meet the mark for several years.

It’s only the first preseason game, but what happened tonight won’t inspire confidence in fans moving forward. Riley Dixon shanked his first punt, Brett Maher missed his two field goal attempts, and Elliot Fry missed his first field goal attempt as well. If you are looking for good news, Fry nailed a 55-yarder with 11 seconds remaining in the second quarter.

That being said, missing three out of four field goals is simply unacceptable. Is too early to panic? Perhaps. Maybe the poor field conditions played a role in what we witnessed, but there is obviously a reason to be concerned.

Let me ask you this: If the Broncos need three points to tie or win them the game—how confident are you in Elliot Fry or Brett Maher getting the job done when it actually matters? I didn’t have much confidence before tonight and far less after.

Maybe cutting Brandon McManus to save a few cap dollars wasn’t such a great idea.

Two Other Quick Observations

  • The Broncos’ first team defense was aggressive and hot in pursuit in the several series they played. We saw a lot of three-man fronts and Vance Joseph’s defense were still able to generate quality pressure.

One player that caught my eye was second-year player Nik Bonitto. The former Oklahoma Sooner standout had several pressures and registered a half sack alongside Matt Henningsen early on in the game. Unfortunately, he suffered a hip injury early in the second quarter and didn’t participate thereafter.

Let’s hope it is nothing serious because the Broncos will need him to help bolster their pass rush this season.

  • Undrafted rookie free agent Jaleel McGlaughlin had four carries for 20 yards and one touchdown. He also added a reception for twelve yards. I thought he looked pretty sharp in limited late game action and may have earned himself a shot at more playing time in the games to come. It will be interesting to see who wins the battle for the Broncos #3 running back job. As of now, it’s solely between him and Tyler Badie.