The Broncos had their preseason opener last night and they, unfortunately, lost 18-17 to the Arizona Cardinals. However, they led for the vast majority of the game and only surrendered the lead in the fourth quarter when most of the third-stringers were in the game. There were some bright spots and also some low lights from this game that may have some fans concerned as we move forward.
So, with that said, let us take a look at which players came out of this game as winners and which ones came out as losers.
QB Russell Wilson
I know some may not agree with his, but I thought Russ played alright overall. He completed 7 of 13 passes for 93 yards and 1 touchdown. He also had a quarterback rating of 102.4 on the night which is a mark he only topped twice last season. He threw strikes, looked confident in the pocket, and played well despite the team around him not really helping him out.
I’ll touch on this more in the losers section, but the offensive line was awful in this one. The Cardinals defense is not great and their front seven on paper looks among the league's worst. However, Russ was under pressure consistently and took some decent hits. Despite that, he made some good throws, moved the ball, and had the offense in scoring position three times (two missed field goals).
So again, this was not a great Russell Wilson game, but he was solid overall. If the team around him plays better, we could see more success from him moving forward. I came away from this game cautiously encouraged about Russ and anxious to see how he builds on this performance moving forward.
RB Jaleel McLaughlin
We heard about McLaughlin throughout camp and we saw some flashes of that late in this game. He was the last back to take the field, but he rushed the ball four times for 20 yards and 1 touchdown and had one catch for 12 yards. So, overall he had five touches for 32 yards which averages out to 6.4 yards per touch.
McLaughlin looked like one of the Broncos' best players on the night and his speed and explosion were obvious. I would like to see McLaughlin get a chance with the second team in the next game and even get some snaps with the first team.
EDGE Nik Bonitto
The Broncos explosive edge rusher is having a strong training camp and continued that good play in last night’s game. His speed and quick first step was noticeable on the field and he applied pressure on the quarterback consistently and was in on a sack as well. It was exciting to see from him and hopefully, something we see a lot more this upcoming season.
Unfortunately, he left the game with a hip injury and did not return. The severity of it is unknown, but 9NEWS Denver’s Mike Klis did classify it as a tweak, so hopefully, it is just that and nothing serious.
CB Ja’Quan McMillian
The second-year corner has been having a solid offseason and training camp thus far and he continued his good play in this one. He looked solid in coverage, was able to get a sack on a beautiful corner blitz, and even made a big tackle on special teams. He checked every box he need to help his case make the team.
I believe he is the Broncos fourth cornerback on the depth chart right now and someone we can pencil in for a spot on the roster. He has two more games to help his case but he seems like someone who will make this team.
IDL Elijah Garcia and Matt Henningsen
The defensive line depth was a concern heading into camp and still might be. However, we saw two Broncos reserve defensive linemen have fairly solid games in this one.
First, second-year defensive lineman Matt Henningsen had a strong game. He had a sack and was consistently making plays along the line of scrimmage. On a sour note, he did fail to stop the Cardinals running back to score the game-winning two-point conversion despite wrapping him up in the backfield. Overall though, it was a solid showing for Henningsen.
As for Garcia, he entered this game looking to bolster his case for a spot on the 53-man roster and he did just that. In the second half of the game, he totaled two sacks and provided some pass rush for the interior defensive line position. If he can continue to showcase pass rush from the interior, he could find himself on the Broncos roster come week one.
QB Jarrett Stidham
There were some whispers about Jarrett Stidham potentially replacing Russell Wilson if he struggled this season by fans, but those whispers can stop for now. Stidham entered this game in the second quarter and did not play well at all. He completed 5 of 15 passes for 50 yards and 1 interception and had a quarterback rating of 16.0.
That is not what you want to see from your backup quarterback.
What potentially hurts him, even more, is third-string quarterback Ben DiNucci playing fairly well. He completed 7 of 9 passes for 57 yards and led a late fourth-quarter touchdown drive. So, could we see the backup quarterback position battle heat up in the coming weeks? We shall see.
TE Albert Okwuegbunm
It is all but certain that Albert Okwuegbunam is not making this team. When the team released their initial depth chart, he was the fifth tight end listed and was behind UDFA TE/FB Nate Adkins. Then, in last night’s game, he was not targeted and I do not recall seeing him on the field all that much.
I had hopes that Sean Payton could utilize his size and speed combination but it appears it is just not working out.
Kickers Brett Maher and Elliott Fry
The Broncos kicking competition is off to a rough start. After the team surprisingly released long-time kicker Brandon McManus, they brought in Elliott Fry and Brett Maher to compete for their kicking job. During camp, neither kicker really separated from one another and after one preseason game, it is hard to feel confident in either kicker moving forward.
Brett Maher missed one kick and had another attempt blocked which left him 0 for 2 on the night on field goal attempts. When he is on, he has proved to be one of the better kickers in the league, but his recent struggles do not give him a long leash and a 0 for 2 certainly does not help his case.
As for Elliott Fry, he missed his first field goal attempt, however, he did rebound to make an impressive 55-yard field goal. His night was better than Maher’s, but still, a missed kick by an unproven kicker does not make you feel confident in him moving forward either. He wasn’t as bad, but it still was not good.
It will be interesting to see if Sean Payton brings a few more kickers in for workouts moving forward, or if these two will get another shot to redeem themselves in the following weeks. It is still possible that the Broncos starting kicker is not currently on the roster right now.
The Broncos offensive line was terrible in this one. Quarterback Russell Wilson was under pressure throughout the game and was taking some fairly big hits from the defense. A defense that figures to be not very good and has a front seven that on paper, is among the league's worst pass-rushing units. However, they got after the quarterback early and often last night.
Specifically, left tackle Garett Bolles was awful in this one. He was worked by Cardinals defenders multiple times and allowed multiple pressures. In his defense, he is coming off a major injury and has been given multiple days off throughout camp, so he may need some time before he gets to 100%. Still, it was not a great night for the Broncos starting left tackle.
The unit as a whole, which is supposed to be improved looked bad and has been giving up pressure all through camp as well. Sean Payton and his staff still have time to fix this unit, but right now, their poor play is very concerning. The Broncos need their offensive line to be a strength this season if they want to have success.