The Denver Broncos had an up and down type performance in their first preseason game of 2023 and ultimately fell 18-17 to the Arizona Cardinals on a last second touchdown and two-point conversion. The losing mentality seems to be a sticky issue that Head Coach Sean Payton will need to break eventually, but it was still just a preseason game. Not really worthy to any overreactions on that side of things.
The overreactions instead can be focused in on a few key positional issues that were quite apparent in this game. These will need to be addressed quickly ahead of the start of the regular season. Here are the three things we learned about this team after that first game.
1. Broncos have offensive line issues
The focus will be on the missed throws from Russell Wilson, but the issue with those missed throws seemed to come through the tape as protection issues. A quick breakdown from Chris Trapasso on X showed just how poorly the starting offensive line played last night. I don’t care who is your quarterback.. they will get cooked if protection is this bad.
Despite these consistent protection issues, the starting Broncos offense wasn’t completely inept outside of the three-and-out on the opening series. They led two field goal drives after that, but both kicks missed resulting in zero points. And, frankly, both drives died due to offensive line issues.
That all changed during the offense’s fourth and final drive. That touchdown drive was impressive and I loved that Payton kept the offense on the field on fourth down after a critical drop by Jerry Jeudy. Jeudy redeemed himself by de-cleating his defender for a wide open pitch and catch for a 21-yard touchdown reception from Wilson.
The caveat there is that the starting defense for the Cardinals was already on the bench by that point. That is why the offensive line is the number one thing we’re going to need to pay attention to next week against another strong defensive unit in the San Francisco 49ers.
2. We might miss Brandon McManus a lot
Whew, the kicking game from Elliot Fry and Brett Maher was something. Both kickers whiffed on field goal tries, while Maher also had a kick blocked. The only field goal either of them made was a 55-yarder from Fry that just barely made it over the uprights.
That said, we can’t really blame the blocked kick on Maher. That was an ugly one that even Sean Payton noted was due to a mistake by the left guard.
“We had a blocked field goal and we gave up penetration at left guard with the young player,” Payton said. “Coverage units were solid. There were two longer field goal attempts, but that’s not the whole special teams. We obviously have to be better in that unit. Keep working the timing of it and the protection. We will look at the film.”
That left guard was none other than Luke Wattenberg, the Broncos fifth-round pick in the 2022 NFL Draft. This is not an ideal situation to find oneself in:
Even so, neither kicker looked great. This battle is far from over, but I think no matter who wins the job we might be finding ourselves missing Brandon McManus this season.
3. Defense will be fine
Despite starting this game without Pat Surtain II, Justin Simmons, Frank Clark, and K’Waun Williams, the Broncos defense was super efficient. They didn’t allow any scoring from the Cardinals’ starting unit. Colt McCoy went 4/4, but only had 17 yards passing. Clayton Tune also struggled early on with an interception to Essang Bassey and he didn’t really get things going until the Broncos’ starters were on the bench.
In the first quarter, the Broncos defense gave up 49 total yards on 18 plays for two punts and an interception. The defense played strong through the entire first half, really. Giving up a total of 97 yards on 36 plays for a paltry 2.69 yards per play. They forced four punts, a missed field goal, and an interception.
I think we can safely assume the Broncos’ defense will be in good hands with Vance Joseph.