Posted Thu Sep 2nd by Ian Henson
A game which saw the return of many veteran faces such as: Ryan Clady, Correll Buckhalter and Brian Dawkins should have brought more joy to fans of the Denver Broncos; yet it didn’t. Under the circumstances the fact that such veterans were starting in the fourth game of the preseason actually further laminated the problems the Broncos have been facing since April.
In a game which bordered on national attention for the possibility of an extensive amount of play by two quarterbacks Brett Favre and rookie Tim Tebow, the NFL made the right call early on last week in making this a local market only game. Favre suited, but did not take a snap and instead of Tebow, Broncos veteran quarterback Kyle Orton got the start. Orton and the rest of the Denver starting offense got the nod due to what Josh McDaniels expressed as disappointment in his first teams’ performance this preseason.
It’s easy to argue McDaniels’ point; prior to Pittsburgh the Orton led offense had scored on something like five of the quarterback’s seven drives. McDaniels must not have agreed with something he had seen from the offense versus the Steelers or Tebow likely would have gotten the start Thursday evening.
As it stands he didn’t and Orton’s offense made McDaniels’ point for him. They looked sloppy in their first series, going three and out just about as terrible as any team could. However, there was a bright point for Denver; prior to the teams first offensive series the Vikings had received the opening kickoff and rookie Perrish Cox took away any worry Broncos fans may have about the nickel back position or the absence of superstar Champ Bailey or Andre Goodman. On top of his more than stellar performance as the number one corner he did very well on punt returns and it’s going to be hard to argue against him starting there this season. There is of course another rookie corner whom I’ll get to in a second who will push him.In the starting offenses’ second attempt backup Stanley Daniels (who is listed as third string right guard) was playing at left guard amongst the starters, pulled and opened up a giant hole for Buckhalter and made the team look a lot like what fans had become used to this preseason (an extremely efficient offense). Soon after Orton followed up and looked downright prolific under heavy pressure on his completion to Brandon Lloyd. The Vikings literally threw the kitchen sink at Orton and he was able to connect with the man he’d handpicked from Chicago (Lloyd) and then again on the next play he threw to Lloyd and extended the drive with a pass interference penalty.
That play led to the Broncos first goal line offense of the series, in which Buckhalter was swapped out with LenDale White. White made the offense look nearly unstoppable on his score which put the Broncos ahead 7-0.
On the following series rookie cornerback Syd’Quan Thompson nearly picked off Vikings backup quarterback Tavaris Jackson, for what would have gone for an easy six points as he stepped perfectly in front of Javon Walker, but let the ball bounce off his hands. Between Thompson and Cox, the Broncos look to be very solid at corner for years to come. The problem will be figuring out who plays in what situation and who to put at punt and kick returner as they’re both comparable with extreme upside and rookie downsides.
Tebow’s operation of the offense looked sickening at first; under Tebow (though not completely his fault) went like this: fumble (Tebow), interception (Tebow), fumble (Marquez Branson pass from Tebow) and fumble (Bruce Hall, all him, no Tebow involvement at all, promise). Tebow’s first fumble went for a Minnesota touchdown, Tebow’s interception led to an easy Minnesota field goal (which the Broncos’ defense kept from being more). And the Broncos went into halftime trailing 17-7.
Tebow was able to get his team together towards halftime and after half time he’d finished 12 of 16 with a touchdown at one point going 12 of 14 passing. Tebow’s 14 yards rushing also placed second on the team for rushing yards. Most notably play from the rookie quarterback an incredible bomb to undrafted rookie Matthew Willis which went for 39 yards.
In Tebow’s final series he was unable to do anything against the Vikings and ended what may be his final playing time as a quarterback this season with three straight incomplete passes.
The Broncos defense has possibly exposed an achilles heal, in that throughout the preseason they have been torn apart by quarterbacks scrambling Pittsburgh’s Dennis Dixon and Minnesota’s (fourth string) Joe Webb. Webb tore the Denver defense up at will, the only time the defense was able to stop him was when he was throwing. Including a collective gasp of relief when Alphonso Smith picked off a Webb pass intended for Javon Walker late in the third quarter; Smith returned the interception 51 yards.
Brady Quinn entered the game with just under two minutes left in the third quarter and quickly made rookie receiver Eric Decker his favorite target (all Broncos quarterbacks seem to have their favorite targets: Orton- Lloyd, Tebow- Willis and Quinn- Decker).
Quinn didn’t get much started until his second series, driving from the Denver 49 yard line, completing four consecutive passes to Decker of 21, 6, 6 and 14 yards. Lance Ball then scored a touchdown on an excellent run, but the play was flagged and the touchdown negated on a holding penalty. Quinn fired off a 14 yard touchdown pass to rookie Alric Arnett.
There were obvious players entering the game on the bubble, there were several who seemed to be definite cuts and as the game unfolded some decisions were made for the Broncos (LenDale White was placed on injured reserve after he ruptured his achilles). It’s also very likely Elvis Dumervil will follow White to injured reserve.
Though the Broncos announced eight roster transactions, they still have another twelve decisions to make (including a Dumervil decision expected today and a decision on fan favorite Darrell Reid (to PUP or not PUP)).
I’d speculated differently during the game via @BroncoTalk’s twitter account, I don’t know who will be the second string quarterback on the Broncos roster. I would editorialize by suggesting to keep Tebow as the second string (as then he’s free to enter/leave the game) and have Quinn as the third string/emergency quarterback. If anything teams will have to game plan for Tebow possibly entering the game on certain downs.