The third game of the preseason is typically known as the “dress rehearsal” for the starters because of their extended playing time to get them ready for the regular season.
This was an opportunity for Broncos Country to see what the team might be able to offer this season, a chance for the first team to get in sync and find a rhythm. For some players, it was a chance to solidify their roles or take the reins on a starting job.
Here are five takeaways from the Broncos’ 29-17 win over Washington at FedEx Field.
Defensive dominance returns, but questions remain
With the secondary intact with all of their starters playing together for what seems like the first time this preseason, they appeared to be a more cohesive unit and showed glimpses of what the No Fly Zone used to be. They held familiar foe Alex Smith to 3-8 for 33 yards and his deputy Colt McCoy to 3-8 for only 19 yards.
This helped the defensive line and edge rushers apply more pressure, getting three sacks between the two quarterbacks.
With safety Will Parks out a knee injury, Dymonte Thomas was a bright spot for a thin secondary that has had trouble covering tight ends and running backs out of the backfield.
Thomas, an undrafted free agent out of Michigan in 2017 who was signed to the Broncos squad last fall, was all over former Bronco Vernon Davis and made a big stop on fourth down. He may have earned himself a spot on the final 53-man roster with his performance in this game.
Rookie corner Isaac Yiadom continues to get picked on and give up big plays. He’s going to have a rough season until he can start creating incompletions and turnovers.
The part of the defense that still needs some work is against the run. They allowed Adrian Peterson, who is well past his prime, to run through them for 56 yards on 11 carries, an average of just over five yards.
Peterson signed with the Redskins on Monday, so exceeded expectations given his limited knowledge of their playbook, and his lack of playing time in 2017. Hopefully as the secondary gets healthy, it will allow the rest of the defense to improve in this area.
Royce rolling ahead in RB battle
It’s been a close battle between Devontae Booker and rookie Royce Freeman throughout all preseason, so all eyes were on the backfield to see if someone would finally take charge and standout in the running back competition.
At different points, Freeman has looked like the better option to start but it doesn’t feel like he has put enough together to be the surefire starter. If you take away his breakout touchdown run of 24 yards, Freeman only had two yards on four carries.
While Booker has yet to breakout either, he remains the veteran in the room because of his two — less than spectular — years in the league.
However, Freeman could take over the starting role full-time later on in the year if Booker doesn’t improve and become more of a dynamic back. He only had nine yards on three carries and wasn’t a factor in the passing game.
After Freeman and Booker, it is an interesting competition for the running back position. Undrafted rookie Phillip Lindsay has all but secured his position as a third-down back with a catch out of the backfield from starting quarterback Case Keenum that moved the sticks 18 yards. He also had 31 yards on five carries.
Even fullback Andy Janovich may well have secured his spot on the 53-man roster by providing two major blocks that helped spring Emmanuel Sanders and Freeman for touchdowns.
O-line impresses in pass pro
The offensive line seemed to digress on running plays as the night went on. Multiple times defenders were able to push the line into the backfield to make tackles for loss or no gain.
Starter Ronald Leary did not play due to injury but if the line can’t create holes and space for the running backs, it won’t really matter who is starting back there.
However, they did seem to provide Keenum with a good pocket and enough time to make good throws.
Keenum showed improved accuracy and had big throws to Sanders and Courtland Sutton down the sideline, but also had a couple of batted balls at the line.
Swag solidifies second QB status
Chad Kelly seems to have solidified his position ahead of Paxton Lynch, and he may have even nailed down the backup spot behind Keenum.
He is definitely still learning how to play quarterback in the NFL with some lapses in his decision making, but showed he is learning on a third-and-17 by not trying to force a play for a first down and instead electing for the safe play to get the team in better field goal position.
It would have been great to see him put a touchdown drive together but all of his drives ended in field goals, which is better than nothing.
The fact that he only played the third quarter means either the Broncos coaches have seen enough from him to feel comfortable with him as the backup going into the regular season, or they are doing everything they can to improve Lynch’s stock to hopefully find a trade partner.
Tight ends still largely absent
One position that we needed to see more from was at tight end. We finally got a flash of 2017 draft pick Jake Butt, but he and Jeff Heuerman combined for only two catches for 11 yards.
This cannot be the norm when the regular season begins and Keenum, and offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave, need to figure out how to get them the ball.
Heuerman showed his potential last week with some good catches and power running through potential tacklers, and Butt has had strong performances in training camp but still may be shaking off the rust from not playing meaningful football since tearing his ACL in the 2016 Orange Bowl.
What did you think of Friday’s win, Broncos Country? Any insights you made? Share your thoughts below or on social media!
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