It was Peyton Manning's debut in a Broncos uniform. His regular-season debut just a few short weeks away. On Thursday night in Chicago, Manning got a few firsts out of the way, but he has a few more to go.
Manning didn't get hit, didn't throw a touchdown pass and didn't successfully push the ball further than 20 yards down the field. Those firsts will be saved for another game. In the meantime, you might say Manning was rusty or dusty and his first live-game action in over a year was him oiling the hinges and shaking off the dust.
Manning's accuracy was suspect and his passes seemed to lack his usual zip, but Manning proved one thing on Thursday night, he's still Peyton Manning. He can still read a defense, he can still find the open receiver and he can still throw. Those qualities alone are enough to make Manning a top-10 quarterback in the NFL.
Even if Manning is physically limited, he's still going to help the Broncos win football games. There's reason to believe his accuracy and arm strength will improve as he gets healthier and more and more familiar with the offense. His protection was excellent and that will only help him.
Manning's favorite targets appear to be Eric Decker and Jacob Tamme, with Demaryius Thomas being a potential target in the red zone. It will be interesting to see how his chemistry with Joel Dreesen, Thomas and the other receivers develops.
With Manning out of the lineup, Caleb Hanie took over and showed the Broncos why the Bears were so eager to find a better backup after last season. Hanie got more comfortable the longer he played, but he was pretty bad initially and against the No. 2 defense.
Cecil Lammey, NFL Insider for ESPN 102.3 in Denver doesn't think Hanie will make the 53-man roster.
Nope RT @1dancingcrane do you think Caleb Hanie will even be on the roster opening day ? That was a brutal series.— Cecil Lammey (@cecillammey) August 10, 2012
Hanie was always an interesting choice to back up Manning, particularly after the addition of Brock Osweiler through the draft and with the young Adam Weber still on the roster. It's hard to blame the Broncos for shipping Tebow out of town and bringing in a veteran backup, but why not bring in a veteran backup that can play?
Osweiler played pretty well and it shouldn't be long before he is the solid No. 2 behind Manning. Expect that change to happen by the third preseason game with Hanie and Weber fighting for the final roster spot.
Jason Hill also had a good night and certainly stated his case for getting back into the rotation. It might not happen, but he'll be a quality receiver to plug in should the Broncos have an injury.
Speaking of injury, Knowshon Moreno looked pretty quick and agile less than eight months removed from an ACL tear. He was listed on the depth chart behind Willis McGahee, Lance Ball and Ronnie Hillman. He's firmly on the roster bubble, but he looked good enough on Thursday to at least make the Broncos think before cutting the former first-round draft pick.
Despite a few nice runs, the running game didn't look great for the Broncos. McGahee, Ball, Moreno, Xavier Omon and Jeremiah Johnson combined to average just 3.7 yards per rush. It's a small sample, the starter McGahee only had four carries and Hillman missed the game, so it's probably safe to temper any worries about the run-blocking for now.
One area where the Broncos had a pretty sizable sample and performed well was along the defensive line. Six sacks, two from rookie defensive end Derek Wolfe and third-string defensive end Jeremy Beal. The line also held the Bears to 36 yards rushing on 21 carries. It's a good start for a group that might need to carry the defensive load until linebacker D.J. Williams returns from his six-game suspension.
There were a lot of positives for the Broncos on Thursday night, and even though the score doesn't mean anything in the preseason, the performance of the team was reflected in the 31-3 score.
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