Denver Broncos vs. Dallas Cowboys: Broncos Preseason Week 4 Game Preview
On Thursday night, they meet under much different circumstances—the final preseason game of the year.
NFL teams are required to be down to a final 53-player roster on August 30, so Thursday's game will affect many players.
The Broncos are sitting at 2-1 this preseason, but they would likely be happy to get out of this game without any injuries, especially after seeing Wes Welker go down this past Saturday night against Houston.
Regardless of the outcome against Dallas, the Broncos are ready for a deep postseason run. The only question is, which group of players will be along for the ride?
For more on this game, click forward.
Broncos Preseason Week 3 Recap
Despite holding a 17-7 halftime lead, the Broncos didn't score in the second half and lost the game on a late score and two-point conversion by the Texans.
The loss was the least of the Broncos' concerns, as the game contained some very important developments.
On the positive side, Emmanuel Sanders finally made his Denver debut, and it was clear that Peyton Manning wanted to get him involved in the offense.
Sanders finished the game with five receptions for 128 yards and two touchdowns. He looked very fast despite not suiting up in the preseason prior to last Saturday night.
But there was some bad news, too.
Wes Welker took a hit from Houston safety D.J. Swearinger after catching a pass, and the impact from the hit knocked Welker out of the game. It was later revealed that Welker had sustained a concussion—his third in the last 10 months.
Before Wes Welker steps on a football field again, I hope he calls Al Toon. Or Merril Hoge. Or Wayne Chrebet. Or Tony Dorsett.— Mike Greenberg (@Espngreeny) August 26, 2014
Both Denver quarterbacks—Manning and Brock Osweiler—threw interceptions in this game. Osweiler wasn't nearly as impressive as he was against San Francisco the week before, either.
He finished the game completing just four out of his 11 passes.
News and Notes
DeMarcus Ware Wants to Retire in Dallas
According to Rowan Kavner of DallasCowboys.com, newly acquired defensive end DeMarcus Ware has aspirations to retire as a member of the Cowboys.
"I thought I was always going to be a Dallas Cowboy," Ware said. "That was really, really big for me. I played well for nine years, so I never thought that they would get rid of me."
Ware is a classy player, to be sure, but if his other goal is to win a Super Bowl, he may have come to the perfect place.
Ware is still a very strong player and one of the league's best pass-rushers. The difference this year is that he won't have to do it himself.
He has never been part of a defense as talented as the one the Broncos will field in 2014, nor has he played with another player with the athletic gifts that are possessed by Von Miller.
Ware should have more fun this year than he has before as well, mainly because he'll be winning and chasing a championship.
Broncos Trade for Kicker
Meet the newest member of the Denver Broncos, Brandon McManus.
McManus fell short in the kicking competition in New York, being beaten out by veteran Josh Brown, but the Broncos obviously see something in him that they really like.
One can assume that the Broncos felt another team ahead of them in the waive order would pounce on McManus, so they decided to make sure they got their man.
Brandon McManus' primary attribute: a cannon leg. 10 of 11 kickoffs this preseason were touchbacks. Hit both FG attempts this summer.— Andrew Mason (@MaseDenver) August 26, 2014
McManus has a very strong leg, which may be even stronger in the thin air of Denver, but he is coming to the Broncos on a very part-time deal.
Matt Prater will sit out the first four games of the season due to a violation of the league's substance abuse policy, and McManus will be tasked with having to hold down the fort until he gets back.
During his college career at Temple, McManus made just 72.3 percent of his kicks (60 of 83), but the Broncos may like him specifically for his ability to pound the ball out of the end zone on kickoffs.
Still, it seems just keeping Mitch Ewald around or bringing in the recently released (Pro Football Talk via ESPN's Adam Schefter) Jay Feely would have made just as much sense.
Andre Caldwell, Cody Latimer the Next Men Up
It remains unclear just how much time Wes Welker will miss due to his most recent concussion, but the Broncos have players who are ready and able to step into larger roles.
Andre Caldwell signed a new two-year deal in March and has caught 141 career passes, but he may be called on to play his biggest role in Denver since the team signed him as a free agent in 2012.
While Latimer wasn't seen as a need when the team drafted him in the second round, this is exactly why it did.
Welker missed three games last season, and despite being arguably the best slot receiver in NFL history, he has also become very fragile.
Latimer brings a combination of good hands, athleticism and great blocking ability that can efficiently replace Welker, if necessary.
|Wes Welker||Wide Receiver||Questionable (head)|
|Tony Carter||Defensive Back||Questionable (neck)|
*** Injury report via CBS Sports
The Broncos aren't reporting many injuries for this game, but we likely won't see any starters on the field anyway.
The fourth game of the preseason is one final evaluation period before final roster cuts are made.
Wes Welker will almost certainly sit this one out. At best, he will be back for the season opener against Indianapolis, but even that may be a stretch.
Ian Rapoport tweeted that Welker is doing great with the league's concussion protocol, but Denver has no reason to rush him back. Welker's career is at stake, and a decision whether or not to return to the field should be weighed heavily.
As for Carter, he was likely on the roster bubble at one point, but he has played well enough to make the final roster. It would make sense for him to sit this one out, unless the coaching staff feels he has more to prove.
X-Factors and Matchups to Watch
Isaiah Burse vs. Dallas' Kick Coverage
The door has been open this entire offseason for Isaiah Burse to prove he deserves a spot on the roster. He has yet to capitalize. Thursday night may be his last chance to do so.
Jordan Norwood had all but eliminated Burse from the roster with his performance during the preseason, but his season-ending injury changed things drastically.
Against Houston, Burse had four punt returns for 26 yards, including a long of 16 yards. This is something for him to build on.
The Broncos need a punt returner, but Burse has seemingly lacked confidence to this point. On Thursday, he has the ability to stick on the roster if he can break even one return for a big gain.
If nothing else, he'll make the coaching staff think long and hard.
Kapri Bibbs on Special Teams
Kapri Bibbs may be a promising running back in the future, but the only way he is making the roster is with a strong performance on special teams.
Bibbs led the nation in rushing touchdowns in 2013 at Colorado State, but the Broncos simply have too much talent at the running back position to keep him around.
Bibbs has made some tackles on kick coverage in preseason, and Denver fans will remember that a huge special teams tackle in a preseason game started the meteoric rise of Terrell Davis.
Even if Bibbs doesn't make the roster, a spot on the practice squad is likely.
Mitch Unrein vs. Dallas' Offensive Line
One of the most interesting questions the Broncos will answer when they make their final roster cuts is whether or not Mitch Unrein makes the team.
Unrein has been a steady reserve defensive tackle over the past two seasons for the Broncos, and that makes Thursday's game with Dallas a very important one for him.
Backup center Ronald Patrick and reserve guards Ronald Leary and John Wetzel are a few of the guys Unrein could be matched up against.
In order to hang onto his roster spot, Unrein needs to have a strong game.
Broncos' X-Factor Player: Jerome Murphy
Jerome Murphy will probably end up on the outside looking in following final roster cuts, but he'll have a big game Thursday against Dallas.
In a reserve role, Murphy has looked impressive at times this preseason. Against San Francisco, he played very well.
He had three tackles in that game, one for a loss, and he was instrumental in a goal-line stand toward the end of the game that allowed Denver to preserve the shutout.
On Thursday, look for him to make a final case to remain with the team by making plays all over the field against Dallas.
There is no more meaningless game in the NFL, in terms of wins and losses, than the last preseason game. It is a meaningful game for those players trying to make the final roster, however.
For players like Kapri Bibbs, Isaiah Burse, Mitch Unrein, Jameson Konz and Zac Dysert, it is an extremely important game.
Brock Osweiler should start the game, so it will be a great evaluation period for him as well. We will all get to see him in a role we're not accustomed to, and for Osweiler, it will be a chance to further show that he is the answer once Peyton Manning moves on.
It will also be the first look we get at Brandon McManus in a Denver uniform. He has a strong leg, but can he also be accurate? He will be one of the key players to watch Thursday night.
Roster evaluation and making the team are the key factors in the last preseason game, not wins and losses. With that said, the Broncos have so much more talent than the Cowboys.
Prediction: Broncos 23, Cowboys 13