Broncos-Cardinals: Things to Watch For in Denver's Pre-Season Finale

Sayre BedingerSenior Writer ISeptember 3, 2009

DENVER - AUGUST 30:  Quarterback Tom Brandstater #3 of the Denver Broncos drops back to pass against the Chicago Bears during preseason NFL action at INVESCO Field at Mile High on August 30, 2009 in Denver, Colorado. The Bears defeated the Broncos 27-17.  (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)

The Josh McDaniels era continues on Thursday night as the Denver Broncos host the Arizona Cardinals.

Unfortunately for McDaniels, he is still seeking that elusive first victory as an NFL head coach, and despite the fact that week four of the preseason is considered to be the most unimportant football game of the year, this particular matchup is very critical for the Broncos.

The new regime in Denver has not gotten off to the most promising start, and sitting on an 0-3 record this preseason, the starting offense has only scored 17 points in three contests.

With injuries to Kyle Orton and Chris Simms, rookie quarterback Tom Brandstater will be making his first career NFL start, but it remains to be seen if he will be joined by any other first team players.

The Broncos are holding out hope that first round pick Knowshon Moreno will get some playing time tonight although it has been reported that Correll Buckhalter will begin the season as the team's staring running back.

Here are some things to watch for in tonight's game:

  • Can Brandstater lead the Broncos to victory?  This is a huge game for Tom Brandstater.  He needs this experience in case he is called upon when the Broncos travel to Cincinnati on opening day.  The rookie out of Fresno State was less than impressive in his first appearance against Seattle, but settled in somewhat last week against the Bears, leading the offense to two touchdown drives.  This will be the final test for Brandstater, who likely will start the season on the practice squad, especially if the Broncos make a play for quarterback Kevin O'Connell who is a long-shot to make the Lions' final roster.
  • The Broncos' wide receiver situation should shape up tonight.  With Brandon Marshall's situation in question and Jabar Gaffney having broken his thumb, it will be interesting to see which wide receivers are kept on the 53 man roster.  Players on the bubble are veterans Brandon Lloyd and Chad Jackson, and rookie Kenny McKinley.  Jackson has been working with the first unit, but Lloyd and McKinley have been the ones making noise this preseason.  The Broncos easily go seven deep at the receiver position when fully healthy, but it remains to be seen whether or not they will keep seven on the final roster.  It will definitely be hard to lose any one of Brandon Marshall, Eddie Royal, Brandon Stokley, Jabar Gaffney, Chad Jackson, Brandon Lloyd, or Kenny McKinley.
  • Backup offensive linemen will be seriously tested.  They have been, for the most part this preseason, awful.  Russ Hochstein was acquired for depth, and it is likely the team will make quite a few cuts up front after tonight. 
  • The young defensive backs will have their time to shine tonight.  The Broncos are going to be facing Brian St. Pierre for most of the night tonight as Matt Leinart is out with an injury, and the likes of Josh Barrett, David Bruton, Alphonso Smith, Jack Williams, and Darcel McBath will have a chance to prove their worth on this team as backup defensive backs.
  • There is a chance we could have our second sighting of Knowshon Moreno.  His production in 2009 is huge.  The Broncos passed on a lot of defensive talent to acquire Moreno in the draft, and he needs to have a big year in this offense.  Likewise, it is going to be important for Robert Ayers to step up in this game.  He has not had an impressive preseason thus far.