Denver Broncos vs Pittsburgh Steelers: What Denver Fans Need to Watch
As the Denver Broncos enter week three of the preseason without a victory, fans are still left with plenty to ponder concerning the start of the regular season.
Although preseason records don't mean much in the long run, it would be nice for Denver to end a game on top before they strap it on when it actually counts.
Through an injury-riddled preseason as well as another questionable offseason, the Broncos have taken a formidable offense and a Dr. Jekyl/Mr. Hyde defense and shifted into what you see today.
Here are 10 things Denver Broncos fans should keep an eye on throughout the course of this game (that is thankfully broadcasted on national television).
10. Eddie Royal Returns To Glory
Many will argue that Eddie Royal was the biggest victim of the Jay Cutler trade, and those of us that drafted him early in our fantasy drafts last year would probably agree.
However, it is tough to accurately predict how wide receivers will do under a new coach, a new offense, and of course a new quarterback.
With a year under his belt with all three, I look for McDaniels to set Royal loose in the slot and be the Wes Welker type guy that we have all expected him to be.
Now that McDaniels has drafted Decker and Thomas to wreck havoc on the outside, Royal should duck and dodge his way through the middle of the field as a possession receiver on those critical third and shorts that Denver seemed to never figure out last year.
If Royal can return to form against a strong Steeler defense, Denver faithful should take this as an indication that Royal is back on track for another huge year.
9. The Rookie Receivers
Josh Mcdaniels did a great job of replacing Brandon Marshall, assuming Eric Decker and Demaryius Thomas fully recover from their foot injuries. Decker was a late round steal for Denver as a result of this injury, and has worked to recover nicely.
Thomas, however, has seemed to aggravate his foot injury and may continue to see limited preseason snaps. This isn't what you want out of your number one draft pick this late in the preseason, especially when you just shipped off one of the better receivers in the league.
Decker has taken advantage of his opportunities, catching 5 balls for 66 yards. Watch for Decker to get more looks against the Steelers, especially as a downfield threat if Thomas isn't going to make it back right away.
If Decker can't stretch the field for Orton, the Broncos need to find somebody that will.
8. The Backfield
For most of the Shanahan era the Denver backfield was a breeding ground of 1000-yard rushers. Behind a quick and agile line, Shanahan routinely churned out quality backs to give Denver a top rushing attack year after year.
Lately it seems that Denver can't find a back to stay healthy, let alone run for 1,000 yards.
Shanahans last year saw the Broncos get to their seventh back as they sustained injury after injury. McDaniels hoped to remedy this problem by drafting the best running backs in the 2009 draft in Knowshon Moreno.
After hurting himself in his first preseason game last year, Moreno went on to lead all rookies in rushing, with 947 yards. Moreno is at it again, hurting himself the first week of camp and not even making it to the first preseason game. He has 0 touches thus far.
Look for the Bronco backs getting the touches to make a name for themselves, as they are fighting desperately for a roster spot.
Running yards don't come easy against a Steeler defense, so look for this game as an indication of how strong Denvers running attack will actually be. Bruce Hall, Justin Fargas, Lance Ball, Kyle Eckel, and LenDale White will all be fighting for a spot, as Moreno and Buckhalter are safe for now.
7. The Pass Rush
After news broke regarding Elvis Dumervil's torn pectoral muscle, the Denver faithful breathed a sigh of defeat. You don't replace the league leading pass rusher overnight, or even over the course of a year.
Big Ben is notorious for being difficult to bring down, as he is both large and agile, although his tendency to scramble puts him into increased sack situations.
Look for Jarvis Moss and Robert Ayers to step up and fill the void that Dumervil's injury left. Without consistent pressure on the Quarterback, the aging Denver secondary cannot maintain their coverages throughout the game, as well as the season.
Moss has seen limited time this preseason due to an ankle injury, though managed to play in game 2 against Detroit. Thus far he has one sack, one tackle, and one forced fumble.
Ayers has also been battling injuries and currently has .5 sacks so far this year. Both Ayers and Moss combined for their careers have a total of 3.5 sacks.
If Denver can get to Big Ben and bring him down, that should give the Defense a glimmer of hope for the year to come.
6. Ryan Clady
The only thing worse than hearing that one of your Pro-Bowl players may be out for the season is hearing that both of your Pro-Bowl players are out for the season.
Although Dumervil's status remains uncertain, Clady has come back much earlier than expected.
Clady is practicing up to full speed and fully expects to be ready for opening day in Jacksonville. Look for Clady to anchor a line thats rebuilding from its own injuries and issues.
Last year the offensive line began to fall apart, allowing pressure to get to Orton, as well as crumbling in front of Knowshon Moreno.
If the O-line looks solid against Pittsburgh, and Clady can return to his Pro Bowl form by protecting Orton's blindside, the Broncos should have a much improved offense.
5. Brady Quinn
Brady Quinn has been fighting for a roster sport since the day he entered the NFL, and don't expect that to change anytime soon. Last year there were cries of injustice in regard to Quinn as many argued he had poor coaching, no O-line, and no talent to throw to. That has all changed.
Coach McDaniels is an offensive-minded creature, and he has created a beast in the making.
With Gaffney, Royal, Thomas, Decker, and Stokley to throw to there is no reason Quinn shouldn't improve considerably upon his years in Cleveland.
He is also throwing behind a much improved offensive line. Something tells me if he can't make it in Denver he probably won't make it anywhere.
4. The Aging Secondary
Bringing in Brian Dawkins last year was one of my most recent favorite acquisitions in Denver history. Yes, I know he's old. My favorite thing about Dawkins is the leadership that he brings, and that speaks much louder than his physical abilities on the field (which are still beastly).
Champ Bailey is also another year older, and eventually their durability is going to decrease.
Dawkins missed some time last year due to an injury, and during the snaps he was on the sidelines the Denver D got passed on like it was going out of style. Champ has also missed time in the past due to groin and leg issues.
Look for the Denver secondary to continue to work hard and maintain their dominance as long as they can stay healthy. Champ Bailey has shown flashed of his former self this preseason, so look for that to lead the Denver D past Big Ben and the Steelers.
3. Tim Tebow
After doing what everyone said he couldn't do in game one, Tebow managed to injure himself and spend some time on the sideline trying to heal.
Josh McDaniels is still on the fence about playing Tebow in this game, as he is not yet practicing with full contact.
If Tebow gets into the game look for him to pass more and run less. However, if I am Josh Mcdaniels I am not taking away Tebow's greatest threat, his legs. I'm calling a 1st play designed run to get tebow re-acclimated to the NFL, get that initial first hit over with again, and move on.
Tebow haters love the fact that he sat out game 2 "hurt"...though McDaniel had every right to be cautious.
He will have minimal impact this year as long as Orton remains healthy, however may find himself as the backup if he gets an opportunity in the next 2 games to prove he deserves it.
Look for Tebow to come out swinging against the Steelers, to silence the critics, and to show McDaniels that he is ready for the NFL, even if it is as the second QB on the depth chart.
Keep an eye on his mechanics to see if he reverts back, or if he can shake free of his bad habits and start developing into a pure pocket passer.
2. Kyle Orton's Chemistry
Now on the second year of coach McDaniel's system, Orton appears to be making drastic strides running it effectively.
After a dismal preseason last year followed by what many would call a breakout year for Orton, many have high hopes that he can improve on what he's already doing well.
Most people would argue that Kyle Orton isn't anything special. He's a game manager. He doesn't take big shots down the field. He will dink and dunk all day.
To be fair, he was playing on two bum ankles last year along with learning a new offense. Now that he's healthy, he's showing everyone that he was an unbelievable acquisition concerning what we gave up, as well as what we got in return.
Kyle Orton's chemistry with his receivers this far has been excellent. In 2 games he is 24-35 with 261 yards, four touchdowns and one interception.
He has also only been sacked once, which means he's either getting the ball out quickly, he's more mobile on his feet, or both. His lowest QB rating thus far has been 107.6, while topping out at 119.9.
I look forward to seeing Orton throw for over 4,000 yards this year, as he has one of the better wide-receiver corps to target with Gaffney, Royal, Thomas, Decker, and Stokley.
1. Coach McDaniels
When I first heard we had hired Josh McDaniels as our coach, I got really excited at the idea of Jay Cutler, Brandon Marshall, and Eddie Royal doing roughly what Tom Brady, Randy Moss, and Wes Welker did a year before that; basically throw 50 passing touchdowns. Flash forward 2 years, and I'm still waiting for a dominant passing offense, though with new faces.
I look forward to seeing McDaniels gameplan as well as his play-calling this year. We know Orton doesn't have the strongest arm in the world, but he is certainly capable of making throws longer than the 10-yard slants, or drop back screens we are accustomed to seeing.
Last year seemed like it was difficult for McDaniels to adjust and find answers. When we couldn't run the ball, we tried to throw it. When that didn't work, we tried to throw it slightly shorter.
When that didn't work, we tried even less, throwing the screen passes. When that didn't work on 3rd and short we tried to run it-and got stuffed every single time.
Look for McD to throw a curve or two, and hopefully on third and short he throws a bomb to Decker down the sideline, or at least finds an answer to 3rd and 1. Last year he couldn't.
If the Broncos can keep their defense steady with their new Coordinator Don Martindale, they should be good enough to keep Denver in the Division. They definitely have the talent, veteran leadership, and hungry rookies to win quite a few games.
If the offense can take McDaniels system with another year under their belts and stay healthy, I'm looking at them winning at least eight games.
It seems like everyone has already forgotten about last years 3-4 win predictions and the fact that Denver doubled that, as most analysts put us on the board around that same total if not less.
This will be the Broncos first real test all preseason, as the starters are seeing more and more time, and the backups are getting less time to shine. We are in the fine tuning phase of the season, and with this game on National Television, I'll definitely be tuning in.