The NFL Preseason 2011 kicks off tonight with four games across the league. Here are my live thoughts on the preseason opener for the Denver Broncos and the Dallas Cowboys. A lot has been made of the quarterback battle between Kyle Orton and Tim Tebow for the Broncos, and this will be our first chance to see both players in actions.
The Dallas Cowboys are looking to bounce back from a disappointing 2010 season, and their first full season under new coach Jason Garrett, and to get comfortable without some of their vets they released earlier this month. For the latest updates, refresh the page.
The Denver Broncos looked a little bit better than expected on their opening drive. They were able to use a good series of runs by Knowshon Moreno to get all the way down to first-and-goal at the one. But Denver got away from the run right then and there, and after a few incompletions, they had to settle for a field goal. Overall, the running game looked crisp. Regardless, it's 3-0 Denver. On the first drive under new Defensive Coordinator Rob Ryan, the Cowboys defense bends, but doesn't break.
The Cowboys took over with about 8 minutes to go in the first and wasted no time trying to answer. Romo found an easy short dump to Jason Witten and then Felix Jones was able to bust an 18-yard run. That was quickly followed by a screen to Jones, and the Cowboys were down all the way inside the 30. A couple of incompletions stalled out the Cowboys as well, and they had to settle for a field goal. Both teams have touched the ball, and we are knotted 3-3 with four minutes to go. It will be interesting to see if Kyle Orton comes back out for more action.
The Cowboys kicker looked good on the kickoff putting it five yards or so into the Broncos endzone, but these guys are trying to make the team, so they return it out, but only to the 14. Tim Tebow and the second team hit the field. Tebow is able to mix in a completion, a defensive pass interference penalty and a sack while a trio of running backs all handle the rock. The quarter ends with the drive stalling out on their own 32-yard line. The second team started well but couldn't keep their rhythm and will have to punt.
END OF FIRST QUARTER
The Cowboys come out answering with their second team, so Romo will finish his night 3 for 5 for 33 yards. Kitna fires with his first pass 14 yards to J. Phillips. A little confusion by the second team causes Dallas to burn their first timeout. The Broncos defensive line shows they aren't disciplined yet, and they hand the Cowboys a first down via encroachments. Kitna looks sharp with a couple of 8- or 9-yard passes, but the Cowboys aren't able to convert a first down near midfield to bring out Mat McBriar once again. It's fair caught at the ten, and Tebow and company will have to start at the shadow of their goal line.
After a short run, the Broncos run a play action, and Tebow is able to find Willis for a 43-yard completion. In the following play, Tebow is able to stand in there and take a monster hit from a Cowboy defender for a 12-yard completion to the halfback. So much for a guy who can't play a lick in this league. A couple of short runs, followed by a penalty, put the Broncos in third-and-11 from the Cowboys' 31, Tebow is able to complete it for 7 yards. The Broncos would settle for a 42-yard field goal and take a 6-3 lead with seven minutes to go before the half.
Stephen McGee out of Texas A&M is now in for the Cowboys and immediately carries the ball for a few yards and draws a late hit call. McGee didn't even seem like he was looking to pass; it could have been a flat-out run call. Romo and Kitna only took one possession each. After a couple of runs, the Cowboys o-line leaves McGee hanging out to dry, and he's sacked. A quick possession lost for the Cowboys. Good thing the third team doesn't need to take any snaps in the regular season. McBriar looks good again on the punt and pins the Broncos back to their 12 1/2-yard line.
Tebow hands off on the first play, and the Cowboys do a good job wrapping up and keeping it to only a yard gain. Another short run. Neither running games look overly strong thus far, quite a bit or one- to three-yard gains. Tebow, under pressure, finds David Anderson among four Dallas defenders for the Broncos' first down. Tebow looks crisp and has already completed a good number of passes. A couple of runs later, we find ourselves at the two-minute warning.
Tebow has started the game five for five passing. On third-and-16 with a little under two minutes to go, he is flushed out of the pocket and forced to run for the first time. He is able to pick up twelve yards, but can't move the chains. The Broncos are forced to punt. The Cowboys' attempt a two-minute offense with Stephen McGee, but he almost immediately throws a pick, and the Broncos take it to the Cowboys' 10-yard line.
Tebow comes on the field and runs a quarterback draw into the endzone for a touchdown, but it's called back because of holding. An incompletion, a short draw play and crazy illegal-man-down-field penalty stall out any hopes of getting it into the endzone. Just a very ugly play by Tebow that shows his inexperience. That might have worked in the SEC against Vanderbilt, but not in the NFL, even against the Cowboys. Prater lines up for a 26-yard field goal and nails it. Denver takes a 9-3 lead into the half.
Overall in the first half, both teams looked a little sluggish, which is to be expected after having no OTAs this offseason. They both appeared to be running rather generic plays and not showing too much. Expect both Stephen McGee and Brady Quinn to get a lot of second-half action. Thanks for following the first half with me.