The Morning After: Early Broncos Impressions

Good afternoon, Broncos fans! It always feels good to start a season at 2-0, especially when there were a lot of skeptics, doubters and cynics out there who thought the Broncos were destined to struggle because they didn’t have a top QB and their defense couldn’t possibly be as good as it was last year.

Through two games, we know that the Broncos are having a few growing pains, but the defense overall remains strong and the offense has shown it can do some good things. And while there’s a lot of football left to be played, it’s becoming clearer that the Broncos have the makings of being a playoff contender again this year.

Let’s look at each area of the team and address what might be some of the concerns with each at this point.

Quarterback: Some will argue it’s still too difficult to judge Trevor Siemian, given that he faced a team with a depleted secondary and a weak pass rush. He is coming off a game in which he faced a team with a strong pass rush and an inexperienced secondary, but I think there’s enough to judge him for what he is. I would describe him as somebody who doesn’t really have the makings of an elite quarterback, but is a good fit for Gary Kubiak’s offense and hasn’t reached his ceiling yet.

In yesterday’s game, there were a few plays that showed he still has plenty to learn but should grow with experience. On the opening drive, on third-and-two at the Colts’ 36, he didn’t get out of the pocket quick enough when it collapsed; otherwise, he would have been able to run for the first down. His one interception came when Darius Butler appeared to be coming in for a blitz, but saw the play develop (bubble screen to Emmanuel Sanders) and got a hand on the ball. But he was generally good with his reads otherwise.

The difference between Siemian and last year’s version of Peyton Manning is that Siemian should continue improving and be an upgrade at quarterback, even if Siemian isn’t the future of the franchise. That’s all the Broncos can ask for this season.

Running back: I play a fantasy football pool with a retired high school basketball coach who is a good friend of mine. A thought crossed my mind about putting CJ Anderson down as one of my running backs, but I passed on him for Todd Gurley. Now I’m regretting that. Anderson looks much better this season, between him being healthy to start the season and Kubiak able to implement the offense the way he wants it to be.

Devontae Booker bounced back from a rough Week One and showed he can be a good change-of-pace back. Kubiak was right to be patient with him and you can tell anyone who was debating that Kapri Bibbs should leap ahead of Booker can settle down now. (Keep in mind that’s not a knock on Bibbs, but a knock on anyone who jumped to conclusions because Booker fumbled on his first NFL carry.)

BTW, it’s nice to see that Andy Janovich can even get involved as a receiver.

Wide receiver: I don’t doubt that Demaryius Thomas’ hip injury is bothering him, given that he wasn’t quite at full speed on the bubble screen on which he has usually scored when he breaks into the open field. With that said, he can’t blame his one dropped pass on the hip injury. However, put the dropped pass aside and he played well. It’s possible he would have had a couple more big gains were it not for pass interference calls.

What was nice to see is the depth the Broncos have at the position. Cody Latimer, Jordan Norwood and Jordan Taylor all made good plays to extend drives. Imagine how much better the receiving corps will be once Bennie Fowler is healthy.

Tight end: It’s understandable there may be concerns at this position with Virgil Green dealing with an injury, but I trust the coaching staff will be cautious with him. If necessary, the Broncos can always Henry Krieger-Coble from the practice squad for a week, especially if Jeff Heuerman isn’t ready to play against Cincinnati.

Offensive line: To think the O-line was a concern last year but is turning into a strength. Darrion Weems wasn’t a standout when he had to fill in for Donald Stephenson, but he was effective enough. Michael Schofield looks more comfortable with the scheme. Max Garcia still needs a little work, but I believe he will continue to improve.

By far, though, the best linemen have been Russell Okung and Matt Paradis. Okung is a great fit for the scheme and, as long as he continues playing at a high level, he’ll be worth the team option to keep him for at least two more years. And those who thought Paradis would be a good fit for the scheme can pat themselves on the back for their foresight. If he keeps this up, he’d have a good case to be named to the Pro Bowl.

Defensive line: Derek Wolfe was fine this past Sunday. I’d chalk that up to the Broncos being smart with his neck injury. What’s been good about Kubes and his staff is they aren’t working players too hard if they are battling with injuries. That’s especially a good thing when it comes to players like Wolfe. And Jared Crick looks like the latest in a series of great value free agent signings. He may not have a sack, but he’s creating pressure and forces teams to account for him as much as they account for the usual suspects.

Outside linebacker: Les Shapiro has reported that DeMarcus Ware will need surgery on his broken forearm. Whether or not he should go on injured reserve with the possibility of being brought back, I’m not sure. If he’s only going to miss a couple of weeks, it’s better not to move him to IR, but if they expect him to miss six or more games, then make the move. In the meantime, we’ve seen noticeable improvement from Shane Ray, so it should be easier for the Broncos to overcome Ware’s absence.

By the way, yesterday’s game was a good example of why the Broncos paid Von Miller all that money. It was also a good example of why Dekoda Watson made the final cut, given how good he was on special teams (did you notice he almost blocked a punt?).

Inside linebacker: Todd Davis has been great the first two games and looks like he’s more than ready to replace Danny Trevathan. Give credit to the Broncos for finding quality players and developing them.

Cornerback: Yeah, I’d say Aqib Talib is back to fine form. I will say that the defensive holding call against him was questionable, but it seemed like the referees were calling it tight yesterday. (Yes, the Colts had at least a couple of questionable calls against them, too.)

Safety: I don’t think Darian Stewart is a dirty player but he showed yesterday why just running head-on into players isn’t the wisest move. I’m not referring to his penalty against Andrew Luck (although Stewart probably shouldn’t have reached out his arm as early as he did) but to his attempt to knock Frank Gore out of bounds instead of just wrapping him up. The latter might have prevented the touchdown, but the former was not going to get it done.

Going back to the defensive holding calls, the one against T.J. Ward was the correct call and kept the Colts’ first drive of the second half alive. (And then there was the Andrew Luck run on third and 20, in which the Broncos in coverage all either followed a receiver or were downfield and in no position to stop Luck). But Ward more than made up for it when, on third and five at the Colts’ 30-yard line early in the fourth quarter, he saw Andrew Luck’s screen pas to Josh Ferguson and was right there for the tackle, preventing a third-down conversion and forcing a punt. Heads-up plays like that make a difference.

Coaching: No, I don’t think Kubes was too conservative, although I can see the argument for going for it in one of the fourth-and-short situations.

The first one was a toss-up. It was the opening drive and the Colts would have received good field position if the Broncos failed to convert, plus you have no way of knowing what would happen afterward if you went for it and got it. It wasn’t like this was fourth-and-two at the two-yard line on the opening drive, in which case you want to go for it because, if you don’t get it, you pin the Colts deep in their own territory.

The second one, however, is more understandable because going for it and getting it at least allows you to kill the clock. If you don’t get it, the Colts had still used their last time out and would have been eight yards further back than they would have been on a kickoff for a touchback.

I know many will talk about the odds of converting and things like that, but the game situation is important, too. In the first case, it’s not clear the Broncos would have gained a lot by going for it. In the second case, though, there’s more evidence that the gains from going for it outweighed the gains of kicking the field goal.

And a few other notes in case you are interested:

The AFC West: I think the Raiders are still the biggest threat in the division, even if their defense isn’t as good as some people thought it would be. Keep in mind, though, that even the best pass rushers need help. Khalil Mack is still a top-10 pass rusher, but he doesn’t yet have a teammate who can complement his pass-rushing ability. That isn’t the case with Von Miller (Derek Wolfe, Shane Ray, a healthy DeMarcus Ware) or JJ Watt (Jadeveon Clowney is playing better and the Texans have a couple other players who are developing). Additionally, the Raiders’ secondary has some issues.

The Chiefs are the team I still think will regress this season. They have looked inconsistent in both of their games, even if they managed to come from behind to beat the Chargers. They have a rookie guard and center Mitch Morse doesn’t look as sharp as he was last year. Without Justin Houston, they have no pass rush. And while Marcus Peters is a good player, I don’t think he has the makings of a true No. 1 cornerback. He looks more like a player who is at his best when paired with a cornerback of similar ability.

The Chargers might not finish with a losing record this year, but I don’t think they’re in position to challenge the Broncos. I don’t trust that offensive line. If the Chiefs had Justin Houston when they played San Diego last year, they might have gotten to Phillip Rivers more often. The Chargers look a little better on defense than I thought they would be, though.

Brock Osweiler: I watched the Chiefs-Texans yesterday and I think the best remark to sum up his play came from Vince Verhei at Football Outsiders: He throws it to his first read whether the player is open or not. He challenged Marcus Peters often and, while he won several of those challenges, Osweiler’s first interception was a bad decision and his second came when he was hit as he threw, but Peters had good coverage. Osweiler is definitely an upgrade over what the Texans had last year, but he’s still a work in progress. While it would have been nice if the Broncos had retained him, we’d probably see similar growing pains from him like we are seeing with Siemian right now.

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Bob Morris

I'm a sports writer in real life, though I've always focused on smaller communities, but that hasn't stopped me from learning more about some of the ins and outs of the NFL. You can follow me on Twitter @BobMorrisSports if you can put up with updates on the high school sports teams I cover.