Hello, Bronco fans! It always feels good to come away with a win, but it’s understandable that there will be concerns, particularly with how the Broncos couldn’t put away the Chargers when leading 24-7 in the fourth quarter.
However, we must always remember that Week One is the week in which you should be careful not to jump to conclusions about everything. There are a few things you can reasonably conclude after Week One, but the overwhelming majority can’t be concluded, because there are always going to be players who take time to develop or get comfortable alongside new teammates.
With that in mind, I’ll examine a few points about how the Broncos looked in their Monday night opener and which ones I think are indicative of how things will go this season and which ones I wouldn’t read too much into based on one game.
1. Trevor Siemian looked better Monday night than he did in last year’s season opener against the Panthers. The near pick-six that Casey Hayward dropped was certainly a bad decision and, regardless of what you think about defensive pass interference on the pass that was picked off (per Mike Pereira, it wasn’t DPI because it happened behind the line of scrimmage), that still wasn’t a good decision by Siemian. But he was more decisive on his other throws and he looked good overall. His willingness to attack downfield was a good sign and his throws had more zip to them. He’s trending in the right direction and I think it will continue.
2. It’s clear how much the run game missed the presence of CJ Anderson and Andy Janovich during the second half of last season. Anderson adds a spark that the other backs don’t have as much whether it’s due to age (Jamaal Charles), inexperience (DeAngelo Henderson, though he might get it down the road) or being strictly a rotational guy (Devontae Booker, though a fourth-round pick is expected to be a rotational guy at best with anything higher than that representing good value). And Janovich was instrumental in the Broncos having a better rushing attack in the first half of 2016 than in the second half. If they stay healthy, the Broncos should be much better at running the football. The other three backs might not be every-down guys, but they can at least add something as a rotational back.
3. While it was good to see Bennie Fowler have a good game, I’d temper my expectations a bit, not because of anything Fowler did wrong, but because if you were to take away the two touchdowns, his stat line looks a bit ordinary. We’ll know more about whether or not Fowler is the answer as the No. 3 wide receiver in games in which he’s targeted in more situations in which the Broncos need to move the chains. But I will give Fowler credit for getting open in the red zone twice.
4. Seeing the tight ends get more involved in the passing game was a good sign. The question that remains to be answered is if they can keep this up. A good sign was that A.J. Derby caught three passes on three targets, one that resulted in a first down. What this means for the long term, though, remains to be seen.
5. I can say with more confidence, though, that Garett Bolles should be fine. He did a great job of run blocking against San Diego and held his own in pass protection. San Diego has two quality pass rushers in Joey Bosa and Melvin Gordon and some of their younger guys can be disruptive, too. And I think Bolles will get better over time. He’s winning me over with his physical play and tenacity and, because he’s the type of player who wants to get better, I’m not worried about left tackle, as long as Bolles stays healthy.
6. But I can say with just as much confidence that Menelik Watson needs to do a better job than he did against San Diego. While it’s true that the Chargers have a good pass rush and that we knew pass protection was an issue with Watson, he gave up way too many pressures and struggled in run blocking, which is the area he is supposed to be good at. He has the next two games to get it together – the Cowboys aren’t as good at rushing the passer as they may appear to be, because the Giants offensive line is awful, and the Bills can’t rush the passer well. But then comes the Raiders and they can rush the passer. And Watson definitely needs to get it together in run blocking or it will be time to replace him. (Chad Jensen gets into this more here.)
7. As for the rest of the line, Matt Paradis continues to look like a long-term guy and Ronald Leary is, so far, living up to his contract. I’m still not sold on Max Garcia, but maybe he’ll get his act together – we have seen some good things from him before. I’m not as worried about Connor McGovern, because he’s a depth guy at this point, but I hope he doesn’t have to start too many games and that Leary’s concussion won’t keep him out for multiple games.
A general comment on the offensive line: The Broncos made not have done everything right in the offseason to address it, but they did more to address than the Giants, who stuck with mostly the same personnel they had last year. Even the Seahawks did more than the Giants, though I don’t think the Seahawks did as much as the Broncos – especially because I think Luke Joeckel is worse than anybody the Broncos have at this point.
But as for what I see for this season, I’m confident in Paradis, Leary and Bolles settling in, but skeptical about Garcia and concerned about Watson, with the last guy really needing to do better at run blocking if he’s going to stick around in the starting lineup.
8. I think we can all settle down about the defensive line. It was understandable people would be worried given the injuries during the preseason, but we saw some other guys step in and do their jobs well. The Chargers’ offensive line may not be good at run blocking, but you still need players who can get in there and make plays. Adam Gotsis did that several times. Whether Gotsis can keep it up remains to be seen.
As for the D-line as a whole, we’ll find out how good they are when they face Ezekiel Elliott. Against a very good Giants D-line, Elliott averaged 4.3 yards per carry. If the Broncos can hold him to 3.9 yards per carry or less, then we’ll have plenty of reason to feel good about this group, especially as other players get healthy.
9. I could watch Todd Davis’s fourth-down stop again and again. It’s true that Davis has issue with pass coverage, but his play against the run shows how valuable he is to the defense. I don’t think that’s going to change any time soon.
10. I think the second DPI call on Bradley Roby was borderline, but the first one was an easy call. With that said, on that first call, Roby had good coverage until Keenan Allen adjusted late and Roby didn’t respond quickly enough. We’ll see how he does against the Cowboys, in which he’s likely to match up against Cole Beasley and Terrance Williams on most plays. While neither is as good as Allen, Beasley is a better receiver than you may think, so Roby will need to play better. As far as what Week One means for Roby, I’m still in “wait and see” mode with him.
11. I’m hoping that Darian Stewart will get healthy because, while I thought Justin Simmons did a good job Monday, Stewart’s absence was felt late in the fourth quarter when the Broncos could have benefitted from some safety help.
12. Cody Latimer did some good things on special teams and he showed he could be effective as a kick returner, too. I think this trend of good special teams play will continue, although he may not get that many return chances. But a good season on special teams might make Latimer worthy of a low-cost extension, similar to what David Bruton got a few years ago.
As for this week’s game, I think the real challenges for the Broncos lie in containing Ezekiel Elliott, finding ways to create pressure against a good offensive line and taking care of the football. Had the Broncos not turned it over twice in the fourth quarter, pundits would certainly have different conversations about what this Broncos team might do this season.