The Denver Broncos just completed their third preseason affair in a 29-24 loss to the San Francisco 49ers. Despite the loss, and yet again, underwhelming performance by most of the backups, there were so many overwhelming positive signs to take from this game. With Peyton Manning and the starters in the game, the Broncos took a 17-0 lead, and dominated the NFC's runner-ups from 2011 up until Manning called it a day in the second quarter.
First of all, let's give some kudos to Peyton Manning. If there was a game ball to give to anybody in this game, it has to be Manning. He went 10/12 for 122 yards and two touchdowns with no turnovers for the first time all preseason. All three of Manning's drives resulted in scores.
Manning took hits, took hits while completing passes, and had two nice connections to Eric Decker for touchdowns that showed Manning's anticipation and touch are still in place. There was nothing for me to gripe about Manning's performance. He looked every bit the quarterback that he did in Indianapolis. With Manning and a lot of the starters likely to sit out in the preseason finale vs. Arizona, Manning and the Broncos couldn't of had a better preseason send-off than what we saw today.
Having said that, Manning, Decker and most of the starting receivers looked good. Joel Dreessen was able to haul in a touchdown from Caleb Hanie late in the first half to put the Broncos up 24-10.
The defense started out well, but fizzled a little as the game progressed. The one big blemish of the Broncos' starting defense throughout the first half was following the failed onside kick attempt. The Niners took over at the DEN 44 and Alex Smith promptly threw a 44 yard touchdown pass to Vernon Davis along the left sideline when Safety Rahim Moore failed to cover ground on time in order to prevent the completion from happening.
Plays such as that from Moore cannot happen. It happened often in his rookie season in 2012 and if he wants to retain a starting spot in the lineup, he must refrain from giving up huge plays such as that one to Davis.
Once again, the starters looked good. Outside of the 44 yard touchdown pass to Davis, I can't gripe too much about the starters' performances.
The backups on the other hand, laid a dud for the second straight week. In the second half alone, the Broncos were outscored 19-0. So that means for the second straight week, the Broncos' backups failed to score in the second half. That is simply unacceptable, and exposes the lack of depth on Denver's roster.
Brock Osweiler went 4/9 for 27 yards, had four drives to work with, and failed to lead the Broncos past the DEN 45. He looked out of rhythm, couldn't establish continuity with his receivers, and even had passes batted down at the line of scrimmage despite being 6'7".
Adam Weber took over for the last two drives, and you can't really grade his performance. A good amount of his snaps took place at the end of the game, with the Broncos taking over at their own 1-yard-line, and the Niners playing in prevent defense and allowing Weber to complete passes to his running backs in the flats.
Having covered Osweiler and Weber, as it stands right now, the backup quarterback spot is Hanie's to win. Was he impressive vs. San Francisco? No. But he did rebound from an interception to lead the Broncos down the field, where he would eventually lead them to a touchdown to end the first half. That was against a second-string defense, while Osweiler failed to move the Broncos down the field period, against second and third-stringers.
The defense played porous in the second half. They simply gave up one too many long runs on missed tackles and gap assignments.
So how can I conclude this postgame analysis simply? The starters were great. The backups were terrible.
With the backups playing most of the preseason finale vs. Arizona, let's hope it's better than what we've seen from them in the past two weeks where the offense has combined for zero total points.
Be sure to check out other great articles at Sports Media 101.