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Five takeaways from the Broncos’ third preseason game

Zac Stevens Avatar
August 25, 2018

Not only was Friday night’s third preseason game the closest thing to regular season football in August, it was the final time most of the Denver Broncos’ starters will play.

And what a show the Broncos’ starters put on, beating Washington 29-17 in a game that wasn’t even that close.

Here are the five biggest takeaways from the Broncos’ most meaningful, and impressive, game of the preseason.

Denver’s got a lead back

The numbers don’t lie, and neither does the eye test, Royce Freeman is the Broncos’ lead running back.

Entering the team’s third preseason game, Freeman led the team in rushing attempts (10), rushing yards (58) and rushing touchdowns (2). He maintained that lead on Friday night, tacking on 26 yards on five carries and another touchdown.

Freeman has been a touchdown machine through the first three preseason games, scoring one in each game.

While Freeman wasn’t the first running back out of the gate—that honor went to Devontae Booker for a third-straight week—he outshined the veteran back for a third-straight week.

In practices and games, Freeman has been trending in the right direction. On Friday, Freeman confirmed it—he’s shown enough to be Denver’s lead back.

Look no further than his 24-yard touchdown run, where No. 37 showed all of the qualities wanted in a lead back—patience, vision and the ability to shed multiple tacklers.

Booker’s night was underwhelming—three carries for nine yards—although he did have a nice run called back due to holding by Matt Paradis.

After the game, head coach Vance Joseph said he’s “not concerned who is going to be the lead guy,” not giving any indication on if there’s been a change on the depth chart.

What appears to be clear is the Broncos will go running back by committee early on in the season.

What also appears to be clear is Freeman should be the starting running back. While Booker might be the first one on the field against the Seattle Seahawks, Freeman has shown enough on the field to be their lead back.

Broncos’ offensive line much improved

For the first time in many years, the phrase “the offensive line played great” has now been said out loud multiple weeks in a row. After Friday’s game, it was once again stated. Deservedly so.

In the first half, outside of a few poor plays, the Broncos’ offensive line looked dominant in both the run and pass.

After the first quarter, Denver’s rushing attack was averaging 6.2 yards per attempt, and at halftime, that number was an incredible 5.6.

In pass blocking, it was nearly as impressive, too. Keenum was able to consistently get through all of his reads as he stepped up in a clean pocket untouched.

“Even the sack, I think I could avoid it,” Keenum said about the big men up front. “I thought they played really, really well.”

Oh, don’t forget the Broncos were without their highest-paid offensive lineman, Ron Leary, too. In his place, Max Garcia put out another starter-quality performance.

While not technically a member of the offensive line, Andy Janovich had a heck of a game. Janovich—now clearly not on the roster bubble—had the key blocks on both of Denver’s first-team rushing touchdowns.

Lindsay a lock

There’s no doubt about it anymore, Phillip Lindsay will be on his hometown team’s final 53-man roster.

Lindsay’s performance—on offense and special teams—was impressive, but the coaches actions were even more telling.

On the team’s first drive, it was Lindsay who was on the field on the team’s second third-down attempt. If that wasn’t enough, Keenum trusted the undrafted back enough to throw it his way on a crucial down.

The result was a gain of 18 and a Broncos first down.

Then, on the team’s second drive of the night, Lindsay was the first running back to get a carry. By that point in the game, Lindsay’s future with the team was all but wrapped up—write it in sharpie, he’s making the squad.

But the 5-foot-8 running back didn’t stop there.

He was consistently the first one down the field as a gunner on special teams, even making a tackle on kick coverage in the first quarter. He added an excellent block in the backfield on Emmanuel Sanders 33-yard catch, allowing time for Keenum to deliver the ball.

Because of his stature, it’s easy to call Lindsay a one-dimensional back, but he’s proved that’s not true.

The Colorado product—in more ways than one—can run through the tackles, outside the tackles, catch the ball out of the backfield and pass protect.

He’ll also be on the Broncos in 2018.

Meet No. 35

No Su’a Cravens, no Will Parks, no Jamal Carter, no problem, according to second-year safety Dymonte Thomas.

As one of three Thomas’ on the roster entering the night, Dymonte had the least experience of the three as well as the least professional notoriety.

He did his best to change that dialogue on Friday night.

Thomas didn’t just have the second-most tackles on the team, he had the most important tackles.

In the first quarter, on 4th-and-3 from Denver’s 27, Thomas brought down Vernon Davis immediately after he caught a three-yard pass, preventing the tight end from picking up the first down and forcing a turnover on downs.

Then, Thomas brought down Kapri Bibbs one-yard shy of the markers on third down, forcing a Washington punt.

If that wasn’t enough, Thomas made an excellent read and tackle on Alex Smith on a quarterback read on third down, stopping Washington’s drive in Denver territory.

In the pass game, Thomas was just as impressive, too.

Not only did the University of Michigan product have a pass breakup on third down, he had excellent coverage on tight ends all night, forcing Washington’s quarterbacks to throw the ball away.

The most impressive part of Thomas’ night was he was playing a position, dime linebacker, he only had two practices in leading up to the third preseason game.

Typically a deep safety, Thomas moved to dime backer in preparation for Friday night’s game after Parks suffered a knee contusion in the second preseason game.

Thomas played in three games during his rookie year and spent the rest of his season on the team’s practice squad.

Friday night, he made a strong push for the 53.

Lockup the backup

In the first two preseason games, Chad Kelly was flashy and exciting, taking Broncos Country by storm.

On Friday night, Kelly was efficient and vanilla. And that’s the exact flavor the customer—Denver’s coaching staff—ordered.

Outside of one throw—when he tried to toss a pass over a defender’s head to Tim Patrick—Kelly looked like an ideal backup quarterback.

His stat sheet didn’t blow anyone away—7-for-11 for 70 yards and an 81.6 passer rating—but he went a perfect 3-for-3 in leading his team to scoring drives.

One of his incompletions was a nearly-perfect pass in the back right corner of the end zone to Brian Parker that slipped right through the tight end’s hands. If Parker would have held onto the ball, there may just be people in Denver calling for Kelly to not just be the backup, but the starter.

The most impressive part of Kelly’s night was the lack of turnovers and the efficiency—two ideal traits for a backup quarterback.

Through three games, No. 6 has done nearly everything asked of him on the field, yet after the game, Joseph maintained his “we’ll see” approach when asked if Kelly will be the team’s backup quarterback Week 1.

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