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Starters step up, but Broncos drop second preseason game to Bears

Henry Chisholm Avatar
August 19, 2018

Seconds after a “Lowering the Head to Initiate Contact” call almost won the Broncos a football game, an Isaiah McKenzie fumble lost it. Here come the riots.

Paxton Lynch was at the helm of a potential game-winning series following a long touchdown drive by Chase Daniel’s Bears. Denver picked up half of what they needed on a 3rd-and-15 from their own 39 with a minute left, down by one, but was bailed out by the penalty which would have set up a 55-yard, game-winning field goal attempt.

Lynch threw a screen pass to McKenzie who was tied up when the ball was knocked out of his hands and into the hands of Chicago’s Isaiah Irving. Denver had a chance on a last-ditch punt return, but River Cracraft couldn’t pull through.

The Broncos lost 24-23, but the result doesn’t tell the full story. Denver’s starters took a massive step forward in their second game, both offensively and defensively. The end of the bench just couldn’t hold up their end.

The scoring started when, halfway through the first quarter, Bears quarterback Mitch Trubisky dropped an on-target shotgun snap while standing in the end zone. By the time he gathered the ball, rookie linebacker Bradley Chubb was on top of him for a safety and his first NFL sack.

The sack-safety may be a flukey play, but the Broncos’ starting defense deserved the result. After a weak showing against the Vikings, the Broncos dominated the Bears at the line of scrimmage. Running backs found zero running lanes inside and few on the edge, Trubisky had no time to throw, and farther down the field, receivers had little space to work with. The only group that gave the Broncos fits, as was the case during joint practices and much of last season, was the tight ends.

Trey Burton was the Bears’ second-leading receiver—behind former-Bronco Bennie Fowler III—with 45 yards and a touchdown on four catches. Adam Shaheen was solid early on with five yards on a screen pass, but left the game early due to an ankle injury. He sustained the injury on a hit from Isaac Yiadom, who was handed one of three 15-yard illegal use of helmet penalties in the game.

Yiadom’s performance was similar to last week’s against Minnesota; he was rarely out of position in coverage, but it was equally rare he was able to stop the receiver from catching the ball. The third-round pick also drew a 37-yard pass interference penalty in the first quarter and three plays later, the Bears took a 7-5 lead.

Outside of their tight end struggles, the Broncos’ starters looked solid defensively and only allowed seven points on four drives. The return of Von Miller and Todd Davis played a big part.

Miller played the first three of the starters’ four series and didn’t show any signs of rust. He found his way into the backfield virtually at will, and his presence drew the false start penalty that set up Chubb’s safety.

Davis also played well in his return. On one 3rd-and-11, the Bears threw a screen pass to Tarik Cohen with three linemen out in front. Davis was hit by one at the line to gain, but fought off the block and stepped in front of the running back, who was running near full-speed, stopping him dead in his tracks.

At least once, Davis took Brandon Marshall’s place on the field as the third-down inside linebacker. That play was also our first look at an almost-NASCAR package. Seven players lined up on the line of scrimmage: Miller, Shelby Harris, Davis, Will Parks, Derek Wolfe, Chubb and Bradley Roby. Some stood in two-point stances, some planted their hand in the dirt. Some rushed the passer, and some dropped back in coverage. Roby was unblocked off the edge, and his pressure forced the incompletion from Trubisky and subsequent punt. 

The creativity carried over to the offense, as well: Denver’s second offensive play was a flea flicker. Keenum handed the ball off to Royce Freeman, who pitched it back to the quarterback. Keenum was forced to avoid pressure in the pocket and couldn’t get a clean pass away, and the ball floated too far in front of a wide-open DaeSean Hamilton.

The accuracy issues followed Keenum for most of the night. He threw a few beautiful passes—either taking advantage of tight windows or putting the ball in front of his receiver and giving him a chance to keep running—but there were just as many misfires. He had Emmanuel Sanders open in the end zone 20-something yards downfield but couldn’t hit him. He missed Sanders on a short, third-down out route that would have picked up a first down. He missed him a third time on another out route farther downfield.

Despite his flaws, Keenum engineered two scoring drives—and 11 points—in three attempts. One was nine plays and 82 yards, the other was 10 plays for 52 yards. He did that without much help from the running backs.

Royce Freeman and Devontae Booker got most of the work with the starters, and Phillip Lindsay received a few reps as well. Freeman scored a touchdown, but no Broncos back managed three yards per carry with the starters.

De’Angelo Henderson and David Williams had lackluster nights, Booker had 17 yards on four carries, and Royce Freeman had six carries for 20 yards. Phillip Lindsay had the best night of the group, though mostly against lesser competition, with 32 yards on six carries.

Chad Kelly came out firing again in his second NFL appearance, leading a seven-play, 44-yard touchdown drive the first time he saw the field, extending the lead to 20-7. It ended with a 16-yard strike to Courtland Sutton up the seam, who drew a 45-yard pass interference penalty earlier in the game.

The second-year quarterback kept it up throughout the night, with outstanding passes to Tim Patrick and Brian Parker, but he wasn’t perfect. On third-and-four, forty-five yards from the end zone, Patrick had a step on the cornerback on a fade route down the sideline. Kelly left the ball just inches in front of his outstretched hands, but the Broncos had to punt, instead of extending their 13-point lead and virtually ending the game.

That was one of two misses for Kelly, who completed seven of nine passes for 90 yards and a touchdown. That’s a 145.4 quarterback rating, putting him within 13 points of a perfect score.

Kelly’s new backup, Paxton Lynch, didn’t fare as well. The former first-round pick couldn’t lead a scoring drive in for tries and only completed 5 of his 11 passes.


Phillip Lindsay was one of the breakout stars of training camp, and he’s made a roster spot for himself out of thin air.

Saturday night, Lindsay was the Broncos leading rusher with six carries for 32 yards. Those numbers are very good, but they aren’t eye-popping. Lindsay is the player of the game because he did everything right. It seemed like he was involved in nearly every play.

Lindsay played well on offense—with a gorgeous spin move that propelled him to the second level on a five-yard run—but his true value was on special teams. He didn’t break big plays as a returner, despite returning kicks and punts, but he took everything the coverage gave him. He also served as a gunner and tackled a punt returner at the four-yard line.


The Broncos’ versatility at safety has been explored in-depth throughout the offseason at BSN. It was on display again on Saturday.

Halfway through the second quarter, Justin Simmons ended the Broncos’ defensive starters’ day with an interception. He lined up in the box across from Tarik Cohen, who was next to Trubisky in the shotgun. Cohen ran an angle route, which Simmons read perfectly. The third-year safety stepped in front of the running back and picked off the pass.


“I feel bad for Paxton, but he has to ignore it and play ball. It’s professional football; no one’s going to hold your hand.” – Vance Joseph


2 – Marquette King punts resulting in Chicago taking possession inside their own five-yard line

7 – targets for Emmanuel Sanders in 13 Case Keenum pass attempts

13 – the number of Broncos who caught at least one pass on Saturday

288 – combined penalty yards in the game


The Broncos travel to Washington next Friday for a 5:30 kickoff.

In their third preseason test, the Broncos will face a familiar foe: Alex Smith. After five years in Kansas City, Smith was traded to the Redskins this offseason.


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