The Denver Broncos faced off against the Arizona Cardinals for their first preseason game ahead of the NFL regular season. Russell Wilson and the Broncos’ offense shook off a rusty start but finished on a high note despite the team losing in the game’s final seconds.

Denver Broncos drop first preseason game against the Arizona Cardinals

In Sean Payton’s debut as the Denver Broncos head coach, the team lost late in Friday’s game against the Arizona Cardinals. How did the Broncos starting units look in their first snaps ahead of the regular season?

Russell Wilson, Broncos offense shake off rusty start

It wasn’t a pretty start for the Denver Broncos offense in Friday’s game. Russell Wilson’s first series saw the offense go three and out after a Cardinals defender batted down a pass at the line of scrimmage on 3rd and 7.

Denver’s second offensive series with the starters saw them gain possession in Cardinals territory after Essang Bassey intercepted Clayton Tune. The drive would stall after Garett Bolles surrendered a sack that drove the offense backward.

Denver’s next series saw them move the ball downfield with several chunk plays by Courtland Sutton and Adam Trautman. Wilson faced strong pressure on the drive, which forced Denver to settle for another field goal attempt.

Wilson and the offense took the field for their fourth series, and it was a much more efficient showing. Wilson found Sutton once again for a big chunk play downfield. On 3rd and 5, Wilson scrambled away from pressure and threw a nice pass to Jerry Jeudy, who couldn’t corral it.

Sean Payton opted for the offense to stay in and go for it on fourth down, dialing up a play from Wilson to Jeudy again, who separated from his defender for a 21-yard touchdown reception.

Wilson and the offense finished the night better than they had begun despite a rusty start. He finished 7-of-13 for 93 yards passing and one touchdown resulting in a 102.4 passer rating despite being sacked once.

There are many things the starting offense will have to fix week over week before the regular season begins, but having actual game tape will help Sean Payton and the coaches evaluate solutions for some of the issues that came up.

In particular, the Cardinals had too much success early on, generating pressure on Wilson off the offensive line’s left side. Friday’s game was Garett Bolles’ first game back since suffering a major leg injury last season; rust is to be expected, but hopefully, some of the struggles don’t persist.

Denver Broncos starting defense looked sharp in limited action

Alex Singleton and the Broncos’ defense saw limited action in Friday’s game, but the snaps they took were effective. Singleton ended one of the Cardinals’ early drives by shooting through the line of scrimmage and tackling Ty’Son Williams for a loss.

Frank Clark and Patrick Surtain were the only two players in the starting lineup who did not play. Jonathon Cooper and Ja’Quan McMillian received the starting nod.

Justin Simmons and K’Waun Williams did not play either, as they were out due to injury management.

Starting in place of Williams, Essang Bassey snagged an interception and put the Broncos’ offense in great starting field position.

Denver’s defensive starters played two series before coming out of the game. Overall, the first-team defense was solid in their brief action.

Three Denver Broncos who stood out

Whether they were starters, backup players, or rookies making their NFL debut, which Denver Broncos stood out in Friday’s loss against the Cardinals?

Nik Bonitto

Second-year pass rusher Nik Bonitto’s growth from last year to now has been tremendous. He has consistently showcased explosiveness and discipline in practice and carried it over into Friday night’s preseason game.

Bonitto generated pressure early and often in Friday’s game, tallying three tackles and combining for a half sack with Matt Henningsen.

After making a tackle early in the game, he left to the sideline and was evaluated for a potential hip injury. He did not return to the game. (insert postgame update from Payton if possible)

Essang Bassey

Essang Bassey had an impressive performance during Friday’s preseason action on defense and special teams. Getting the start for K’Waun Williams, Bassey came up big for the Broncos’ defense after he intercepted Cardinals quarterback Clayton Tune and returned it 31 yards.

Not only did he snag an interception, but he was also consistent against the run, coming up with three tackles and one pass defensed.

Bassey had a terrific heads-up play on special teams after Matt Prater drilled a line drive right into his shin, but Bassey quickly recovered and jumped onto the live ball.

Ja’Quan McMillian

Ja’Quan McMillian is another player who has carried over his training camp momentum into the preseason. After getting the starting nod in place of Patrick Surtain, he turned in an impressive performance.

McMillian played inside the nickel and on the outside in Friday’s action. He had three tackles and one sack coming off of a blitz from the nickel spot.

His speed and technique were displayed defensively, but he was highly visible on Denver’s special teams. He’s viewed highly based on his positioning behind Patrick Surtain on the depth chart and placement on all four core special teams units.

Elijah Garcia looking to crack defensive rotation

The Arizona Cardinals drove in the fourth quarter with David Blough leading them downfield. In need of a stop, Broncos defensive lineman Elijah Garcia came up with two big sacks on the series that led to Arizona punting away to Ben DiNucci and the Denver offense.

Garcia’s stock increased as he looks to stack onto his performance on Friday in hopes of making it onto the Broncos’ 53-man roster. He finished Friday’s game with three tackles, two sacks, and two quarterback hits.

He’ll look to build on his performance going into next Saturday’s preseason game against the San Francisco 49ers.

Could Jaleel McLaughlin become next Denver Broncos undrafted gem?

Late in the fourth quarter, Ben DiNucci and Jaleel McLaughlin helped accelerate a potential game-winning drive. McLaughlin saw his first evening action in the fourth quarter and had four carries for 20 yards, including a touchdown in the final minute that gave the Broncos the lead.

He also hauled in one pass out of the backfield for 12 yards that moved the chains for a first down to keep their final fourth-quarter drive alive. His ball carrier vision and explosiveness were displayed in the limited action he saw on Friday.

It will be interesting to see if he mixes in with the second-team unit this upcoming week against the 49ers.

Other Denver Broncos news and notes vs. Arizona Cardinals

What are the latest updates regarding the Broncos’ injury report following Friday’s game and other interesting news and notes?

Injury updates following Friday’s game

  • Defensive lineman D.J. Jones left Friday’s game in the first quarter and was ruled out with a concussion.
  • Inside linebacker Josey Jewell was poked in the eye during Friday’s game, according to the 9News Broadcast.
  • Outside linebacker Nik Bonitto left the game in the second quarter with a hip injury.

Broncos kicking competition gets off to iffy start

In their ongoing kicking competition, Brett Maher and Elliott Fry’s in-game debuts didn’t go as cleanly planned on Friday night.

Maher saw the first field goal attempt of the evening and missed it from 47 yards. Fry saw the next attempt from 50 yards and missed.

Before halftime, Fry was next in the rotation and nailed a 55-yard field goal to give the Broncos a 10-0 lead. In the third quarter, Maher attempted to boot one in from 52 yards, but it was blocked due to interior gap penetration that allowed a Cardinals defender to get his fingertips on it.

Fry booted in a successful PAT attempt after Jaleel McLaughlin’s rushing touchdown in the fourth quarter.

From a scorecard standpoint:

  • Brett Maher: 0/2 FGM/FGA, 1/1 XP
  • Elliott Fry: 1/2 FGM/FGA, 1/1 XP

What’s next?

The Denver Broncos will be back on the practice field this week ahead of next Saturday’s preseason showdown against the San Francisco 49ers