The Denver Broncos’ first preseason game of the 2018 season has finally arrived, but before the game even started, there were a couple unexpected surprises.
- Right guard Ron Leary did not play even though he was not on the inactive list. He has been dealing with knee soreness and the Broncos are taking things slow with him.
- Jeff Heuerman, the penciled in starter at tight end, was unable to play and Jake Butt drew his first start on the same day as his NFL debut.
- Von Miller also did not play. He warmed up, but stayed on the sidelines as the defense came onto the field. Shane Ray and Bradley Chubb drew the start as the outside linebackers.
Once the game started, things were not much better for the Broncos. Case Keenum was unable to get any rhythm, the run defense was getting sliced up, and Paxton Lynch’s first passing attempt of the season was picked off. By the end of the first quarter, Denver trailed the Broncos 14-0.
Thankfully, the Broncos’ defense intercepted a pass by Trevor Siemian and was able to score a touchdown with a short field — and got another boost from an Isaiah McKenzie 78-yard punt-return touchdown. The offense did not bounce back, but the rest of the team picked up the slack. Even with a terrible offensive performance and struggles defending the run in the first half of the first preseason game of the 2018 season, there were still some things worth noticing:
- Bradley Chubb was quickly welcomed to the NFL with two gashes from Vikings running back Latavius Murray, who had two bigs runs on Chubb’s side of the line.
- After a great training camp, Isaac Yiadom was targeted early and often by the Vikings. Stefon Diggs was able to grab two receptions on the first drive when matched up with him, including Diggs’ one-yard touchdown catch.
- It’s a good thing that the Broncos have Marquette King, because after two straight three-and-outs for the Broncos offense, King was able to flip the field well both times with two booming punts. He averaged 46 yards a kick going into the wind in the first quarter.
- Will Parks came out aggressive and locked in. He has had a wonderful training camp and backed it up with a sack on a free-safety blitz and other strong plays in the defensive backfield. He has the ability to be a terror this year, even as a backup.
- Case Keenum’s debut as a Denver Bronco did not go as planned. He finished the day only completing one of his four pass attempts and was not able to record a single first down. During the time he led the Broncos’ offense, they only accumulated 12 yards, with seven of them coming on the ground, over just six offensive plays.
- Paxton Lynch did not come into his first opportunity of 2018 and inspire hope. His first pass was into triple coverage and it was intercepted. His second pass was an off-target screen to River Cracraft that did not gain a yard. His third pass was thrown high, and it got his receiver crushed as he jumped to try and gather it. Lynch’s issues have always been above his shoulders, and that same issue showed itself from the second he stepped onto the field.
- Again, King is going to be important if the Broncos’ offense struggles like they did against the Vikings. He had a sixty-three yard punt in the second quarter.
- Rookie Royce Freeman did not get many opportunities because of the sputtering Broncos’ offense, but he made the most of the chances he was given. At the end of the first half, he had 38 yards on four carries and scored the Broncos’ only offensive touchdown on a 23-yard run.
- Isaiah McKenzie’s calling card is speed, and he showed it on his 78-yard punt return for a touchdown; something he needed to inspire confidence in him from the coaching staff.
The Broncos went into halftime without any significant offensive production and struggled defending Minnesota’s run game. Because of that, they trailed 24-14 at halftime — with lots of work to do in the second half.