The Denver Broncos were in Santa Clara, Calif. Wednesday and Thursday for joint practices with the San Francisco 49ers ahead of their preseason game on Saturday evening.

Initial reports were that the Broncos’ quarterbacks struggled early and often against the 49ers first- and second-team defenses. As the league’s most-watched quarterbacks battle pressed on, neither Trevor Siemian nor Paxton Lynch seemed to have pulled ahead of the other.

For someone who had been so excited to see Siemian and Lynch go against a defense that wasn’t the Broncos’, my heart all but hit the floor reading these tweets from San Francisco beat writers about the QBs’ performances:

I would argue that Lynch possesses many more tools that teams need in a franchise QB than Beathard, a third-round rookie quarterback for the 49ers, but nonetheless, the initial reports were not promising.

If neither quarterback has seemingly played well enough to earn the Broncos’ starting quarterback spot, it might be time to start thinking about what the season will look like with sub-par play at the quarterback position.

One of these is by utilizing the Broncos’ improved special teams unit, which possesses two exciting rookie kickoff/punt returners in Carlos Henderson and Isaiah McKenzie, and also Kalif Raymond, who has been quietly turning heads during the Broncos’ practices and made two big returns against the Bears to set up touchdown drives.

Raymond had one kickoff and one punt return each in the Broncos’ preseason game against the Chicago Bears, which went for 41 and 34 yards, respectively. Better returns and better field position are always a great way for a team to generate quicker points by having to move the ball less to get into scoring range.

Not surprisingly, the first points on the board in the Broncos’ first preseason game against the Bears came in the form of a pick-six by Chris Harris Jr.

The Broncos can always turn back the clock and do what worked best for them in 2015, which saw the team win the Super Bowl leaning heavily on their elite defense and winning the field position game, while grinding out wins with the running game.

Many assumed this would end up being the story of 2017, but there are other options to keep Denver in the playoff hunt that don’t involve just keeping the ball out of Lynch and/or Siemian’s hands.

Possessing a receiver like Demaryius Thomas, who has one of the best yards after catch (YAC) career statistics mean that getting the ball quickly to Thomas is a great way to generate extra yards after the initial completion.

A quick throw or more specifically screen passes would allow the offense to play into the specialty of one of its best playmakers. It would also help with Lynch’s difficulty reading a defense’s coverage, and keep Siemian from forcing downfield throws.

Along with having difficulty reading a defense, the other knock on Lynch had been his struggles standing tall in the pocket and delivering a strike to his intended target. Lynch has shown that his accuracy improves greatly when he isn’t forced to remain in the pocket. If the Broncos can give Lynch the ability to move outside of the pocket and throw on the move, it could end up in more completions and exciting plays, rather than a sack or incompletion.

Siemian proved last year he can stand tall in the pocket. What remains to be seen is if he can stay healthy after taking big hits. An injured left shoulder limited his play in the second half of last season. The narrative out of camp is that the run game is greatly improved, so that will be one way to keep Siemian upright if he earns the starting job.

On Thursday, Lynch appeared to have improved significantly. Some even stated he had a “perfect practice” against the 49ers, where “not a single pass hit the ground.” At this point, the only way to tell for certain is to see how he and Siemian both play on Saturday.

Even if the Broncos don’t get the results they are hoping for from either quarterback, there are ways they can still compete for a playoff spot in 2017. More explosive special teams play, defensive productivity and a focus on the run game ought to do the trick.