Broncos wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders had a frustrating 2017 campaign. After battling through injuries as his team foundered, the 31-year old changed his diet, altered his workouts and vowed to return with a vengeance in 2018.
The Washington Redskins got the first taste of Sanders’ wrath as the Broncos’ first-and second-teamers dominated in the nation’s capital, and it was bitter, indeed.
Targeted eight times by starting quarterback Case Keenum, Sanders had four catches for 61 yards, including one spectacular, diving catch down the left sideline for 33 yards. Keenum, who went 12-for-18 for 148 yards in the first half, missed on some chances early, keeping Sanders’ numbers from being even better.
Late in the second quarter, Sanders did it himself; scoring on a 27-yard reverse that saw him weave and power his way to the end zone; finishing a drive that saw him accumulate every one of the Broncos’ yards.
Rookie Royce Freeman scored the team’s first touchdown; a 24-yard scamper through a gaping hole created by fullback Andy Janovich that put the Broncos up 10-0 after the first quarter. Janovich also had the downfield block that sprung Sanders for his touchdown run, proving that stats aren’t the only way to evaluate a player.
Washington quarterback Alex Smith — the Broncos’ old nemesis from Kansas City — couldn’t get anything going against Denver’s fearsome pass rush and solid coverage from their starting defensive backfield, and when Keenum and the offense’s starters left the game at halftime, the Broncos were up 17-3. Their second-team offense was equally effective behind backup quarterback Chad Kelly, and by the time third-stringer Paxton Lynch entered the game, Denver held a dominant 26-3 lead — the second week in a row in which the Broncos’ lead was commanding after their starters and immediate backups left the field.
Washington quarterback Kevin Hogan was effective in relief, and the Redskins outscored Denver 14-3 from that point, but the Broncos had already made theirs — this team can be far better than the rambling, 5-11 wreck of 2017.
Combined, Keenum and Kelly went 19-for-29 with 218 yards passing and only one sack. Facing an aggressive, attacking Denver defense, Washington quarterbacks Smith and Colt McCoy combined to throw 6-for-16 for a miniscule 32 net yards after the Broncos’ three sacks.
Yes, Keenum was terribly inaccurate at times, the Broncos’ defense seemed too porous against a pedestrian Washington running game, their lack of cornerback depth is almost total, and the team had double-digit penalties for the second straight week. But in the only preseason game that feels like… a game, that would be nitpicking; the Broncos dominated on this night.
The Broncos will wrap up their preseason in Arizona next Thursday, with final cuts coming shortly after.