The closest thing to real football NFL fans see in the preseason happens in the third preseason game. Often referred to as the “Dress Rehearsal Game,” NFL teams often leave their starting offenses and defenses in the game for well over two quarters, before resting the starters for the fourth game to determine final roster spots and potential practice squad targets.
After two preseason losses, the Broncos have shown that they are a far improved team from the 5-11 disaster of 2017, but also that the team has a long way to go before its ready to compete in the AFC West. Regardless of previous results, here are three key things Broncos fans should look to see in the team’s starting offense in the most important game of the preseason.
A touchdown pass… from Case Keenum
While not entirely disappointing, Case Keenum’s preseason so far hasn’t exactly given Broncos fans the reassure they wanted that Keenum was the man that would put the Broncos back into the playoffs. Through limited action in two preseason games, Keenum’s number are 9/17 pass attempts for 83 yards with no touchdown passes. After weeks of drawing rave reviews in OTAs and Training Camp, Keenum hasn’t been able to connect with his receivers like he has this offseason.
While fans got to see backup quarterback Chad Kelly throw three touchdown passes in his preseason playing time, Keenum-led drives have resulted in only one touchdown (a rushing score by running back Royce Freeman). To give fans a sense of security in their starting quarterback, Keenum will need to play significantly better in the Broncos third preseason game. Even if his numbers aren’t particularly dazzling, displaying an improved rapport with his receivers and eliminating “off-target” throws would be a step in the right direction for a team eager to return to the postseason.
Continue the production at tight end
During Keenum’s successful 2017 season with the Minnesota Vikings, his primary tight end Kyle Rudolph accounted for 16.8% of Keenum’s total targets, 15% of Keenum’s total passing yardage, and 36% of Keenum’s total passing touchdowns. When Keenum signed with the Broncos, many wondered who would fill in that production. Thus far in the preseason, Keenum has shown a decent rapport with his tight ends, particularly fourth-year tight end Jeff Heuerman.
In the Broncos second preseason game, Keenum targeted Heuerman frequently, completing two passes for 21 yards and even converted a two-point conversion to the tight end in the second quarter. Heuerman has acted as a go-to target on third down, and as a security blanket for Keenum. While Heuerman appears to be coming into his own this preseason, a notable absence has been tight end Jake Butt. Still working his way back from an ACL tear that cost him his rookie season, the Broncos could be slow on rushing Butt back into action, but an appearance on offense would be nice to see.
More Royce Freeman/Philip Lindsay, less Devontae Booker
Fantasy football enthusiasts aside, it doesn’t take much investigating to see that two of the Broncos’ running backs have separated themselves from the rest of the pack in the broncos uncertain running back pecking order. Rookies Royce Freeman and Philip Lindsey have produced far more results in their preseason action than last year’s duo of presumed starter Devontae Booker and second-year back De’Angelo Henderson.
Through two preseason games, here are the stat totals for those four running backs:
Booker: 6 attempts, 24 yards, 4.0 average, 0 touchdowns
Henderson: 7 attempts, 18 yards, 2.8 average, 0 touchdowns
Freeman: 10 attempts, 58 yards, 5.8 average, 2 touchdowns
Lindsay: 8 attempts, 39 yards, 4.9 average, 1 touchdown (receiving)
Freeman’s workload with the offensive starters has increased over the course of two games. As the team’s most productive running back, it’s only a matter of time before the Broncos turn to Freeman as the team’s starter. Lindsay was even seen taking carries with the first-team offense in the Broncos second preseason game. While Booker hasn’t playing “bad” in his preseason action, the Broncos offense is clearly a better unit with Freeman and Lindsay in the fold.