In the preseason, unlike the regular season, knowing exactly what to watch for is essential, as the final score doesn’t really matter.
Rather than the scoreboard, the game is built around certain position battles as the starters try to find their rhythm before the season starts.
With that in mind, here are the top storylines to watch for in the Denver Broncos’ third exhibition game.
How does Joe Flacco and the first-team offense look?
When John Elway said that Joe Flacco was just entering his prime, he was rightfully met with raised eyebrows and some doubt, but so far things are looking good.
The Broncos offense came out swinging on their first drive against the Seattle Seahawks last Thursday. The run game was incredibly dynamic, and Flacco appeared promising as the Broncos’ offense marched down the field for three points.
Now, it’ll be interesting to see if that drive was just an outlier, or if the Broncos’ offense really is that much more potent this season.
Beyond that, it’ll also be important to get a good idea of where Flacco is currently. He looked great this week in training camp, following a strong showing against Seattle, but in his first preseason snaps, he attempted just four passes. Hopefully, against the 49ers’ secondary, we get a better idea of just how crazy Elway’s praise for Flacco was.
Who is winning the battle at tight end?
Jake Butt was a probable roster cut until Austin Fort went down with a torn ACL.
Now, Butt has to compete with just Troy Fumagalli, Bug Howard and Moral Stephens for the final tight end job, assuming the Broncos only keep three at the position. If the Broncos keep four tight ends instead, Butt should be a shoo-in for the last roster spot.
Fant offers a much higher ceiling for the Broncos given his world-class athleticism, but rookie tight ends often struggle and concentration drops are an issue.
Meanwhile, Heuerman is more experienced and sure-handed, but he doesn’t fit offensive coordinator Rich Scangarello’s system as well and his ceiling is much lower.
Right now, the race for the starting job looks neck and neck. That means these final three preseason games will determine who starts and who’s No. 2.
Can Su’a Cravens make the final roster?
Trading with Washington for Su’a Cravens’ rights last season was a colossal disappointment for the Broncos.
According to Pro Football Focus, Cravens was the worst-performing player on the team with a grade of 37.4, 13 points worse than the next lowest-graded Bronco (Max Garcia). His poor showings led to him being listed as a healthy scratch for the last three weeks of the season, and heading into camp, the odds of him making the final roster were long at best.
A strong display throughout training camp paired with two excellent exhibition game outings has flipped that narrative on its head entirely. If Cravens can maintain his current momentum, it would be somewhat surprising if he wasn’t around for the regular season, and he could even find himself in a sizable defensive role as a “moneybacker.”
After two joint practices together last week, the Denver Broncos host the San Francisco 49ers on Monday Night Football, with kickoff scheduled for 6 p.m. MT.