The Denver Broncos faced off against the San Francisco 49ers in their second preseason game of the 2023 season. With the regular season just around the corner, this game provided a valuable opportunity for both teams to fine-tune their strategies and evaluate their players. Although preseason games may not hold much significance in the overall standings, they serve as a crucial platform for players to showcase their skills and vie for roster spots.
The Denver Broncos’ offense took the field with a mix of seasoned veterans and young talents looking to make their mark. The coaching staff opted to give Russell Wilson limited playing time to avoid unnecessary risks, allowing the backup quarterbacks Jarrett Stidham and Ben DiNucci to take the majority of the snaps. While the offense showed flashes of potential, they struggled to find consistency against a stout Niners defense. The offensive line had some difficulties in pass protection, leading to a couple of sacks.
However, the running game showed promise with a few explosive plays and demonstrated good chemistry between the running backs and offensive line. The return of Javonte Williams was a success as he ended up playing more snaps than most believed he would in his first game action in almost a year. But even his positive performance was outshined by an undrafted free agent.Embed from Getty Images
On the defensive side of the ball, the Broncos were determined to make a statement. The defensive unit showcased their versatility by utilizing various formations and blitz packages, applying constant pressure on the 49ers’ quarterbacks for the first three plus quarters. The defensive line displayed a relentless pursuit of the ball, consistently collapsing the pocket and disrupting passing plays, specifically offseason signing Zach Allen and youngster Elijah Garcia. The linebackers demonstrated their athleticism and instincts, making crucial stops in both the running and passing game. Josey Jewell and Alex Singleton were crucial in stuffing the Niner offense inside the five on their initial drive of the game. The secondary showcased their ball-hawking skills, capitalizing on errant throws and coming up with interceptions. A standout performance from the defense was a highlight of the game.
Even the third phase had its moments with big legs showcased by both veterans Riley Dixon and Brett Maher. Maher had a long of 48 yards and Dixon averaged a ridiculous 60.3 yards per kick at sea level. Rookie Jaleel McLaughlin added some excitement to the return game with shiftiness and speed Denver has lacked since Trindon Holliday was doing his best impression of a joystick on the football field. You hate to see the 3rd and 4th string guys falter at the biggest moments for a second week in a row, but there was so much to like about what the starters and their backups did that the final score to me is irrelevant. John Harbaugh might hate to hear this, but I don’t care who wins or loses when guys that won’t be on a roster in roughly two weeks are the ones on the field giving up double digit points to QB’s picked in the top-5 of the NFL draft.Embed from Getty Images
Several players stood out during the game and made their case for a spot on the final roster. A young wide receiver showcased exceptional speed and route-running ability, consistently gaining separation from defenders and making tough catches. A rookie defensive lineman made a significant impact, recording a sack and interception, constantly disrupting the 49ers’ offensive rhythm. Additionally, a backup linebacker made a strong case for increased playing time with his pass rush and run defense skills. These standout performances indicate the team’s depth and bode well for the Broncos’ upcoming regular season. Some even answered some questions I had in my preview.
Here is my list of the best performers on Saturday night:
- Elijah Garcia: I don’t think there is anything left for this man to prove other than can he do it against NFL regular season starters? He has to make the roster for that to happen consistently obviously. But I believe he has done more than enough with consecutive games notching at least one sack, and on Saturday took things to the air with an interception. He has been a consistent disruptors throughout camp and that has more than carried over into game action. Keep an eye on this kid, he reminds me of Malik Jackson.
- Essang Bassey: Many came into the year with a worry about the youth in the Denver Broncos cornerback room. After two weeks Patrick Surtain II, Damarri Mathis, and Essang Bassey have all looked like season vets. Add in fellow youngsters Ja’Quan McMillian and JL Skinner making plays things look much better than anticipated with the Denver pass D. But above all so far has been the work of fourth year player Essang Bassey. Bassey has put the Denver training camp abuzz pretty much every season since he arrived as an undrafted free agent. Unfortunately for him each one has ended with a major injury. Here’s to hoping for a healthy full season from the former Wake Forest standout.
- Jaleel McLaughlin: The humble human rocket with an endearing story has taken his big play ability from small Notre Dame College to an NFL roster after consecutive games with a touchdown. This game he had two and showed added value as a kick returner bringing one back 44 yards in the second half showing off his game changing speed and elusiveness with just enough physicality. This is a Tarik Cohen clone to me and a perfect compliment to the thundering Javonte Williams. Look for McLaughlin to not only make the roster but see significant work in this offense in the Alvin Kamara role to Williams’ Mark Ingram.
- The Entire Denver Run Game: A week after some inconsistent blocking to be kind, saw the Denver o-line at least take a step forward in the run game with 165 yards on 25 carries, a 6.6 yard average. You say this is the Broncos average per week this season, every Denver coach and front office member would be ecstatic. And this was yet again without their big offseason catch right tackle Mike McGlinchey. All signs point to the ex-49er being ready for week one. He is. a monster in the run game, he will make this improved unit markedly better when he can suit up.
- Drew Sanders: I know Denver has signed both of their interior linebackers to extensions in consecutive seasons. I understand Alex Singleton is one of only two humans to have multiple 20 tackle games in a single season. I am the guy that tweeted out “The Outlaw” Josey Jewell owns Derrick “King” Henry. But Drew Sanders is a huge athlete with a nose for the ball. He does everything Singleton and Jewell do, but with speed that allows him to cover like neither of them ever could. He had 7 tackles (led Broncos defenders) and a pass defensed long with multiple moments of blanket coverage on TE’s and RB’s that doesn’t make the box score. The money is in the incumbents, but the kid from Arkansas is going. to be hard to take off the field.
Areas for Improvement
Despite some positive aspects, the Broncos’ performance also revealed areas that need improvement. Penalties and mental errors hindered the team’s progress and extended 49ers’ drives, leading to unnecessary points. The depth beyond the second wave in the secondary is suspect as rookie 7th rounder Ronnie Bell exploited to be the only receiver with over 100 yards on the night with 114 including a game clinching catch with less than a minute left that put San Francisco in range for the game winning field goal that lead to a consecutive week where all the good left behind by Denver Broncos first and second stringers, is simply undone by a bunch of JAGs that wont have a job in a couple weeks. I will say this team is light years ahead of where they were a year ago at this time. The coaching and emphasis on the details have shown true with Denver’s starters shown in the minimal penalties, especially pre-snap, and every one in Broncos Country should be much more excited than worried. Pass pro is still a worry, but as a whole the unit improved by allowing pressure on less than 50% of snaps a week after allowing pressure on almost 65% against a much better quality of opponent.
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