ARLINGTON, Texas – Three observations from the Broncos’ 24-23 preseason loss to the Dallas Cowboys here on Thursday night at Cowboys Stadium:
1. QUARTERBACK STATUS QUO.
Brady Quinn played the longest, led the two touchdown drives and looked more comfortable under center Thursday night than at any other point in his brief Broncos career, leaving the game with a 109.2 passer rating.
But to move up the depth chart from third-team to second-team, he didn’t just have to flourish, but Tim Tebow had to slip. Given that Tebow went 6-of-7 for 91 yards and had a running touchdown (as well as an interception) wiped out by penalty, there seems to be little reason why next week’s depth chart should reflect any change.
Starter Kyle Orton struggled in the same spot he did during last Saturday’s scrimmage — in the red zone. Outside of it, he went 2-of-3 for 37 yards, punctuated by an accurate read of Dallas press to complete a 29-yard, third-and-6 pass to Eric Decker. But in goal-to-go, he misfired on three consecutive passes, forcing the Broncos to settle for a 24-yard Matt Prater field goal.
Fox described Orton as “sharp,” Tebow as “a work in progress” and added that Quinn “stepped in and did a decent job.”
Those assessments don’t scream “spectacular night,” but for a preseason opener after an odd offseason, it wasn’t a bad start.
2. THE RUNNING EMPHASIS ISN’T JUST A THEORY — IT’S REALITY.
At halftime, the most notable statistic wasn’t the score or the yardage, but the Broncos’ run-pass ratio:
Twenty runs to 14 passes. At one point on the first series, Denver ran five consecutive times — three Knowshon Moreno carries for 19 yards and two Willis McGahee rushes for 17 yards. The only oddity of the possession came when the Broncos got into a goal-to-go situation; after taking a penalty, they passed on three consecutive downs.
McGahee understood the choice.
“It’s cool. It’s preseason,” he said after his first Broncos game. “There’s things we need to work on, plus we didn’t really have all of our OTAs to nip things in the bud and get things together.”
These aren’t going to be your Broncos of recent vintage, who often passed first and tossed in a running game just to make sure you were paying attention. Indeed, these are your father’s Broncos. While other games — and potential early deficits — will offer a sterner test of the Broncos’ will in persisting with their back-to-basics philosophy, the first look was promising.
“We’ll wait and see, but I thought it was a good sign that we ran the ball,” Orton said.
3. DEPTH PERCEPTION.
At some spots, the Broncos are deeper than last year because their starters became backups for Thursday’s game. Take defensive end Jason Hunter as an example. After being signed midway through the 2010 preseason, he was pressed into starting service and did a credible enough job, but was asked to do more than his skill set dictated. As a starter, he was one of the weak links in the 32nd-ranked defense; as a backup, he’s a strength, and overpowered the Cowboys’ reserve offensive tackles, notching two sacks while consistently generating pressure on Dallas third-teamer Stephen McGee.
Hunter, linebacker Mario Haggan and defensive tackle Kevin Vickerson are all starters who find themselves as backups now; in those roles, they are quality, valuable parts for the defense who can contribute in rotational or relief roles.
A fundamental problem with the Broncos in last year’s 4-12 disaster was being forced to start backup-caliber players. This led to a domino effect down the roster that resulted in one of the least talented 1-to-53 lineups in the league. Barring a major rash of injuries, this should be at least partially remedied, giving the Broncos a proper start to the rebuilding of their foundation — and an overall talent level that comes closer to their AFC West rivals.