DENVER – Three observations from the Broncos’ 24-10 preseason win over the Buffalo Bills here Saturday:
1. SPEED KILLS.
It was one thing to see Elvis Dumervil and Von Miller sprinting around the edge and meeting in the backfield during practice. Seeing it in game conditions was something else entirely. Even though Buffalo left tackle Demetrius Bell is far from the best that the Broncos will see at the position, the consistent effectiveness of Miller and Dumervil provided a two-sided pass-rushing punch that the Broncos haven’t seen since the 1990′s.
“I haven’t had that before, so I’m excited,” said Dumervil.
Because of that speed, the Broncos changed up their defensive attack this summer. One example came on a key third down, where pressure from the flanks forced Ryan Fitzpatrick to utilize his hot read on his slot receiver. Waiting in coverage on the slot man was Champ Bailey, who easily swatted away the pass.
This is an example of how a defense can dictate the game. Miller and Dumervil forced the pass, and creative tactics left Bailey on the slot man instead of at his familiar left cornerback slot. Instead of being able to avoid Bailey, Fitzpatrick had to throw at him. Look for the Broncos to use their pressure to force more passes in the future Hall of Famer’s direction.
2. A BRIEF GLIMPSE OF POWER.
Most will forget about Willis McGahee’s 1-yard, second-quarter touchdown run. Fundamentally, it was far from the Broncos’ most well-executed run of the night. But it was what the run symbolized that impressed me most.
McGahee appeared to trust all of his linemen — including the least experienced. His 1-yard touchdown run saw him surge behind the clearing block of rookie right tackle Orlando Franklin, giving him just enough room for his first touchdown as a Bronco.
The successful scoring run came after he’d been stopped one play earlier. The playcalling was in marked contrast to the goal-to-goal tactics at Dallas, when the Broncos called three consecutive passes and settled for a field goal.
“That was our way of making a statement as far as the running game and offensive line goes,” McGahee said. “We had to make a statement down there because we don’t want to be one of those teams that gets it down to the 1-yard line and passes the ball.”
That sounds vastly different from the philosophy of 2010. Instead of cheaply abandoned talk about power football, this year’s offense is asked to put in the work. Most of the offensive nomenclature is the same, its origins are the same as the offense last year, in the Ray Perkins/Ron Erhardt system installed by the Chuck Fairbanks-led Patriots of the 1970′s. But the emphasis and end result could scarcely be more different.
“Its definitely changing and coming along. I think that’s evident in tonight’s game,” left guard Zane Beadles said.
3. REMEMBER — IT’S THE BILLS.
Before anyone starts planning a parade down Colfax or even for the Broncos’ first playoff game in six years, it’s wise to step back and reflect. This was a preseason game against a team that had the same record as the Broncos, has gone nearly twice as long without a playoff game and carries at least as many questions into the season. Buffalo’s quarterback situation remains a work in progress, which was putting it kindly after Fitzpatrick finished the night with a 19.8 rating on 6-of-16 passing for 44 yards with an interception (although in his defense, he spent the game under siege as Dumervil and Miller ran rampant past Buffalo’s outclassed offensive tackles).
That being said, the first-team defense did hold the Bills to just three points, 90 yards and 3.0 yards per play in the first half, and forced its will upon the Bills, rarely letting their offense get comfortable after its first series.
For a unit that ranked 32nd last year, could barely stop even the most plodding of attacks and set some dubious franchise standards, dominance of even a struggling foe is cause for optimism.