Cardinals 26, Broncos 7: Three Observations

GLENDALE, Ariz. – Three observations from the Broncos’ preseason-ending 26-7 loss to the Arizona Cardinals here Thursday night:

1. DEPTH IS SHALLOW. Even though the Broncos’ first-teamers flourished against opponents who were a combined 17-31 last year, their collective 34-9 dominance of the Dallas, Buffalo and Seattle top units offered promise that the Broncos’ draft-week and free-agency moves had strengthened the team in areas of drastic weakness.

But with the first unit sitting out Thursday and the second team crippled by injuries to Syd’Quan Thompson, David Bruton, Nate Irving and Matthew Willis, Denver was forced to play third-teamers in key spots throughout the game. Against a more experienced Cardinals reserve unit, the result was predictable — particularly when the second-teamers dueled against each other.

Broncos coach John Fox said the second unit’s struggles were “no more than the earlier games. They just played a lot more tonight.”

Now it will be up to the first unit to not only play well, but stay healthy. The fate of the Broncos’ 2011 season may rest upon it.

“It’s not like it’s injuries or muscle pulls here and there. Guys are really getting banged up,” cornerback Champ Bailey said.

2. BATTLES AT THE END OF THE ROSTER: There were likely no front-line spots in question Thursday, but the biggest winner among the Broncos’ roster battles appeared to be wide receiver Eron Riley, who amassed 132 of his 144 yards on a pair of receptions from Tim Tebow and Adam Weber in the game’s dying minutes.

Another name to monitor this weekend could be that of wide receiver D’Andre Goodwin, whose massive hit on Arizona punt returner Marshay Green rekindled memories of Terrell Davis’s fourth-quarter kickoff-coverage hit during a preseason game in Japan 16 years ago.

3. WEBER MAXIMIZED HIS CHANCE: Weber acknowledged after the game that one possession wasn’t as much as he wanted, but when your only preseason pass turns into an 89-yard catch-and-run with Riley, it’s hard to say that he could have done any more.

By the end of the drive, only one yard separated Weber and the Broncos offense from a last-play touchdown; he was brought down at the Arizona 1 after a 13-yard scramble on the game’s final play.

“I really think he got in. I don’t know what the refs were looking at,” fellow quarterback Brady Quinn said. “I think it was a touchdown.”

The moments between the two plays were madcap, and included a delay-of-game penalty that was understandable, given that Weber hadn’t worked with the third-team offense in any two-minute drill periods during training camp.

“Sometimes it’s best just to go out there and do it,” Weber said. “You can practice it a lot, but nothing replicates a game. I’ve done many two-minutes in college, so I’d say it’s a little different int he NFL, but it’s all about making plays and moving the ball.”

It may have been a ridiculously small sample size, but Weber fared about as well as possible in his brief cameo.

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About Andrew Mason

Andrew Mason has covered the NFL since 1999, when he worked as an editor on NFL.com when the site was managed by ESPN.com. He worked six seasons (2002-07) covering the Broncos on their official website and two (2008-09) on the Panthers' site. He began MaxDenver.com in 2010 and now contributes to CBSSports.com, The Sporting News and The New York Times.
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