Three observations from the Broncos’ 30-10 preseason defeat to the Seattle Seahawks in Denver on Saturday:
1. OF MANNING, INTERCEPTIONS AND SO FORTH:
The numbers say that Peyton Manning is not having a great preseason. He hasn’t thrown a touchdown pass. He’s thrown three interceptions — two of which were deflected passes, yes, but went into the books as pickoffs. And, yes, this is unusual for him. While the Colts traditionally paid little heed to wins and losses in August, Manning’s numbers were typically of regular-season quality; he hasn’t had a preseason quarterback rating below 88 since 2004 (70.8).
But should this really come as a surprise?
In the excitement over Manning’s arrival, it’s been easy to lose sight of truths that understandably will affect the offense: that Manning had missed an entire season, that he has a mostly new set of receivers and offensive linemen who are learning how to play at his pace — and he at theirs.
In spite of that, Manning has still completed 66.7 percent of his passes so far in the preseason. He completed 16 of 23 passes Saturday — and two of the seven incompletions were drops by Eric Decker and Jacob Tamme on the final drive before halftime.
The offense will deconstruct its performance in the coming days and see plenty that worked. But Saturday night, it was buried in the disappointment of three turnovers, and the two crucial drops that kept the Broncos from throttling the Seahawks before halftime and sending a message to the rest of the league.
“Right now it’s hard to focus on anything that went right,” said Tamme. “I’m sure we’ll look at it and see that some guys did some good things. We put a couple of decent drives together. We’ll go back and see that we did some good things, obviously not enough.
“We didn’t do a good job of executing today. Whether it was missed assignments, dropped balls. Overall we didn’t do enough and I put myself in that boat.”
That disappointment was a common sentiment among skill-position players in the locker room. It’s what you want to hear after a frustrating performance. It shows that Manning’s maniacal desire for perfection has gone viral and infected his teammates.
It also shows that Manning’s night is not worthy of mashing the panic button. There are bigger issues, such as …
2. BACKUP PROBLEMS.
To be certain, many of the players on the field for the Broncos in the second half were third-teamers through most of training camp. Yes, Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson was the best player — by a few miles — on the field in the second half, and looked as transcendent, composed and effective as he did during a dominant senior season at the University of Wisconsin last year, where he introduced a fan base used to stationary pocket passers to the magic of an electric, mobile quarterback who also possesses a cannon arm.
But to be outgained 302 yards to 37 after halftime? To surrender 16 first downs and only gain one in the second half? To have three attempts at run plays end with running backs Knowshon Moreno, Xavier Omon and Jeremiah Johnson so completely overwhelmed by defenders that overran the offensive line that they had no chance to make anything of the plays?
It was a mess.
“I’m concerned with all of our depth at this point,” said Broncos coach John Fox.
Denver’s depth looked fragile. The Broncos haven’t had any major injuries to star players — yet — but the absences of Jason Hunter, Chris Kuper, Keith Brooking, Tracy Porter, Jim Leonhard, Kevin Vickerson and Danny Trevathan and early-camp injuries to players like offensive tackle Ryan Harris and defensive tackle Justin Bannan forced multiple players up a line on the depth chart, and it showed.
3. MIXED BAG ON DEFENSE.
The Seahawks took a pair of holding penalties early in a futile attempt to hold off Von Miller, Elvis Dumervil and supplementing blitzing linebackers. They could have easily been called for two more.
Denver’s pass rushers went into full assault mode in the first quarter, forcing Matt Flynn into hurried throws and leaving his offensive tackles left with nothing but a futile grab at a jersey.
The defense’s concern? Vulnerability to the run, particularly up the middle. During the three series when the Broncos had their full first-team defense on the field, Seattle gained 60 yards — 51 on the ground. They pushed the Broncos back, and tackling was an issue; Joe Mays missed a potential big stop up the middle.
The Seahawks averaged 5.6 yards per carry against Denver’s full No. 1 defense — but just 1.3 yards per pass play.
“They ran the ball, and we’ve got to win on second downs. That’s what it comes down to,” said DE Derek Wolfe. “I blame myself for some of that, because I was in the wrong place at the wrong time sometimes.”
Wolfe said the Seahawks’ emphasis on cut-blocking hindered Denver’s efforts. That won’t be a problem very often, but the Broncos have struggled against elite runners in recent years no matter what kind of blocking scheme they face. An opening month in the regular season that includes Pittsburgh’s Rashard Mendenhall, Houston’s Arian Foster and Oakland’s Darren McFadden means that solutions need to come fast.