Three observations from the Broncos’ 16-13 preseason-ending win over the Arizona Cardinals at University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Ariz. on Thursday night:
1. “PLAN B” ISN’T EXACTLY GRADE A.
With the first team last Sunday, Caleb Hanie looked capable — although it must be noted that his touchdown drive just before halftime came against a 49ers defense composed mainly of second-teamers.
Thursday, with the second unit, he struggled, going 7-of-13 for 75 yards and suffering five sacks, including one on the last play of the first half that prevented the Broncos from settling for a field goal. With seven seconds left when the ball was snapped from the Arizona 7, all Hanie had to do was get away far enough to throw the pass out of bounds and settle for a field goal, but he felt the rush too late — something that was also a problem for him in the preseason opener at Chicago.
Broncos coach John Fox was less than enthused when asked about Hanie, deferring to needing some tape study before describing Hanie’s performance as “adequate.”
“We kept shooting ourselves in the foot,” Hanie said. “We had a holding and a couple of offsides … It’s just stuff like that that kills drives. We’ve got to finish better on those — and I do, as well.”
Osweiler was up and down. On his third-quarter interception, he didn’t go through his progressions and telegraphed the pass to Greg Orto, allowing Crezdon Butler to make the easy pick.
Neither one inspired confidence that the Broncos could sustain any kind of success without Manning this year. Although the first-team offensive line would give them a little more time to work, they wouldn’t be as decisive or as quick in their drops, either — although Osweiler’s ability to step out of a collapsing pocket gives him an advantage.
Osweiler is at just the beginning of his path, and between his strong arm, his ability to avoid disaster under duress and his intelligence, he has the tools to succeed. This preseason wasn’t his final exam; it was a practice test, and he learned what he needs to study for the next time he plays.
“Obviously I wish I would have played better in certain situations, but I think the main thing that happened during preseason is that I learned a lot,” Osweiler said. There were some weeks where I made a mistake, and then I cleaned that up and wouldn’t make it the next week. As long as I continue to progress, I think things will be okay.”
But for now, Fox might be tempted to examine other options. He has before.
In 2008 with the Panthers, John Fox added Josh McCown to be his second-string quarterback when then-second-year backup Matt Moore struggled in the preseason and then suffered a leg injury late in the preseason finale. Don’t be surprised if he makes a similar move this year.
2. WHITHER THE RUNNING BACKS?
The focus was on Knowshon Moreno in the first half, and he responded by running as well as he did just before he tore his ACL last November at Kansas City.
Moreno didn’t lead the Broncos in rushing — that distinction went to Ronnie Hillman, who carried 14 times in the second half for 68 yards — but Moreno looked more explosive Thursday than he had all summer, averaging 7.0 yards on his seven carries.
“”He’s a guy that’s made steady improvement in each of the games,” Fox said. “Greek (head athletic trainer Steve Antonopulos) and his training staff have brought him back very well from that ACL. I think you saw evidence of that tonight.”
But what now? Does Moreno snatch a spot from Lance Ball, who only saw spot duty Thursday? Do the Broncos keep four pure running backs? Does Jeremiah Johnson remain in the mix? He had a 16-yard fourth-quarter burst and nearly blocked a punt, which showed what he can contribute on special teams.
The decision at backup running back looked like the Broncos’ toughest call heading into Thursday. It still appears that way.
3. ANSWERS ON RETURNS?
It looks like the Broncos might have finally found what they’ve been looking for on their kickoff and punt runbacks, as Omar Bolden and Jim Leonhard provided the longest kickoff and punt returns, respectively, of the preseason.
Bolden’s 103-yard third-quarter jaunt accounted for the Broncos’ only touchdown on a night where he went in going for broke, having decided with the team’s blessing that he would return any football that wasn’t more than seven yards deep in the end zone.
The biggest threat to the touchdown wasn’t a Cardinal — he outran them all — but fellow Arizona Sate alumnus Gerell Robinson.
“I actually thought one of my teammates was a Cardinals player,” Bolden said. “I tried to give him a stiff-arm, but I come to find out that he is just trying to keep me up and keep me in-bounds.”
Leonhard didn’t even consider calling for a fair catch when he got his opportunity, and weaved 17 yards upfield to stake his claim to the job.
“There was too much space! I haven’t seen that much space in a while; I had to give it a shot,” said Leonhard.
It might be enough for the job.