By Chad Jensen
(247 SPORTS) – It was a battle, as we knew it would be. But the Denver Broncos emerged victorious over the Seattle Seahawks in the season opener, winning 27-24.
Denver took their first step toward exorcising the demons from the last year, beating a tenacious team that doesn’t give up without getting in a few body-blows on the way down. It’s been a long time since the Broncos beat the Seahawks in a game that mattered.
The rust fell off in chunks for the Broncos, but as frustrating as certain elements of this game were, there were vastly more positive things to take away than negative. What did we learn from Denver’s first win of the 2018 season? Let’s jump to it.
Keenum a clear upgrade
We can hammer on the three interceptions Case Keenum threw on Sunday, which resulted in 14 of Seattle’s 24 total points, but the veteran signal-caller moved the Broncos offense up and down the field. Denver finished with 470 total yards.
What you’ve got to love about Keenum is the mettle he showed following the turnovers. Instead of going into a shell and playing conservative, he kept the pedal to the metal. And he responded when Seattle scored.
The touchdown Keenum threw to Demaryius Thomas in the fourth quarter was the perfect example of his resilience. It was a late throw, which required a phenomenal toe-tapping catch by Thomas, but Keenum fearlessly threaded the needle through traffic.
That was the score that gave Denver their final lead of the day, which it would never relinquish. Keenum finished 25-of-39 for 329 yards, with three touchdowns, three interceptions and a QB rating of 84.2. It was a gunslinger’s stat-line, in both the best and worst sense of the word.
However, anyone with eyes could see that Keenum was a clear upgrade over the QB vagaries the Broncos have suffered the previous two seasons. This game shouldn’t have been close, though.
Keenum came almost halfway to matching his 2017 INT totals in one game as a Bronco.
If he can play smarter with the ball, this Broncos offense has the chance to be prolific. Some of the miscues you expect in an opener, like the first pick which was a clear miscommunication between he and Thomas, but Keenum has to clean it up in order for Denver to thrive in 2018.
Thunder and lightning attack
Phillip Lindsay was well known in Broncos Country, thanks to his prolific career at Colorado and his electric preseason, but the NFL world was still sleeping on him. Not any more.
Lindsay was explosive in his pro debut, carrying the ball 15 times for 71 yards, while hauling in two receptions for 31 yards and a touchdown. With 102 yards from scrimmage, Lindsay leapfrogged darkhorse status into bona-fide NFL playmaker.
The fantasy world will respond, because Denver’s undrafted rookie touched the ball more than Royce Freeman, the team’s actual starting running back. For what it’s worth, Freeman played well, especially late in the game with Denver protecting a three-point lead, trying to grind out the clock.
Denver’s rookie third-rounder finished with 71 rushing yards on 15 carries of his own. All in, the Broncos received almost 175 yards from scrimmage from their rookie running back duo. It’s been a long time since Denver had this kind of play-making ability in the backfield.
I’ve talked about the youth Denver has on the roster as being more of an asset than a liability. We’re seeing that come out in the wash, due to the quality of the players and the scheme of the coaches.
Pass rush back on point
Last year, Denver finished with just 33 sacks. It was nine less than the year before, which was 10 sacks less than the year before that. Since winning it all in Super Bowl 50, the Broncos pass rush has steadily declined, but there’s reason to believe their trajectory is pointing in the right direction now.
The Broncos finished with six sacks, led by Von Miller’s three. Miller also notched two forced fumbles, which included a phenomenal play in which he picked the pocket of Seattle’s Chris Carson, swiping the ball away.
No. 5 overall pick Bradley Chubb got in on the action with a half sack on his first play as a Bronco. Chubb split that one with a blitzing Darian Stewart.
Shaquil Barrett picked up a sack, as did Chris Harris, Jr.. I liked the game Joe Woods called as defensive coordinator. He dialed up pressure at just the right time in the game.
Denver walked the razor’s edge of pressuring Russell Wilson consistently, while also keeping him contained. Hat’s off to the players for excellent execution, and to Woods.
MIA at the second level
Denver’s safeties were absolutely horrid at tackling on Sunday afternoon. In the first half, both Darian Stewart and Justin Simmons struggled to take down the ball-carrier, resulting in several missed tackles.
Their tackling improved slightly in the second half, but then Simmons went and gave up a deep touchdown to Tyler Lockett, letting the speedy wideout get behind him in coverage. Simmons somewhat made up for the lapses with his third quarter interception, but it was not a good day for the third-year safety.
The execution was sloppy on the backend of Denver’s defense, and it seemed as if there were some communication lapses, too. The Broncos have to shore that up.
PHOTO GALLERY: Broncos 27, Seahawks 24
We’ve heard the coaches talk about needing better communication in the secondary for too long. Time to stop talking and start executing.
Tight end woes continue
Denver’s plan to neutralize tight ends was Su’a Cravens, but he’s sitting on injured reserve and won’t be available to the Broncos until at least Week 9. The Broncos were bitten badly by Russell Wilson and the Seattle tight ends, relinquishing over 100 yards and a touchdown.
It’s a growing problem league-wide, but the proliferation of the pass-catching tight end has been a problem for the Broncos dating back years. Unfortunately, it’s going to continue.
Wilson knew where to go with the ball and opposing QBs on the schedule will follow suit. Until the Broncos make them pay for it, tight ends will continue to be the biggest threat to the defense.