Denver vs. San Francisco: Report Card Grades for Each Broncos Positional Unit
While it is just preseason, the Broncos have back-to-back wins over the teams that played in last year's NFC Championship Game. That's nothing to scoff at.
The Broncos showcased stars on both sides of the ball. The offense on long passing plays and winning the battle up front in the running game. On defense, several players who are not starters displayed the evident depth that exists in Denver. The Broncos were clicking on all cylinders on Sunday and look every bit like a team ready to return to the Super Bowl.
The Broncos return to Denver for a preseason game against the Houston Texans next Saturday night.
For a positional breakdown from Sunday's game, complete with report card grades, click forward.
It didn't seem to matter who played quarterback for the Broncos on Sunday, as they were all effective.
Peyton Manning went 12-of-14 for 102 yards and one touchdown on just two drives. He gave way to Brock Osweiler, who showed that Denver may be set up very well for the post-Manning era.
Osweiler completed 10-of-13 passes in what was probably his most impressive play since being drafted by the Broncos. He tossed a pretty 33-yard touchdown to rookie Cody Latimer in the third quarter.
From there, Zac Dysert capped things off by going 8-of-11 for 63 yards, throwing a touchdown of his own to tight end Cameron Morrah.
It will be one of the toughest decisions of camp for the Broncos as to whether they keep two or three quarterbacks.
The Broncos know what they have in Manning, but it looks like they have a lot of promise behind him, as well.
Montee Ball is still out, recovering from an appendectomy, but the Denver backfield hasn't missed a beat.
The Broncos showed a strong commitment to the run on Sunday, calling 33 run plays and gaining 87 yards on the ground.
It was an equal workload for the Denver running backs, and C.J. Anderson led the team with 29 yards. He also scored on a one-yard touchdown just before halftime, bouncing back from the concussion he sustained last week against the Seattle Seahawks.
One of the highlights of the game came when Juwan Thompson caught a pass out of the backfield. It appeared he would be stopped short of a first down, until he trucked C.J. Spillman of the 49ers to pick it up.
Thompson has not only made a claim for a spot on the final roster, but he could end up passing Anderson, Ronnie Hillman, or both, on the depth chart by the time the season starts.
The kid is just too good to keep off the field.
Wide Receiver and Tight End
One thing is clear. The Broncos are extremely deep at wide receiver.
Demaryius Thomas had five catches for 37 yards and now has 10 for the preseason while playing just a handful of possessions. He looks poised for a huge season. Cody Latimer showed the skills that made him to become a second-round draft pick on the 33-yard touchdown he snagged in the third quarter.
All of this and Emmanuel Sanders hasn't even gotten on the field yet. This unit is going to post massive numbers this season.
At tight end, Julius Thomas has the distinction of scoring the first ever touchdown at Levi's Stadium. Jacob Tamme looked good as a backup, catching passes from both Brock Osweiler and Zac Dysert. The only downside for this position came when Gerell Robinson had to leave with an apparent knee injury.
In a battle to make the roster, that isn't going to help his chances.
The Broncos starting offensive line played great in this game. It's a unit that should rank among the league's best once the season starts.
Peyton Manning had a nice pocket to throw from every time he dropped back.
The second unit was given extended action in this game, and it had mixed results. There were some penalties and the run blocking could have been better, but for the most part this group held its own.
Just before halftime, the group got a great push to allow C.J. Anderson to plunge in for a score. Had he been stopped short, Denver likely would not have had time to get off another play.
Terrance Knighton is an absolute mountain in the middle of the Denver defense. He should be very effective in stopping the run this season.
Other Denver defensive linemen also stepped up and made big plays on Sunday.
Quanterus Smith looks like a player who may just live up to the buzz surrounding his play during training camp. On a play early in the game against the 49ers, San Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernick tried to run a bootleg, but Smith didn't bite on the fake and was instantly in Kaepernick's face. While Smith didn't get the sack, he did force a bad throw.
Mitch Unrein, who is in a battle to make the roster due to the play of Marvin Austin in camp, made a great strip of backup quarterback Josh Johnson, forcing a fumble which Denver recovered.
The Broncos may have too many defensive linemen to keep Unrein around, but it will be hard to part with him too.
The loss of Danny Trevathan is a big one for Denver, but the play of Brandon Marshall sure softens the blow.
Marshall, getting the first chance to replace Trevathan, put some hard hits on San Francisco players Sunday and totaled tackles, which led the team. Marshall still has more to prove, but he is off to a great start as one of the new starting linebackers.
After Lamin Barrow left with an injury, seventh-round pick Corey Nelson was given extended playing time, and he made the most of it while collecting four tackles.
For the second game in a row, Steven Johnson made an interception, picking off McLeod Bethel-Johnson in the fourth quarter.
While the team was missing Trevathan and Barrow, they had several players step up. The team will have some tough decisions when it's time to trim rosters.
The Broncos spent a lot of money to get cornerback Aqib Talib, but the 49ers showed no fear of him. On their first possession, former Bronco Brandon Lloyd ran right by him on what would have been a long touchdown pass had Colin Kaepernick not overthrown his receiver.
Omar Bolden tied for the team lead with five tackles, but he also dropped a sure interception that was right in his hands. He still has some work to do to make the team.
With all of the depth in the secondary, Tony Carter could be on the outside looking in when roster cuts come around, but he made an excellent play on a ball thrown by Blaine Gabbert, intercepting it and bringing it back 32 yards.
Safety John Boyett had a ball thrown by McLeod Bethel-Thompson hit him in the hands, but he couldn't catch it. Instead, it landed right in the hands of San Francisco tight end Kevin Greene, who turned it into a 48-yard gain that nearly broke up Denver's bid for a shutout.
Jerome Murphy was instrumental in preserving the shutout at the end of the game, making two goal-line tackles on San Francisco running back Jewel Hampton.
The Broncos held San Francisco to just 161 yards passing on the day.
Mitch Ewald handled kickoff duties in this game, which effectively is an audition for other teams around the league, since Matt Prater is in no jeopardy of losing his job.
Both kickers booted a field goal, and they each handled the experimental 33-yard extra points with ease.
Punter Britton Colquitt was called on just three times to punt and averaged 42.3 yards per kick. As one of the best punters in the league, Britton appears to be in midseason form.
If there was one area the Broncos could have improved on in this game, it was their kick coverage. Though San Francisco didn't attempt a punt return, the Niners did average 24.5 yards per kickoff return. The Broncos also gave up two returns of 30 yards or more.
In their own return game, the battle for punt returner continues. Jordan Norwood returned one punt for 17 yards, while Isaiah Burse gained eight yards on his return. The edge in that competition—and a pretty significant one—goes to Norwood right now.
Since these two teams play each other in Week 7 of the regular season, the game plan was very basic. Yet, the coaching staff in Denver has to be pleased with the sheer depth they have on this roster.
When a player such as Danny Trevathan goes down, Brandon Marshall steps up and plays well. This goes for several positions on the roster.
This shows that the coaching staff has the right players in place and has done an excellent job integrating them into the system.
Penalties could still be an issue, though referees around the league have been more strict in enforcing rules this preseason.
The Broncos were penalized 10 times for 80 yards. While some of that may not be of concern, the 15-yard personal-foul penalty that Quanterus Smith drew was completely unnecessary.
Running Back: B+
Wide Receiver and Tight End: A-
Offensive Line: B-
Defensive Line: B
Special Teams: B
Cumulative Grade: A-
The Broncos could not have played much better than they did on Sunday, as they dismantled San Francisco. While the results of a preseason game shouldn't be taken too seriously, there is plenty for Denver fans to be excited about following this game.
With what could easily be the deepest roster in all of football, the Broncos will be a very tough team to beat when the games that do matter get started.