Cleat Geeks

Broncos clip Seahawks in opener


In the immortal words of Herm Edwards, “You play to win the game.” The Broncos didn’t get a lot of wins in 2017, so getting off on the right foot in 2018 was important. And while it wasn’t a pretty game at times, the Broncos did achieve their goal, a win. They beat the Seahawks 27-24, starting the season 1-0 and giving fans reasons for optimism heading into a new season.

As I will all season long, I’ll break down the Broncos’ game including a little fantasy analysis.

A Defensive Show

What can you say now about Von Miller that hasn’t already been said. He’s a beast, and he remains the Broncos’ best player. And as in past seasons when the Broncos had other good rushers, if you can keep the opposing team from being able to double and triple team him all day, Miller can wreck an offensive game plan. He did just that on Sunday, recording three sacks of Russell Wilson, forcing two fumbles and recovering a fumble. Well, it wasn’t so much a recovery as the sight of Miller just straight snatching the ball out of Chris Carson’s hands. He made an early case to be at or near the top of the Defensive Player of the Year voting.

But Miller wasn’t the only good defender. While the pass defense looked a bit lost at times, they also made some plays. Justin Simmons picked off Wilson to set up a score with the game tied in the second half, and Adam “Pacman” Jones snagged an INT to end the game, his first as a Bronco. The team also accounted for six sacks in the game, including Miller’s three, and generally kept Wilson under pressure and the ground game in check. Carson rushed for 51 yards on seven carries, but rookie Rashaad Penny mustered just eight yards on his seven carries.

The Broncos’ defense did enough to keep them in the game, and to help get a win.

Rushing Rookies

Everyone came to see starter Royce Freeman, the first rookie to start for the Broncos since Terrell Davis. But the rookie RB who shined was undrafted free agent, and Colorado native, Phillip Lindsay. While third-year man Devontae Booker was proclaimed the starter most of training game and pre-season, he was an after thought in the game. He had two carries for four years and two receptions for 11 yards. But I’d expect to see him get less and less work.

Lindsay burst onto the scene, grabbing a 29-yard pass for a touchdown to begin the Broncos’ scoring. He also had 15 carries for 71 yards, running hard and strong throughout the game. He got key drives in the fourth quarter, which shows that the rookie has already earned the team’s trust.

Freeman also had 71 yards on 15 carries, but it was a subdued debut. In fact, Freeman got 37 of those yards on four carries during the Broncos’ four-minute offense at the end, propping up his overall numbers for the day. Prior to the final drive, he had just 34 yards on 11 carries. But he ran with power and burst at times, and should be in line for a nice season. The combination of Freeman and Lindsay gives the Broncos a pair of backfield weapons that will provide balance.

Mixed Bag in the Passing GameImage result for case keenum broncos

For Case Keenum there was good, bad and ugly in his debut. At times he held the ball too long and looked to be on a different page from his receivers. That contributed to three interceptions that gave fans a flashback to the Trevor Siemian/Paxton Lynch days. But unlike the last two years, Keenum was able to overcome the mistakes and keep on driving the ball down the field. And he also threw for three touchdowns, including the 29-yarder to Lindsay, a 43-yard connection with Emmanuel Sanders, and a beautiful four-yard pass threaded into Demaryius Thomas to give the Broncos a 27-24 lead in the fourth quarter. Those are plays that didn’t happen with regularity the past two seasons. And as a result, Thomas and Sanders came back to life. Sanders caught 10 for 135 yards, while Thomas added 61 yards on six receptions. The Broncos also saw rookie Courtland Sutton make a pair of grabs for 45 yards, and got the tight ends involved with Jake Butt catching two passes for 29 yards in his NFL debut and Jeff Heuerman catching his lone target for 15 yards.

Moving Forward

The Broncos got a win, did some good things and avoided major injuries. That’s a success. And this was a game the team needed to have at home against a diminished Seattle squad. Next week the Broncos host the Raiders in another game they need to win if they want to make a serious playoff push in 2018. And if they can continue to move the ball and avoid the mistakes, they might be able to win without so much fourth quarter drama.

Fantasy News and Notes

I suggested that Lindsay was a stash that could pay off down the road. Well down the road might be closer than we think. His usage, and success, on opening day suggests that he’s carved out a meaningful role in this offense. And with just 17 touches Sunday he posted 103 yards and a touchdown. I think he’s moved into consideration for a flex play. Those that rostered Sutton should be encouraged, too, that he’ll have value this season.

For those that were disappointed with what they saw from Freeman, I’d urge patience. I think he’s a young back growing into the role, and I expect him to get meaningful goal line carries. In addition, if the Broncos can build a lead he’s the kind of pounder they will use to wear down defenses.

Finally, in the passing game, it appears what we saw in the pre-season was a clue to the Broncos’ receivers in the regular season. Thomas is still a good receiver who will provide value, but Keenum appears to have a connection with Sanders, who is hitting his stride in the slot. He appears to be the bigger upside play among Broncos receivers at this point.

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