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Broncos-49ers: Three Questions, Answered

Posted Aug 17, 2014

Andrew Mason takes a look back at his three questions to see how they were resolved in the Broncos' preseason win over the 49ers.

SANTA CLARA, Calif. --The Broncos did not emerge unscathed from their second preseason game, losing linebacker Lamin Barrow to a leg injury and tight end Gerell Robinson to a knee injury.

But aside from those injuries, the 34-0 win over the San Francisco 49ers went exactly as they would have hoped. The offense used an array of passes to move the football and control the tempo; the defense generated pressure on 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick.

1. How will the linebackers fare without Danny Trevathan?

Quite well, led by Trevathan's primary replacement, Brandon Marshall. Marshall had five tackles, and while the raw tackle total sometimes is not an accurate measurement of a defender's effectiveness, in Marshall's case, it revealed how active he was in filling holes, preventing 49ers running backs from reaching the second level. On Marshall's five stops, the 49ers averaged 1.8 yards per rush, and he limited their yardage after contact.

Marshall said he received help from Nate Irving calling the plays.

The Broncos supplemented their base defense with a dime package, but in effect it was a nickel, as they used T.J. Ward alongside Marshall. Ward blitzed from this alignment, which led to a third-down stop on the first possession, as Colin Kapernick released the football a split-second before he would have liked.

"I expected it. That's what I was brought here to do," said Ward. "I'm kind of tailored to do that. Whatever Jack wants to do to mix things up. I think we do a great job. We have a great group of safeties that can intermingle and do things a little differently."

The primary question now revolves around Barrow's health. He left the field via a cart in the third quarter. A prolonged absence would be a blow to the Broncos' depth -- and their hopes for Barrow, who has improved throughout training camp.

2. How much of a measuring stick will this be for the offense?

Given the quality of San Francisco's defense, it was a significant test, and the offense passed. During the two first-team series, the Broncos converted four of five third downs, including a 17-yard touchdown pass to Julius Thomas. Manning did what he's done so often; he looked to his right, forced the safety (Craig Dahl) to react, and pounced, with Thomas breaking two steps beyond Dahl to cap his post pattern with an easy reception that put the Broncos in front, 10-0.

"It was an interesting coverage," Manning said. "But like I said he’s a threat to get down the middle and it’s nice when you have a guy with that speed to get down the field."

The Broncos shuffled their personnel and formations and kept the 49ers confused. A strong example of this came on a successful third-and-3 conversion. The Broncos stacked their targets to each side: Demaryius Thomas behind Julius Thomas to the right side, and Andre Caldwell behind Wes Welker on the left. The ensuing confusion in the secondary led to Demaryius Thomas being uncovered on a drag route, which he turned into a 20-yard gain -- 16 of which came after the catch.

The offense was precise. It looked to be in midseason form. And with 17 points on four possessions against two quick, athletic defenses, there can be no viable complaints about the first unit's effectiveness.

Brock Osweiler and the second team continued that progress, overcoming a shaky opening series that was marred by a penalty and Tank Carradine's explosion up the middle. Osweiler directed two touchdown drives and finished with a higher quarterback rating than Manning in what appeared to be his most complete, composed performance. Although Osweiler sees continued incremental improvement, he remains unsatisfied.

"I think the biggest thing is getting better every week. And if you look back to my rookie year, and then last year, and then now, I think that's happened," he said. "I think every single week, I've gotten better."

"Did I like that product that I put out on the field as a rookie? No. Did I like it last year? No. And I think we're getting closer and closer to that point, but we still have a long ways to go."

3. How will the defense react to the 49ers' variety of quarterbacks?

Quite well. Although sacks were at a premium, the Broncos generated effective pressure, with Ward and Malik Jackson each logging hits of Kaepernick. Jackson blew past Mike Iupati for pressure to force a third-down stop on the 49ers' second series of the game. DeMarcus Ware also generated pressure on a stunt with Sylvester Williams, and solid downfield coverage forced Kaepernick to check down more often than not.

"I think our ends did a great job of containing them," said Marshall. "We put a little bit of pressure on them, and we covered on the back end."

Added defensive tackle Terrance Knighton: "The fact (Kaepernick) can hurt you with his feet, you've got to respect that part of him. We just want to do a good job of keeping guys in the pocket and corralling him. We got guys like DeMarcus and Malik and Wolfe, guys who can chase down quarterbacks like that. It makes it a lot easier, and I’m pretty sure theyre aware of the guys they got rushing."