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Five Questions, Answered

Posted Aug 18, 2013

Andrew Mason breaks down the Broncos' 40-10 loss to the Seahawks and answers the top-five questions leading into the game.

SEATTLE -- The Broncos' most resounding preseason loss in nearly 31 years was set in motion early by self-inflicted mistakes and sealed by inconsistency that doomed any efforts to sustain drives or force the Seahawks' offense off the field quickly.
"We've just got to get back to the drawing board, man," said defensive tackle Kevin Vickerson.
There were a few buds of promise from an otherwise fallow performance. But in general, this was a learning experience that the Broncos would rather endure now rather than in three weeks.
1. How will the defense contain the Seahawks on the ground?
Early in the game, the defensive tackles failed to generate much push against the Seahawks' interior offensive linemen, but that changed in the second quarter. Seattle gained 28 yards on seven carries in the first 15 minutes, but was limited to 10 yards on five carries in the second period. Seattle's top two backs, Marshawn Lynch and Robert Turbin, combined for 36 yards on 11 carries; this is a respectable figure.
But the defense was exposed against the run in the second half. Reserve running back Spencer Ware too frequently got to the edge, and then took advantage of some missed tackles on the back lines of the defense, which exacerbated matters. His 6.0-yards-per-carry average reflected the second-half issues for Denver's run defense.
2. What does Brock Osweiler need to show?
Heading into the game, Osweiler needed more chances to connect downfield, to stretch out the defense and create room for his receivers to turn short, underneath passes into long plays. That didn't happen, as Osweiler was sacked once every 4.5 times he dropped back to pass. Including yards lost to sacks, the Broncos averaged just 2.44 yards every time Osweiler dropped back to pass. He was hit six times -- once every three drop-backs.
He refused to use this as an excuse.
"I need to find a way to get the second offense into the end zone," he said.
The No. 2 offense has accounted for just three points in two games, and that modest output came after a 73-yard punt return by Trindon Holliday set up the Broncos at the Seattle 11-yard-line. In all likelihood, Osweiler and the No. 2 offense won't have as many snaps next week against St. Louis; this was their best chance to settle in and find a long-range rhythm before the preseason finale, and it did not go well.
Learning to succeed under duress is something every quarterback must learn, but Osweiler's preseason work so far has been a trial by fire.
3. Which running back will find a groove?
Both Ronnie Hillman and Montee Ball had their moments, but it was Ball who shone brightest as a runner, averaging 4.7 yards on his six carries. Ball looked more decisive on his cuts than he did early in training camp, and resembled the downhill runner he was at Wisconsin.
That being said, Ball showed how far he had to go in pass protection when he allowed Seahawks linebacker Bobby Wagner to break through his block attempt and drill Peyton Manning. That will ultimately determine the playing time, and Hillman is still ahead in this department thanks to his year of experience.
 4. Who needs to show improvement from last week?
The second-team offensive line needed to demonstrate progress, and in pass blocking, it struggled for a second consecutive game, leaving Osweiler under attack. An average of one quarterback hit every three passing plays will not suffice, and backup running back Lance Ball had no room to do anything on the ground and averaged 0.3 yards on seven carries. The unit also accounted for three penalties, one of which was declined.
But the issues for the No. 2 offense go beyond the offensive line. Its struggles overall were profound, and it accounted for just 74 yards on 22 plays. Its average of 3.63 yards per play was a full 1.6 yards per snap fewer than the first offense averaged before halftime. And Osweiler's fourth-quarter interception, on what he said was a busted play that saw him roll to the right, was one in which he placed the blame upon himself. The evaluation of the No. 2 offense would have been a bit kinder had Osweiler connected with Gerell Robinson for that potential touchdown. But his work earlier that drive, when he rolled right and connected with tight end Jake O'Connell, showed that he can make plays on the move, and designed rollouts might be an option for the Broncos if the second-year quarterback is pressed into service at some point this season.
5. How will Trindon Holliday be used?
Much like he usually is -- as a kickoff and punt returner, but with a handful of offensive snaps thrown in with the reserves. He caught a 17-yard pass, but fell after leaping for the football and didn't have the chance to display his open-field moves. Holliday's 73-yard punt return set up a field goal and momentarily electrified proceedings, but he also lost five yards running around on his other punt return. Still, a 36.5-yard average -- with an admittedly small sample size -- is something the Broncos will happily accept, as long as it comes without fumbles, as was the case Saturday.

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