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Upon Further Review: Broncos-Cowboys

Posted Aug 31, 2014

Mitch Unrein's performance and progress over the last four years helped him cement a place on the 53-man roster, and the preseason finale saw him play one of his best games.

The roster moves made Saturday to pare the Broncos down to 53 players cast light upon some of the performances in Thursday's 27-3 win over the Dallas Cowboys and their impact on constructing the final roster.

And perhaps none showed their worth more than defensive tackles Mitch Unrein and Marvin Austin, who now comprise the second unit of interior defensive linemen, which ensures them a decent role in the rotation that Defensive Coordinator Jack Del Rio favors. Unrein played 30 snaps, and Austin 25, and both were at times dominant, consistently breaking through a Dallas offensive line that was outmanned by starting-quality penetration and disruption of the duo.

"I haven't been able to start a game and play that many plays, pretty much, since college," said Unrein, who has started just three times in the regular season, but has played at least 30 defensive snaps six times -- three in each of the last two seasons.

"I think it helps when you get out there and you can play a lot of plays like that. You start getting kind of on a roll, an knowing what the offensive linemen like to do. You kind of get tips off their stance and things like that, and then you hear some of the calls, and things like that. So it felt good to get out there and play a lot."

And to play outside, as well as inside. The Broncos have been looking at him as a four-technique defensive end, which Unrein noted was his coaches' idea. That versatility, plus his upside, helped tip the scale in his favor over the more experienced Kevin Vickerson, who was returning from a dislocated hip.

"(Unrein is) a guy we think that has a higher ceiling at this point in time of his career and a guy that can also move outside, play some in(side), he's got a little bit more flexibility there."

OTHER NOTES:

  • When you use rub routes as effectively as the Broncos, you force the defense to play back just enough for keep-the-chains-moving passes on third-and-short to be easily converted. That's how Cody Latimer's 57-yard catch-and-run in the third quarter began; he ran his drag route to the inside, Isaiah Burse flared outside. Latimer already had the first down at the reception; he'd been given enough cushion, even though he'd run the drag route exactly where it needed to be: a yard beyond the line of scrimmage. The rest is all on Latimer and his long stride, which picked up about two and a half yards per step.
  • Four placekicks is not a large enough sample size to determine Brandon McManus' effectiveness, although he was given a demanding task, asked twice to connect from beyond 50 yards in his Broncos debut. He missed wide right from that range, but hit field-goal attempts from 19 and 40 yards. His successful 40-yard kick in the final minute of play increased his all-time preseason accuracy from 40 or more yards to 66.7 percent, although again a proper assessment is impossible because of the sample size (six attempts, four successes).
  • Brock Osweiler's progress this preseason was measured in his resilience. He followed an interception with a touchdown drive against Seattle on Aug. 7. Sixteen days later, he rebounded from a third-quarter interception with what would have been a game-clinching, 14-play, 71-yard, nine-minute, 44-second drive if Mitch Ewald had hit a 36-yard field-goal attempt. Thursday's 27-3 win was a recovery from a second-half performance against Houston that was at times rough and capped by four consecutive incompletions (two of which were catchable passes that were dropped). Against the Cowboys, Osweiler located his deep passes well, scrambled out of trouble and averaged 13.3 yards per action play (pass, sack or rush by him). By comparison, Peyton Manning's best average per action play with Denver is 10.5 yards, set last Dec. 1 at Kansas City.
  • The Broncos' plus-62 point differential was the league's best in the preseason, and their 37 points allowed was the fewest, averaging 9.25 points an outing. Seattle led the league in both categories in the 2013 preseason (plus-74, 36 points allowed). But before you put too much stock into this statistic, know that the last team to lead the league in both preseason categories before the 2012 and 2013 Seahawks was the 2008 Detroit Lions, who allowed 32 points and had a plus-48 point differential -- and then regurgitated the first 0-16 season in NFL history.

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