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What we learned: Broncos 24, Bears 17

Posted Aug 10, 2017

It only took three plays for the "No-Fly Zone" to show that it was in midseason form ... and other things we learned from the preseason opener.

CHICAGO -- A late surge allowed the Broncos to start their preseason on a positive note, with a 24-17 win over the Chicago Bears in the preseason opener for both teams Thursday night.

Here's some of what we learned from the Broncos' win:

1. The "No-Fly Zone" is its usual self

Chris Harris Jr., Aqib Talib and Darian Stewart were given the night off after three plays. They had nothing more to prove.

On the second play from scrimmage, Stewart collided with Bears WR Cameron Meredith, forcing an incompletion. On the third, Harris nabbed an errant Mike Glennon throw forced by pressure from OLB Kasim Edebali, returning it 50 yards for a touchdown.

Before most of the 43,946 had settled into their seats, the three Pro Bowlers were done, joining fellow safety T.J. Ward, who had the night off entirely because of a hamstring injury he suffered last Friday.

On the Broncos' sideline, quarterbacks Trevor Siemian and Paxton Lynch could only smile and nod. They knew better than anyone else in the stadium just what Glennon had learned: throwing on this secondary remains nearly impossible.

2. QBs up and down, but avoid big mistakes early, and cash in late

Neither Siemian nor Lynch could guide the Broncos to a touchdown, and the longest drive generated by Siemian with the No. 1 offense -- a 10-play, 60-yard march to a 38-yard Brandon McManus field goal -- was aided by three Chicago penalties for 34 yards that moved the Broncos into the Chicago red zone.

But Denver's quarterbacks also had no interceptions or lost fumbles. The mistakes were ones around which the Broncos could work.

"I was satisfied," Head Coach Vance Joseph said when asked about the quarterbacks. "Trevor was solid. He made some nice plays in the pass game. Paxton had some nice plays, but we had so many penalties during his time of play that it hurt his drives. That's why he played more than we thought."

Siemian shook off an early sack and settled into a groove, completing six of his seven attempts for 51 yards. Perhaps his most impressive pass was an 11-yard strike to Demaryius Thomas on a third-and-11 play, when he fired just as Thomas broke back, completing the pass despite tight coverage.

Lynch struggled early; his first two series ended in three-and-outs. He found some momentum after halftime with a series of quick passes: 14 yards to Jordan Taylor and then a slew of short strikes to Cody Latimer.

While Siemian and Lynch eventually found their rhythm, the offense failed to generate explosive plays, in part due to the penalties that held Denver's attack back. The longest completion for either quarterback was 14 yards.

Kyle Sloter entered in the fourth quarter and capitalized on some breakdowns in Chicago's secondary. He tied the game at 17-17 with a 47-yard strike to a wide-open Isaiah McKenzie, then helped set up another touchdown with a 24-yard pass to Kalif Raymond after rolling left, then spotting Raymond flashing open downfield.

Collectively, the Broncos' quarterbacks completed 17 of 22 passes, finishing with a completion percentage of 77.3 percent -- 66.7 for Lynch, 83.3 for Sloter and 85.7 for Siemian.

3. Gashed on the ground after the first quarter

After a promising start, Denver's run defense struggled, particularly after after DE Billy Winn was lost to a right knee injury late in the first quarter. Prior to Winn's injury, the Broncos held Chicago to just 2.9 yards per carry and just one first down on 10 rushing attempts.

After that, Chicago racked up 5.5 yards per carry, slicing through the Broncos for 144 yards on 26 attempts. The Bears also moved the chains once every 2.9 attempts, allowing them to keep the offense on schedule with the running game alone.

4. Short-yardage offense still a work in progress

Last year, the Broncos struggled on third and fourth downs, converting just 50 percent of their third- and fourth-down plays with one or two yards to gain -- the worst percentage in the league. It was a figure 13.1 percentage points below the league average.

Thursday, those struggles continued in the first three quarters. Denver failed to convert a third-and-1 and a fourth-and-2. On the third-and-1, Stevan Ridley was stuffed for a 3-yard loss; on the fourth down, Juwan Thompson gained just one yard, leading to the turnover on downs.

De'Angelo Henderson did convert a third-and-1 in the fourth quarter working behind the third-team offensive line, giving the Broncos something positive to point to in short yardage, but in general, this remains an area they will want to improve.

5. DeMarcus Walker still learning the ropes

In his first extensive work at outside linebacker since high school, Walker was whistled for two offside penalties, one of which was declined after Bears QB Mitchell Trubisky scrambled for 12 yards. But Walker also finished with a tackle for a loss in the third quarter, which was the Broncos' only tackle for a loss or sack in the game.