ENGLEWOOD, Colo. --Amid all the talk of two-tight end sets and the potential use of I, offset I and pistol formations, with one tight end and two wide receivers, don't forget that the slot receiver still matters in the Broncos' offense.
Three-wide sets are unlikely to be used to the same degree as during the last three seasons, but that doesn't mean they won't be relevant -- especially when Emmanuel Sanders returns to the gameday lineup and moves over to the slot, as he noted as far back as April when he met the media after he began to learn about his role in the tweaked offensive scheme.
Sanders' hamstring injury set the offense back a bit during the preseason, but it opened the door for Jordan Norwood to make an impression. His work in the slot helped rouse the offense early in the 19-12 win over San Francisco, particularly on a 15-yard catch on third-and-13 that helped lead to a Brandon McManus field goal.
The route is simple; Norwood sprints for the line to gain and does a sharp cut out toward the sideline. But the key to the play is how Norwood uses the overaggressiveness of cornerback Keith Reaser to his advantage; he gets him out of position behind him as he makes his cut.
It's the kind of savvy route that you'd expect from a coach's son -- and someone who still studies the work of Wes Welker.
"I have a lot of Wes Welker film on my iPad right now that, if I'm looking for something to watch, I'll just watch 2007 Wes Welker film, literally," Norwood said after the game. "He's somebody that I look up to."
Saturday, Norwood looked the part. But the slots kept paying off for the Broncos, even with a different receiver pulling the handle.
In the fourth quarter, Isaiah Burse worked in the slot, and he had a key reception on the Broncos' game-winning drive: a 13-yard catch on third-and-5 from the Denver 38-yard-line.
And, of course, the slot man will have to block, and do so decisively, as Norwood did to Reaser on C.J. Anderson's 14-yard run in the first quarter. Anderson wasn't near the play, but Norwood did a good job attacking and getting his arms up and out, although if he could hold the block a little longer without drawing a penalty, it would make the work even better.
... Anderson's first-quarter scamper was an example of the offensive line's quick growth in its run blocking -- particularly from Max Garcia and Matt Paradis. Both move to the left, but Paradis reads the play perfectly, turns upfield and blocks Michael Wilhoite, who ends up making the tackle but is out of the play enough to allow Anderson to get eight extra yards out of the run.
... DeMarcus Ware got credit for the sack and safety of 49ers QB Colin Kaepernick in the second quarter, but DE Antonio Smith deserved equal credit. He pushed 49ers right guard Ian Silberman back and then surged under Silberman's left shoulder, forcing Kaepernick to hesitate and veer into Ware's grasp for the safety.
... Silberman couldn't keep up with Smith or DE Malik Jackson. The Broncos' third-and-5 stop with 8:09 left in the second quarter was a direct result of Jackson getting his hands up to Silberman's shoulder pads and using him as leverage to burst into the backfield, forcing Kaepernick to the outside. Jackson came close to a sack on the next series as he stunted into the backfield, but Kaepernick let Jackson fly by him, and when Sylvester Williams could not disengage from a blocker fast enough, Kaepernick had a 19-yard gain.
... Britton Colquitt averaged 4.57 seconds of hang time on his two punts.