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Broncos 20, Cardinals 7: Observations

DENVER -- Von Miller dubbed outside linebacker Malik Reed as "the Dream Killer." But for Reed's career trajectory, perhaps "Dream Weaver" is more appropriate, since he is at the cusp of seeing his dream become real: to be a part of the Broncos' 53-man roster. 

Head Coach Vic Fangio confirmed as much after the game.

"Any time an undrafted college free agent comes in and makes your team and plays good, it’s always nice to see and it is a surprise no matter what anyone else would tell you," Fangio said. "I’m happy for him. I’m happy for us.”

The rookie outside linebacker returned to action after missing the last two games and picked up where he left off three weeks earlier against the Seahawks, posting two first-half sacks to double his preseason sack total.

His four preseason sacks were the most posted by a Bronco since Dekoda Watson had four in the 2016 preseason, and were tied with Watson and Shaquil Barrett in 2015 for the most by any Bronco in the preseason this decade.

Barrett's work in August 2015 could offer a hint at what is to come for Reed. It was Barrett's second preseason, as he spent most of his rookie season on the practice squad. But it was a breakthrough moment that led to a prominent rotational role that season, when he ended up posting 5.5 sacks while spelling Miller and DeMarcus Ware.

Like Barrett, Reed appears poised to be the next man up on the edge.

“Coming in as an undrafted free agent, you don’t have a spot, so you have to go out there and fight for everything that you want,” Reed said. “So it is amazing to hear that [I made the team].”

TAKING STOCK OF THE QUARTERBACKS

Kevin Hogan and Brett Rypien's performances were mixed as they divided the repetitions for the second consecutive game, with Hogan playing the first half and Rypien the second.

Both had interceptions on passes that were deflected, with Hogan also throwing an interception on a "Hail Mary" pass at the end of the first half. Hogan looked solid rolling out, most notably on a 14-yard pass to Troy Fumagalli during a drive that ended with a 6-yard, fade-route touchdown pass to Fred Brown. But Hogan also took a costly sack with the Broncos in third-and-8 at the Arizona 39-yard line with 20 seconds left in the first half, forcing the Broncos to settle for the end-of-half heave.

Rypien settled down and completed seven of his last eight passes after going 1-of-3 with an interception on his first series.

“I think they played OK," Head Coach Vic Fangio said. "Again, it’s been a lot like they’ve played most of the preseason. I see some good plays, plays that you think you can win with and then some plays that were not so good." 

And that bore itself out in the overall offensive efficiency with each quarterback at the controls this month.

Hogan finished the preseason leading 23 non-kneeldown possessions. The offense averaged 20.6 net yards, 1.35 first downs and 1.26 net points per possession. Rypien led 12 possessions -- including seven on Thursday -- and the offense averaged 29.5 net yards, 1.83 first downs and 1.42 net points per series.

In 18 possessions with rookie Drew Lock, the offense averaged 21.2 net yards, 1.33 first downs and 0.83 net points per possession. With first-teamer Joe Flacco, the offense averaged 41.25 net yards, 1.75 first downs and 1.5 net points on four possessions during the second and third preseason games.

WADMAN'S NEAR-MISS

With his second punt late in the first quarter, Colby Wadman had a perfect opportunity to pin the Cardinals deep in their territory.

He did everything he could to make that possible.

Wadman's rugby-style punt was nearly perfect. It hit the grass at the Arizona 1-yard line and bounced up, staying out of the end zone. Safety Trey Marshall was in position to down the punt, but couldn't corral it, leading to a touchback.

When Wadman reflected on the punt after the game, he felt like he could have done better.

"I could bring it back just a little bit, maybe put a little bit more hang time on it or whatever," said Wadman, who kept the football in the air for 4.62 seconds.

In the fourth quarter, he was able to successfully pin the Cardinals back at their 8-yard line with a punt that spun back from near the goal line.

"It's luck and [whether] you get that backspin if it hits right," Wadman said. "But it's mostly if you get enough hang time to where it comes down straight, then you'll have a better chance of bouncing it back."

Wadman finished the game with a gross punting average of 47.3 yards, a net average of 41.3 yards and an average hang time of 4.67 seconds. Each of his punts stayed in the air for at least 4.62 seconds. The performance capped a preseason that saw him improve as the month progressed. 

"In the beginning, obviously, it was a little inconsistent," Wadman said. "There were definitely some punts I would like back. But as the last few weeks have gone on, I feel like I'm hitting the ball better and I feel like I'm really confident."

REVIVING THE RUNNING GAME LATE

When the Broncos took possession with 7:35 left in the third quarter just after the Cardinals' first touchdown, the running game was in the throes of a funk. To that point in the game, Arizona's front seven had dominated, frequently meeting ballcarriers just as they received the handoff, resulting in just 19 yards on 15 attempts.

The Broncos' fortunes immediately reversed. First, Khalfani Muhammad galloped through wide holes for gains of 9 and 12 yards -- giving the Broncos more yardage from those two attempts than their first 15. Then Muhammad exploded past a block from offensive tackle John Leglue and burst down the right sideline for 47 yards.

"I saw some green," Muhammad said. "I saw some grass, so I started running. I had some good angles, and I had to make a cutback."

Seventeen of the yards came after Muhammad eluded Arizona safety Tyler Sigler at the Arizona 22-yard line. Muhammad fumbled at the end of the play, but the ball went out of bounds before crossing the goal line, allowing the Broncos to avoid a touchback and retain possession at the Arizona 2-yard line. Devontae Jackson finished the job with a 2-yard touchdown run on the subsequent play.

CRACRAFT, McKNIGHT SPLIT PUNT-RETURN REPETITIONS

River Cracraft handled the first-half work and successfully fielded all three of his punts, taking one for a 15-yard return and calling fair catches on the other two.

But rookie Kelvin McKnight had the most dynamic single return of the duo. With 10:39 left in the fourth quarter, McKnight stepped to the left after fielding Ryan Winslow's punt and eluded Arizona coverage for a 17-yard return before stepping out of bounds at the Denver 35-yard line. Had McKnight managed to stay in-bounds, he could have doubled that total.

Photos from team photographers of the Broncos' preseason finale against the Arizona Cardinals.

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