CHICAGO -- ** Thursday's 22-0 thrashing of the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field saw the kind of start the Broncos wanted most -- one in which each of the three phases contributed big plays.
By early in the third quarter, the special teams had contributed a touchdown on a blocked punt, the offense had driven to three scores -- including a game-opening march to a 32-yard Mark Sanchez-to-Demaryius Thomas touchdown pass -- and the defense had scored on a Dekoda Watson safety that was just one of seven sacks racked up by the defense in the first three quarters.
Let's take a quick look at some of the key areas to watch.
For Mark Sanchez, the night was oh-so-close to being perfect.
Showing good poise under pressure, he diced up the Bears' first-team defense during his first quarter of work. On his touchdown strike to Thomas, he diagnosed the gap in Chicago's deep coverage and flung up a pass despite a crushing rush up the middle from former Broncos linebacker Danny Trevathan.
But on the next possession, Sanchez was intercepted by Jerrell Freeman after trying to find Bennie Fowler in an area filled with three defenders. Sanchez rolled right, and Chicago's defenders were waiting for a play that proved to be the difference between a 126.7 rating and the 91.5 rating with which he finished the night.
"I thought Mark was really good; he just had that one mistake with the football that were continuing to try and correct. He knows that," Head Coach Gary Kubiak said.
Trevor Siemian's second quarter saw some ups and downs. He was effective on short and underneath routes, as he is during practice. But he also couldn't connect on three deep attempts up the left sideline. Chicago's Deiondre Hall was there to prevent two of the completions.
"He put some deep balls in good places on plays we should have made for him," Kubiak said.
But Siemian's progress this summer was apparent later in the second quarter, when he successfully escaped pressure, rolled right and found Jordan Taylor for a 22-yard gain to set up a field-goal attempt. Siemian looked much better under pressure than he did during practice this week.
Paxton Lynch struggled early; on his first series, the offense went three-and-out as he tried to scramble out of a pass rush on both of his pass plays.
But he settled down -- particularly under center -- and showed more patience in the pocket as his time on the field progressed. Six minutes into the fourth quarter, he stood tall in the pocket and fired a 22-yard strike down the middle for Jordan Taylor; he also might have had another completion to Taylor up the right sideline two plays later if Chicago defensive back Joel Ross had not reached out and grabbed Taylor as the pass was fired, leading to a pass-interference penalty.
That drive eventually petered out, but Lynch showed another sign of progress later in the drive; as he rolled right under a heavy rush, he did a good job keeping his eyes downfield and motioning to get his receivers into better position.
"Paxton, for the first time out, I thought he was very solid. His reactions were good," Kubiak said.
Lynch ended the night completing 6 of 7 passes for 74 yards. He took three sacks and was was the only quarterback to not lead a scoring drive, but showed improvement.
2. OFFENSIVE LINE
The night was a busy one for Darrion Weems in particular; he started at right guard and then moved outside to tackle, keeping him on the field well into the fourth quarter. Michael Schofield, who started at left tackle, also remained in the game until the second quarter.
James Ferentz played from the first through the fourth quarter after dealing with knee swelling on Monday, and did a good job getting set and anchoring the line, but was called for unnecessary roughness with 7:42 left int he fourth quarter, wiping out a 21-yard Lynch-to-Durron Neal connection. Dillon Day, a practice-squad center last year, got a long look at left guard, replacing starter Max Garcia in the first quarter and remaining on the field well into Lynch's stint.
The line did not surrender a first-half sack, although both Sanchez and Siemian had to escape pressure. It did endure a spate of penalties on its next-to-last possession of the first half, with two holding calls -- one of which was part of offsetting penalties -- and a tripping infraction forcing the Broncos into long-yardage situations. But for the most part, it was a solid start.
- SPECIAL TEAMS**
Bennie Fowler had the breakthrough moment when he roared past DeAndre Houston-Carson to block a punt, setting up Zaire Anderson to recover for the touchdown. But that was only one moment of an eventful night on special teams.
Britton Colquitt and Riley Dixon had similar averages, and neither permitted a return that gained any yards. Colquitt capped his night with a well-placed 37-yard coffin-corner punt that bounced out of bounds at the Chicago 8-yard line.
Kalif Raymond demonstrated quickness and shiftiness on his returns, and finished the night with a 10.7-yard average on three punt returns and a 26-yard kickoff return. Raymond showed good vision, and improved his fielding of kicks as the night progressed.
"I expected it to be fast and it was. That was a good experience, but I was a step away from breaking it [for a long return]," Raymond said. "That's what I wanted to do, so if I get another shot, I might try to take it to the house next time."
Fellow rookie Bralon Addison showed a nice burst to get outside of traffic on a punt return with 3:32 left in the third quarter that was nullified by an illegal block in the back on Sadat Sulleyman. Addison finished with a 13.5-yard average on two punt returns and a 23-yard kickoff return. Addison also made a good decision to let a punt sail over his head for a touchback with 3:31 remaining in regulation.
"I thought they both did good," Kubiak said. "I thought Kalif handled the ball well and then getting [Addison] in there in the second half I thought he looked explosive except for a penalty that brought some stuff back."
Running back Kapri Bibbs showed outstanding hustle to sprint downfield for a tackle on a kickoff during the second quarter.
But it was a rough night on placekicks, as Brandon McManus was just 2-of-4 on his field-goal attempts; one was blocked and his 46-yard attempt in the third quarter hit the right upright.
- PRESSURE, PRESSURE, PRESSURE.**
Multiple defensive players have spoken of how much more comfortable the players are in their second year working in Wade Phillips' scheme. That was evident in the variety of attacks dialed up by Phillips, who used delayed rushes and safety blitzes to supplement the work of the defensive linemen and edge rushers to prevent Chicago's quarterbacks from ever getting comfortable.
Shane Ray and Derek Wolfe started the pass-rush party with a shared sack of Jay Cutler. T.J. Ward and Will Parks each recorded sacks, and Jared Crick, Adam Gotsis and outside linebackers Vontarrius Dora and Eddie Yarbrough all got to Chicago quarterbacks.
"The play was very solid -- just a lot of good things going on," Kubiak said.