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Bears 24, Broncos 23: Observations

DENVER -- For the Broncos' first team, Saturday's performance against the Chicago Bears was far more promising than their work last week against the Minnesota Vikings.

The best part about the Broncos' early success was that it involved all three phases.


... Start with the Broncos' first score, which came on a Bradley Chubb tackle of Mitchell Trubisky in the end zone for a safety. The play was set up by stout run defense from Brandon Marshall and Todd Davis, who stuffed Chicago running back Jordan Howard on consecutive plays. Marshall brought down Howard at the 1-yard line for a 4-yard loss, and then Davis stonewalled Howard at the 3-yard line one play later. 

But the genesis of the points was on special teams. Punter Marquette King has emphasized placement punting in his practice work, often having plastic wastebaskets placed inside the 10-yard line and outside the numbers, aiming to drop punts in the baskets.

That work paid off when King fired a 49-yard punt that Cre'Von Leblanc fielded with a fair catch at the 5-yard line, setting up the defense to attack out of the base package.

A free kick followed the safety, and Isaiah McKenzie sprinted 17 yards up the right sideline to the Denver 40-yard line. Then the offense found its groove, with Case Keenum hitting DaeSean Hamilton for 18 yards on the next snap, giving the No. 1 offense its initial first down of the preseason after three three-and-outs. 

Keenum completed four consecutive passes on the drive, moving the Broncos to the Chicago 8-yard line before the drive finally stalled.

"I feel like we started way faster this week," nose tackle Domata Peko Sr. told KTVD-Ch. 20 on its game broadcast. "We got in there really quick and got after them."

... Denver went 4-of-6 on third downs in the first half, including an 80-percent success rate when they had third-and-8-yards or fewer. Denver's other failed third down came on third-and-goal from the 18, which saw Keenum hit Devontae Booker for 10 yards.

The Broncos' first touchdown drive of the game -- a 9-play, 82-yard march in the second quarter -- saw Denver convert both of their third-down plays on passes from Keenum to Emmanuel Sanders for 10 and 11 yards, respectively.

"The balls were coming, I was able to catch them and make plays on third down, and we were able to put up points," Sanders told KTVD-Ch. 20 during its game broadcast.

... One issue during practice against the Bears this week was the frequency and length of receptions by Chicago's collection of tight ends, led by Trey Burton and Adam Shaheen. 

Fifty of the Bears' 92 yards on their first three possessions came on receptions by Burton and Shaheen, including Burton's 7-yard touchdown catch from Mitchell Trubisky on the first play of the second quarter. Trubisky targeted the tight ends on six of his first nine attempts.

... Chad Kelly was a bright spot for the second consecutive game, firing a 16-yard touchdown strike to Courtland Sutton on his first series. Kelly hit Sutton in stride for the score down the right edge of the right seam, giving him his third touchdown pass of the preseason.

Kelly finished the game with 90 yards on 7-of-9 passing and a 145.4 passer rating.

... Kelly has led seven non-kneeldown possessions in the last two games. The Broncos' offense has averaged 50.7 net yards and 3.42 first downs per Kelly-led series with no three-and-outs. The only drive led by Kelly that failed to net at least 29 yards came last week, when he was intercepted.

... Inside linebacker Zaire Anderson made a good read of a developing third-and-11 screen pass from Chase Daniel to Taquan Mizzell, forcing a 7-yard loss that forced the Bears to settle for a 43-yard Cody Parkey field goal 32 seconds before halftime.

... The Broncos went with a gradual transition to their second-team offensive line. Kelly's first drive at quarterback saw Garett Bolles remain at left tackle, with Connor McGovern moving from right guard to center.

Eventually, the Broncos settled with a second-team offensive line that consisted of left tackle Cyrus Kouandjio, left guard Jeremiah Poutasi, center Max Garcia, right guard Elijah Wilkinson and right tackle Billy Turner.

... Tim Patrick continued to jump over defenders to get the football, pulling in a 27-yard reception over Bears defensive back Kevin Toliver II early in the third quarter. The pass moved the Broncos into the red zone.

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