ENGLEWOOD, Colo. --Training camp is over, but questions still abound as the Broncos head to the Pacific Northwest for a preseason clash with the Seahawks. Five stand out to me in particular, and I'll revisit them after Saturday's game to see how they were answered.
1. How will the defense contain the Seahawks on the ground?
This could be the sternest rushing test the Broncos face all year. Seattle is deep in power backs, with second-year back Robert Turbin and rookie Christine Michael available to spell Marshawn Lynch for short and long bursts. Both reserves should ease the burden on Lynch over the course of the season, but they also ensure that the Broncos' front seven and safeties will be tested severely until at least the third quarter.
While the cornerbacks and safeties did a good job plugging holes and chasing down San Francisco's running backs last week, the Broncos need a more sustained push from their defensive tackles to better defuse more runs before they develop.
2. What does Brock Osweiler need to show?
Ideally, he'll have more time in the pocket to look downfield and display the deep accuracy he's flashed throughout training camp, but that's up to the offensive line, tight ends and running backs picking up blitzers. (More on the offensive line is in Question 4.) Osweiler did well under duress against the 49ers. The three sacks he absorbed weren't the worst result given the circumstances he faced. He has the mobility to escape if the need arises and will always have that card in his back pocket, but he needs to continue emphasizing staying in the pocket and waiting for late-opening receivers to develop downfield. One play this week that I liked saw him make a side-step to avoid a defender who was leaping to bat down the pass; he used that extra second to find a receiver up the sideline for a long completion. He'll need to do more of that against the Seahawks' aggressive defense.
3. Which running back will find a groove?
Neither Ronnie Hillman nor Montee Ball truly found their rhythm against San Francisco last week, which was the result of short stints as well as often having little time to get set with the handoff. Ball was met in the backfield on two of his five carries; predictably, he averaged 4.0 yards per carry when he made it to the line of scrimmage before contact, and -1.5 yards per carry when he didn't.
Offensive coordinator Adam Gase noted in May that the running backs would be platooned in a manner similar to what John Fox used in Carolina when he had two backs, which often meant opening the game by leaving one in for several plays or an entire possession before a change was made. That allowed a runner to get comfortable. Over the course of the game, Fox would usually continue alternating his backs, but had the flexibility to leave one in when he was in top form. Often it took a full half or more to learn this, which is why the next two weeks will be crucial for Ball and Hillman to get into the routine of relieving each other. It's also vital for the Broncos, so they can better gauge which situations fit each back.
4. Who needs to show improvement from last week?
In one case, it's not so much a who, as a "what" -- specifically, the No. 2 offensive line, which didn't find its footing until the third quarter after spending much of the second quarter playing on its heels and getting beaten to the edges by the 49ers' speedy reserve defensive ends, who frequently collapsed Osweiler's pocket from the flanks and forced him into check-down mode. The line One beneficiary of the line's improvement after halftime last week was running back C.J. Anderson, but he won't be available to enjoy the spoils after injuring his knee Thursday morning; if a similar progression takes place Saturday, Lance Ball, who has been languishing low on the depth chart, could capitalize and offer a reminder of why he was on the roster the last three seasons.
5. How will Trindon Holliday be used?
His extensive work on offense Wednesday and Thursday and the wave of injuries that have rocked the skill positions could force the smallest Bronco into heavy action. John Fox has cautioned against using Holliday too much on offense, since he doesn't want to risk losing such a prized special-teams asset to injury while doing something that is not Holliday's core competency. But if Holliday is on the active 46-man roster every week, he could find himself pressed into offensive service if multiple injuries hit in the same game. It will be crucial for the Broncos to get Holliday some preseason-game repetitions on offense so he's ready for that possibility.