The Denver Broncos’ high-profile regulars on offense, including quarterback Peyton Manning, got their most significant work so far in the preseason and No. 3 quarterback Trevor Siemian, a rookie, and the team’s backups put together a 92-yard touchdown drive in the closing minutes to give the Broncos a 14-10 preseason victory over the Houston Texans Saturday night in NRG Stadium.
QB depth chart: Manning played four possessions in the game, finishing 8-of-14 for 52 yards on four drives that each ended in a punt. The Broncos' front protected fairly well with Manning in the game as Demaryius Thomas and James Casey each dropped catchable passes from Manning. Brock Osweiler led the Broncos to a touchdown in his first drive – in the second quarter – finishing the drive with a 57-yard catch-and-run play to wide receiver Andre Caldwell. Osweiler also threw an interception that was returned 69 yards for a touchdown by Texans linebacker Kourtnei Brown in the third quarter. Siemian entered the game as the No. 3 quarterback ahead of Zac Dysert, and Siemian had worked as the No. 3 in practice much of the past week.
Maybe that dude could start: There's really no maybe about it: The Broncos want to get cornerback Bradley Roby as close as possible to being a starter. He just happens to play on a team where the top two cornerbacks – Chris Harris Jr. and Aqib Talib – went to the Pro Bowl last year and are among the league’s upper tier at the position, with Harris near the top of the heap. But Roby played 75 percent of the defensive snaps last year as a rookie and the Broncos want to find a way to get him at least that many snaps this year. He showed why Saturday as he consistently closed quickly to the ball and handled things on the outside once Harris left the game. The Broncos have tinkered with the idea of playing Roby at safety in the base defense to get him on the field, but that’s something the team might not show until the regular season.
Who got hurt? Outside linebacker Shane Ray limped off the field in the third quarter with a right leg injury when he landed awkwardly on a tackle of Texans backup quarterback Tom Savage. Ray, who was held out of most of the team’s offseason program as he tried to return from a turf toe injury he suffered in his final game at Missouri, was helped to the sideline. He will be evaluated more on Sunday, but he was jogging on the sideline after he left the lineup and did tell the Broncos’ training staff he was fine. Ray returned to the game later in the third quarter.
Surprise performer who looks amazing: Punter Spencer Lanning, who the Broncos claimed off waivers last week, got the Broncos’ attention a bit with a 56-yard bomb that the Texans fielded at their own 4-yard line late in the third quarter. His 43-yard effort in the fourth quarter wasn't quite as eye-catching, but Lanning likely did enough to keep getting some opportunities as the Broncos continue to try to work out their decisions at kicker and punter. They only want to keep one punter and one kicker, so one of the two will have to kick off as well. Lanning was claimed off waivers because the Broncos haven't seen anyone step forward for the jobs.
Rookie watch: With rookies Max Garcia and Ty Sambrailo starting on the offensive line, the Broncos did not allow a sack on either Manning or Osweiler. The Broncos were also productive in the run game, averaging 5.8 yards a carry in the first half. The Broncos' first-year linemen did not have to face Texans’ defensive end J.J. Watt, who did not play in the game. Ray was a headache for the Texans’ backups before he left the game in the second half, knocking down Savage as he threw and knocking down passes on back-to-back plays early in the third quarter.
When it was starters vs. starters, the Broncos looked… : Ready to roll on defense. The Broncos have loads of team speed and continued to flash the aggressiveness. After a seven-sack game in the preseason opener in Seattle last week, the Broncos had five sacks against the Texans, including two by their nose tackles, Sylvester Williams and Darius Kilgo. Offensively, the Broncos were choppy at times – four drives and four punts with Manning in the game – and the highlight was the 57-yard touchdown from Osweiler to Caldwell in the second quarter.
One reason to freak out: While there is no reason to seek out a panic button to press, the Broncos' starters on offense didn’t look their best. And while that is what the preseason is for – to work out the kinks – the regulars had two third-down drops in the passing game and two holding penalties on run plays (both by tight ends). The Broncos did run the ball well – 5.8 yards per carry in the first half – and protected the quarterbacks, but there is still more than a wrinkle or two to be ironed out in the next few weeks.
Still not all that special: The Broncos' special teams were a significant blip in the preseason opener in Seattle last week and had some bobbles Saturday night in Houston as well. Britton Colquitt’s second punt of the game was low and traveled just 33 yards. Minutes later, Omar Bolden surrendered too much ground on a punt return and lost six yards. The front-line players continue to underwhelm in spots.
A quality return: Linebacker Brandon Marshall, who will play the season with two screws in his surgically-repaired foot, had his first action of the preseason against the Texans. He said this past week he was “100 percent, ready to go,’’ and then showed in his quarter of play that he was indeed correct. Marshall had three tackles and knocked down two passes before leaving the game.