CENTENNIAL, Colo. -- For football fans locked into fantasy results and bragging rights, NFL games demand rapid reactions. There is no marinating. Another game looms six days away. The Broncos won their opener, locking into a three-way AFC West tie for first place with the Chiefs and Raiders.
Monday was not a must-win game, but as multiple players admitted to me afterward, it was a game they could not lose. So Broncos' fans, let your hearts sink back into your chests and allow the Tums to settle in your bellies. Denver won, and there were promising signs of progress with doses of concern. My Denver7 takeways as the Broncos begin preparation for the Dallas Cowboys:
1) Trevor is better.
The idea Trevor Siemian reached his potential last season was always unfair. He played with a compromised left shoulder and behind an offensive line that couldn't protect him or create holes in the running game. Monday, Siemian displayed more versatility. He extended plays, and showed a dangerous penchant for running the ball. The Broncos had 14 passing first downs, and converted 8 of 15 third downs after succeeding only 36 percent of time in those situations last season.
2) The Broncos showed balance
The key to a better Siemian is improvement around him. The Broncos showed commitment to the run, and achieved balance. Siemian dropped back 32 times (including four sacks). The Broncos ran 36 times. Denver produced 3.9 yards per carry. Not special, but adequate enough to keep the Chargers off balance. The Broncos ran play action on Monday almost twice more than they averaged a year ago. It will be key this week to slowing Dallas' improved pass rush.
3) Hello, Gotsis and Harris
When teams achieve special goals, it means roster contributions run deep. Defensive end Adam Gotsis, who was overmatched a year ago as a rookie, showed off his added 15 pounds of muscle and strength at the point of attack. And Shelby Harris continued to build off a terrific preseason. The Broncos allowed 117.8 yards rushing per game last year. San Diego collected 64 yards, and 21 came on the first carry of the game.
4) Virgil was right
OK, maybe Virgil Green (pictured above) did not show he was more athletic than Antonio Gates and Hunter Henry, but the Broncos' tight ends outplayed the Chargers group. Consider it one of Monday's biggest surprises. A.J. Derby (3-for-34), Jeff Heueman (1-for-20) and Green (1-for-44) all delivered first down grabs. It was a reaction to the coverage, but it also creates optimism about a third passing game weapon emerging.
5) Von center of attention
The Chargers refused to allow Von Miller to wreck their game plan. They doubled him. They chipped him. According to Pro Football Focus, Miller finished with one quarterback hit and four hurries. His relentless pursuit opened the way for Shaq Barrett to deliver a sack. However, Barrett tired from extensive playing time (54 of 59 snaps, one more than Miller). Going forward, the Broncos will need Kasim Edebali to spell Miller and Barrett to keep them fresh until Shane Ray returns for the seventh game. Edebali appeared on only five snaps.
6) Watson has to improve
The Broncos pass protection, as coach Vance Joseph admitted Tuesday, was "not good." Right tackle Menelik Watson continued to struggle. It bears watching since it will be difficult for right guard Ron Leary to return on a short week from a concussion. Siemian absorbed too many hits. Watson needs to improve. His backup is Donald Stephenson, and he slumped in the preseason finale.
7) Special teams boost
The Broncos special teams actually helped win a game. Too often last season, the group contributed to losses by contributing little in the return game. Isaiah McKenzie produced a 31-yard punt return, better than any a year ago. And Harris blocked a kick, learning from intel provided by Derek Wolfe and the scouted knowledge that the kick would likely have a low trajectory.