SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- No script exists to run the perfect quarterback competition. The Game of Throws is complicated by differing opinions and lacking reps.
Sports Illustrated laid out the problems in its recent issue, articulating the difficult of navigating the path to a starter. The Bills (Doug Flutie-Rob Johnson), the Cardinals (Kurt Warner-Matt Leinart), Lions (Rodney Peete-Andrew Ware), Browns (Derek Anderson-Brady Quinn-Charlie Frye), and Panthers (Jake Delhomme-Peete) were among the teams to stage battles over the last two decades. The results proved mix. Broncos offensive coordinator Mike McCoy was on the Carolina staff as a position coach so he has experience to fall back on as Paxton Lynch goes against Trevor Siemian.
Which brings us to my Three Keys to the Game:
1.) Is Lynch ready to shine?
Make no mistake, the Broncos' second preseason game Saturday night against the 49ers represents a runway for Lynch to show his stuff. After falling behind in the competition in the days leading up to the preseason opener at Chicago, and failing to do much against the Bears, Lynch turned the corner this week. For the first time since the pads came on and the playbook expanded, Lynch looked comfortable. In joint practices against the 49ers, he went 25-for-37 in 11-on-11, 7-on-7 and matchup drills. More salient, he made good decisions without making mistakes, finishing with zero interceptions.
"Just my progressions and being comfortable in the offense I think is growing over time and day in and day out with these guys," Lynch said. "Knowing where they’re going to be, knowing when to adjust plays and fix protections, and having the ability to change the plays. I know that coach McCoy is starting to have some trust in us and give us the ability to go up to the line of scrimmage and get us in the right look.”
Lynch starts and will play into the second quarter. Siemian, who has been more consistent than Lynch, will enter in the second quarter and play through the third followed by Kyle Sloter.
If the Broncos believed Siemian had won the competition, there would be no reason to start Lynch. Part of the decision involves equality, with each player receiving the nod in an exhibition game. It also speaks to the fact, in my opinion, that they have not seen enough from Siemian (or know what they have). Siemian has played decent, but not enough to put Lynch away.
This is why this game looms large for Lynch. Can he do enough to make his case, while also creating an avenue for coach Vance Joseph to elevate him with the support of the locker room? As a first-year coach, Joseph must start the player who gives the Broncos the best chance to win, especially given the mindset of the defense.
Can Lynch produce enough big plays to live with inconsistencies?
Ideally, Joseph chooses his starting quarterback for the season opener early next week. The team has had almost eight months to make a decision. It should be enough time to name a guy, then go into regular-season game plan mode against the Packers next week.
2.) O-Line Dance needs rhythm
The Broncos' first team ran the ball well against Chicago. But the pass protection remained inconsistent, symbolized by right tackle Menelik Watson allowing a sack on the team's first play from scrimmage. General manager John Elway, offensive coordinator Mike McCoy and Joseph have spoken at length about the importance of the offense improving around the quarterback. It starts upfront. The line showed an edge this week in practice. Can it translate to the games? Allen Barbre is pushing for the left guard spot against Max Garcia. Connor McGovern has enjoyed a terrific summer. He is pushing to start somewhere. The team could put him at right guard and move veteran Ron Leary to left side, where he is more comfortable. Or if Matt Paradis, who won't play until the Packers game, needs more time following offseason hip surgeries, McGovern could occupy the center spot.
At some point soon, the five fingers on the line must become a fist.
"Football is a brotherhood. Offensive line is a brotherhood. We always have to take care of each other," said Watson, who, along with McGovern, skirmished with 49ers defenders on Thursday. "Training camp is the time to set those standards. We have a great group of guys, first and foremost, guys without egos in our room. So that makes it a lot easier. Once you get guys playing for each other, it comes along a lot faster."
3.) D-Fence up front
For the Broncos defense to realize its potential and create more turnovers, the grunts need improvement. The Broncos could not stop the run last season. The Broncos reshaped the group, adding nose tackle Domata Peko and linemen Zach Kerr and DeMarcus Walker (out with a sore hip).
Peko and Kerr must step up given the injuries to Derek Wolfe (right ankle) and Jared Crick (back spasms). Wolfe and Crick are in line to return for the season opener on Sept. 11. But they will need assists from others. Kerr admitted he must play better. Peko has been a leader, an anchor. He looked good in practice this week. Can it continue against the 49ers and the Packers?
"We’ve been a lot more stout there, and I think we’re bigger there. That’s one thing, with the concern after last year was stopping the run and to be able to hold the line of scrimmage and be stout at the line of scrimmage. I think we’ve showed that on the defensive side much, much better there," general manager John Elway said, "That has to continue to work, continue to go, and we have to continue to get better with that.”
Paradis, Walker, Crick, Wolfe and safety T.J. Ward have been ruled out for the game. And it's uncertain whether receivers Emmanuel Sanders (shoulder) and Cody Latimer (patellar tendon in knee) will play. ... The starting defenders, like Chris Harris Jr. and Aqib Talib, are hoping to receive two series of action. There remains a possibility that Von Miller will not play rather than expose him to injury. Let him go a few series against the Packers, and he should ready. ... There are plenty of young defensive backs making nose. Safety Jamal Carter continues to make a strong push to land a roster spot. ... With Sanders iffy and Latimer likely out, it sets the stage for Kalif Raymond and Jordan Taylor to get extra reps. It's unlikely they both make the team.