ENGLEWOOD -- Context matters. Small sample sizes can be misleading. The preseason remains a difficult evaluation with the Chex Mix starting lineups.
Yet, the Broncos need not apologize or qualify their impressive 33-6 victory over the Minnesota Vikings in the preseason opener. Only once did they score more points last season. This was the tropical force wind the offense needed in its sails with the season opener less than a month away. It represents progress regardless of the opponent and the lineups.
That is the good news. Now comes the hard part. Backing it up. Showing consistency. Making it matter. And that starts at quarterback where this derby suddenly feels a lot more interesting after Drew Lock and Teddy Bridgewater shone in the win. My Denver7 observations with the Seahawks waiting on Saturday night:
Lock steps up
Coach Vic Fangio insists there's no separation between Lock and Bridgewater. He's is making the decision so his view demands respect. However, Lock made this derby more interesting with his performance. Given a chance to grab the job by the nape of the neck, he went 5-for-7 for 151 yards and two touchdowns. His 80-yard scoring strike to K.J. Hamler -- yes, he was wide open, but he made the throw -- inflated his numbers. More significant was the personnel. The Broncos went heavy, using two tight ends. Only five times in 20 plays did Lock work out of the shotgun. Look at his statistics last year, and they tell a sobering story of turnovers in three-wide, shotgun formations.
Lock excels in play action. With Javonte Williams and Royce Freeman establishing the ground game, the Vikings bit on play action, especially on Hamler's score. Lock made it known he's not going anywhere in the race.
And he applied pressure on Bridgewater. The veteran responded with a 7-for-8 performance for 74 yards and a touchdown. He also had a scramble score negated by penalty. Interestingly, he worked out of shotgun in seven of his 13 snaps. It suggests trust of what Bridgewater sees pre and post snap. I have said this could ultimately be a philosophical decision if no clear winner: the veteran with more of a track record and a safer profile or the talent and upside of the in-house candidate who is showing improvement?
What's clear is Bridgewater needs to play well at Seattle. And the challenge will be real. While he will likely have his entire first team offense, with the possible exception of Courtland Sutton, Bridgewater will face more first stringers on defense in a hostile stadium. But, no excuses. We are in the home stretch. The more difficult the decision the better if it means both are playing well. Regardless, a choice should be made following the Seattle game to give the starter more time to prepare for the Giants.
Hamming it up
K.J. Hamler is a problem for defenses. He is so quick off the snap, so elusive. All off those Penn State highlights are making more sense now that Hamler has figured how to keep his hamstrings healthy through improved strength -- he played at 171 last year compared to 181 this season -- hydration and diet. Hamler had 381 yards receiving last year. He had 105 after two catches Saturday. He should be able to catch 45 passes this season.
Justin Strnad continues to benefit from additional reps at inside linebacker. He made a nice tackle in space in the first half, showing he's adjusting to the physicality of the NFL game. His coverage skills suggest, at the very least, he will have niche role in subpackages even when Josey Jewell returns from a groin injury.
Aside from the QBs, there was no player I wanted to see more than Javonte "Pookie" Williams. He runs with violent intentions. That is hard to see in practice where tackling to the ground is forbidden. Facing live contact, Williams was a brute. His 24 yards on the first two carries set the tone for play action to work. His calm demeanor -- he leaves heavily on family and faith -- makes it easy to see how he will get some touches earlier in the season, especially with Mike Boone an IR candidate with his quadriceps injury.
Pat Surtain II is not Justin Fields. That's not his fault. What is he? One startlingly good cornerback. His technique on his pick six brought a reminder of why he will make an impact this season. He keep this shoulders square, head up and trusted his instincts. His ability to play inside and outside will continue to give the Broncos versatility so lacking last season.
Caden Sterns continues to open eyes. His strong training camp manifested in a solid performance in 54 snaps after Trey Alexander suffered an ankle injury on the opening kickoff. Sterns turned to yoga to improve his health this offseason, and it is paying dividends. He looks the part in terms of providing depth and excelling on special teams, a role Jamar Johnson had his eyes on when camp started, but he has ground to cover.
Tight end Eric Saubert looks like a good fit. He caught passes thrown his way all week, and can be employed in double TE sets that help establish run and set up play action. ...
Outside linebacker Andrew Mintze is pushing for a final roster spot. He registered a sack in the win, but he faces tough competition from Jonathon Cooper, the inspiring rookie, and Derrek Tuszka. ...
All Trinity Benson does is make plays. At least this summer. There just might be a role for him, especially if he can find a role on coverage units or kick return. ...
Cameron Fleming does not appear like he's in the mix for the starting right tackle job. If he's not the starter, I am not sure he makes the team because Calvin Anderson can serve as a swing tackle. ...
Tyrie Cleveland, a surprise last season, needs to get hot the next two weeks to win a final spot. He was in for 22 snaps against the Vikings, but didn't register a catch.