The Denver Broncos took it to the Dallas Cowboys in their first preseason game, winning 17-7. There were a lot of positives to come out of the game, but there were plenty of concerns.
On a team level, the Broncos' run game on both sides of the ball was a concern. The defense struggled up front, while the offensive line struggled consistently to get any movement. Those are hard reps to replicate in practice, but head coach Nathaniel Hackett has to figure out a way to show improvement.
At an individual level, it's easy to see the player, or players, that were the leading cause of the issue on a team level. It's also easy to see players doing their job but couldn't do it all.
Those who are at fault should be moving down the depth chart if there is someone behind them showing more. That's what I'm diving into today.
Which players higher on the depth chart should be moved down, and who should be climbing?
Up: Baron Browning | OLB
With the Jonas Griffith injury, there is a lot of talk among fans about moving Browning back to stack linebacker, but that shouldn't be the case.
While he wasn't facing first-unit defenders, Browning dominated the game and made it clear he has a place on the edge. He picked up five total pressures with one sack and consistently set a hard edge against the run.
Browning looked like a legit edge defender and should be, at worst, the third edge on the depth chart. He seems poised to replace Bradley Chubb after this season as a starter potentially.
Down: Malik Reed | OLB
It isn't that Malik Reed had a bad game, as it was solid. He looked improved against the run, which is great to see. However, Browning offers so much more to the front, and with them facing the second unit to start the game, Browning stood out far more than Reed does.
Reed only played nine snaps on defense and picked up one tackle, four yards beyond the line of scrimmage. There was another run he set a hard edge, forcing the ball carrier inside, where the defensive line made the tackle.
Up: Matt Henningsen | DL
Henningsen got the start on the defensive line as a nose tackle and had a good game. However, it's worth noting that he wasn't asked to be a big two-gapping nose tackle, but more one, and one-and-a-half gapping. His main task was to clear space for the linebackers to make a play, which they did with inconsistent results.
What stood out with Henningsen was how quick he fired off the snap and, on an early play, took advantage of a miscommunication by the Dallas left guard, got immediate pressure, and forced an interception. It was also a tremendous play by P.J. Locke to read the route, jump it, and secure the interception, and Locke should be in the conversation for the No. 3 safety.
There were things to work on as Henningsen struggled to handle double teams. He also needs to play with more balance, as there were times he got top-heavy and became easy to move against the run.
Down: McTelvin Agim | DL
Tyler Smith, the first-round pick of the Cowboys, had Agim's number all night and put him on the ground a couple of times.
Agim was consistently noted for getting bullied and pushed around in the run game. That has been a concern since he entered the NFL, and there doesn't seem to be any improvement.
Agim did do well as a pass rusher, but the Broncos want to see an improved front against the run. That leads to a limited role for Agim or, based on his game against the Cowboys, on the outside looking in.
Up: Eyioma Uwazurike | DL
It was a rookie game from Uwazurike, and he made plenty of mistakes, but he was able to flash his strength and quickness. But he has to work on using his length more consistently and getting off blocks, as there were multiple times against the run he was in position but caught on a block, unable to make the tackle.
However, Uwazurike wasn't the total liability as two other defensive linemen who appear to be higher on the depth chart against the run. With one of them, the rookie showed much more as a pass rusher.
While Uwazurike shouldn't be a top-four interior defensive lineman, he is the fifth or sixth guy, with plenty to work with and develop. He blew up multiple plays, only for somewhere else to falter, including pressure on a potential interception.
Down: Johnathan Harris | DL
Harris was a liability against the run, as was Agim, but at least Agim made some plays as a pass rusher. He only registered negative notes when watching the game and focusing on Harris.
The starting unit included Harris as a 4i-technique, and he played 22 snaps. Dallas bullied him against the run and he struggled to generate any push against an offensive line that was trying to figure out a lot of moving pieces.
NFL teams have to cut five players soon, and Harris is in jeopardy of being one of them.
Up: Quinn Bailey | OT
Bailey at guard was a complete mess. He got beat multiple times in both the run game and pass protection. However, he settled down and played pretty solid football when he was moved to tackle.
Was it perfect? No, and he still had issues, but he looked better than the other reserve tackles.
Bailey played every snap on offense and allowed three pressures, with only one coming as a tackle. With Tom Compton and Billy Turner just now returning from the PUP list, Bailey should be the primary backup tackle.
Down: Zack Johnson | Cameron Fleming | OT
Johnson started the game at left tackle, and in pass protection, he allowed only one pressure. However, he was terrible as a run blocker and consistently the reason why Denver had runs blown up in the backfield or for short gains. Unlike with Bailey, when Johnson would move inside to guard, his performance got even worse.
Reports from training camp practice have been a lot of Johnson getting beat as well. So while he doesn't seem in danger of being cut in the first five, it is because of the injuries on the offensive line more than his play.
As for Fleming, he is what he is at this point, and it isn't being a very good tackle. After 14 snaps for Calvin Anderson, Fleming was inserted at right tackle. He seems to be the No. 3 tackle, and not starting at left tackle suggests he is a right-side guy only, which is terrible for depth.
On 37 snaps, Fleming didn't give up a pressure, though he got close to multiple only to be bailed out by the quarterback. He did have some nice run-blocking plays but was inconsistent there. With the perceived limitations of being a right tackle only, it is hard to have him as the primary backup tackle with Turner and Compton out with injuries.
Up: Jalen Virgil | Brandon Johnson | Kendall Hinton | Seth Williams | WR
The depth at wide receiver stepped up in a big way and will lead Denver to make some tough cuts. Denver seems to have four players locked up at the position with Courtland Sutton, Jerry Jeudy, KJ Hamler, and Montrell Washington, who should have cemented himself as the returner. However, it is doubtful Denver keeps seven receivers, leaving two spots open.
Hinton showed why he should be locked in for one of those spots. He is exceptionally reliable and runs good routes. His touchdown catch was a great play by him to get the jump ball that was placed where Hinton receives it, or it's incomplete.
The other three are fighting for the final spot, with the last two looking at a practice squad spot or playing elsewhere. It could open up a potential trade, as many teams need to improve their No. 4-6 receiver spots when watching the other games.
Virgil's speed is a legit threat as he outpaces coverage on multiple deep passes. Johnson had a poorly placed ball soar through his hands, but he bounced back with some excellent route running to get instant separation.
Then there's Williams, who had two great catches on four of his total. However, one of them is a big guy who danced around instead of just moving forward, leading to a minimal gain.
Special teams would play a factor here, but between them all, there was only one snap on special teams, and that was from Virgil.
Down: Tyrie Cleveland | WR
It's always tough when a player gets hurt in camp as they fight for a spot on the roster. Unfortunately, Cleveland is sidelined as the other depth receivers make a push, and there is nothing he can do about it.
Cleveland still has a few weeks of recovery from the throat injury, and the players moving ahead of him show no signs of slowing down, nor should they.
Up: Damarri Mathis | CB
Mathis had a relatively quiet game against Dallas, which is a good thing for a corner. He was targeted twice, allowing one catch for six yards on 21 snaps in coverage. However, his coverage was smart, showed good situational awareness of landmarks, and was quick to come downhill against the run.
Michael Ojemudia should start feeling a hot seat as Mathis pushes for the No. 4 corner spot. Ojemudia didn't have a bad game, but he allowed one catch where he was eight yards off the line of scrimmage on 3rd-and-12.
What is worse on that rep is, that you can play off, but you have to be aware of the first down marker and meet the receiver there. So instead, Ojemudia is five yards back as the receiver breaks inside for an easy catch and first-down.
Ojemudia exited early with a concussion but did make some plays against the run and looked tough there. However, Mathis was better all-around.
Down: Donnie Lewis Jr | Bless Austin | Faion Hicks | CB
The depth corners for Denver had a rough time. However, Michael Ojemudia looks safe for the roster because there is a clear gap between him and these other options.
Hicks was thought he could push for the backup nickel corner, but his game against Dallas saw him get picked on, with no answer from Hicks. Essang Bassey, in limited reps, had a good game and looked good as a gunner, which was vital.
Austin was called for one penalty and allowed one catch for 11 yards, plus his run defense and play on special teams were poor.
Then there was Lewis, who had a game of twos, with two penalties, two targets, and two catches allowed for 22 yards. With five cuts coming, Lewis is potentially one of them.
Between the three corners, Dallas caught six of seven targets for 90 yards with three penalties.
Up: Aaron Patrick | Johnathan Kongbo | Edge
Aaron Patrick is one of Dwayne Stukes's guys, and he showed why against Dallas. Patrick is developing into a great special teams player, and he showed it, though only on eight snaps. The question is, can he show enough on defense?
Watching Patrick on defense, the flashes are there, and they are more prominent than when he saw the field last season. There was a bad missed tackle from Patrick, which was negative. However, he picked up three pressures and showed solid pass rush moves.
His play against the run was solid, but there is plenty of work to be done with his discipline and positioning. Nevertheless, with 36 snaps on defense, Patrick took advantage of the opportunity.
Down: Nik Bonitto | Edge
To be clear, Bonitto still has plenty to work with, and it was his first NFL action. Nevertheless, he flashed those tools and traits that excited the Broncos to pick him with the 64th overall selection. However, overall it was a rough game from the rookie.
Bonitto played 31 snaps on defense and picked up two pressures. His burst and bend were put on display multiple times. His run defense was problematic, though he had a couple of good reps of jacking through the blocker to disrupt the flow.
There was a series where the Cowboys consistently attacked Bonitto in the running game, daring him to step up, eventually getting Bonitto pulled from the game. On another play, he set a solid edge but lost the ball, leading to a solid pickup. He also had one play where he dropped into coverage and seemed utterly lost in what he was supposed to do.
This was a game the coaching staff can use as teach tape for Bonitto because the flashes he had were exciting, but we need to see more of it consistently and improvement in the run game.
Up: Josh Johnson | QB
It was a rough start for Johnson as it took three series for him to find a groove, but once he did, he completed 11 straight passes, including two touchdowns. His placement was all over the first three series, but after that, his placement was more consistent.
On his two touchdowns, he threw up a jump ball to Seth Williams, which is a significant aspect of Williams' game. The placement was great and showed trust in the big-body receiver to get it.
The other touchdown to Hinton was dropped practically into the bucket over the Dallas defensive back. However, Hinton didn't wait for it and made sure he used his hands to attack the catch point.
Johnson isn't really moving up the depth chart, but he gave himself some breathing room in the battle for the backup quarterback. With no running game, he led the Broncos to move the ball down the field and set up all three scoring drives.
Down: Brett Rypien | QB
Unfortunately, the fan favorite to win the backup job didn't have as good of a night. While also dealing with no run game, Rypien struggled to move the ball more consistently.
He did have one great drive but failed to punch it in because of multiple mistakes on his part — issues of holding the ball too long and placement. It was a 96-yard drive that could not get the final few yards on four plays, where Rypien went 1-of-4 for one yard.
Rypien had two great shots to Virgil, and they have seemed to build chemistry in camp for those deep shots. However, outside those two shots, Rypien had a game, completing 6-of-16 passes for 41 yards. They were nice shots and good plays, but Rypien's overall game was bad.
He has to improve his timing, placement, and anticipation, especially when he doesn't have the arm to throw with velocity. The battle is far from over, but there was a noticeable gap between the two fighting for the backup job.
There are still two preseason games left, but five cuts are coming. For some, this may have been their final shot in the NFL.
Follow Erick on Twitter @ErickTrickel.
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