The Broncos need to play the starters in the first half at Buffalo on Saturday
The dress rehearsal is nearly here.
The only game of the preseason that really matters for the Broncos is just a few short days away. Denver hope it’s an AFC Championship preview.
The Broncos will travel to Buffalo, facing the Bills with a strange 11:00 a.m. MT start on Saturday morning. It should help them prepare for their four games in the early window this season.
But more important than not playing like zombies out East is the Broncos starters being ready for Week 1. Training camp was light. Almost no starters played against the Cowboys last Saturday. There needs to be real, live football for this team to get ready to go. And the first half this weekend is the most logical time for that to happen.
The August 27 game against the Vikings will be used to determine who makes the final 53-man roster. With preseason getting shortened to three games, this is it. Head coach Nathaniel Hackett should let Russell Wilson, Javonte Williams, Courtland Sutton, Jerry Jeudy, Garett Bolles and the rest of the offense get in a groove. The reward outweighs the risk.
If Wilson is going to play 17 regular season games, then why can’t he suit up for a half in Buffalo and gain valuable reps with his new teammates? There will be 34 halves of football you’re praying Wilson doesn’t get hurt. What’s one more? If you’re comfortable trotting Wilson out series after series, week after week from September through January, at some point you have to be willing to roll the dice in preseason.
The decision wouldn’t put Hackett on an island. In fact, about half the coaches in the NFL played their starting quarterbacks in Week 1 of the exhibition slate. Heck, Chiefs QB Patrick Mahomes threw the rock around on the putrid turf in Chicago at Solider Field. And wouldn’t you know it, everything went fine.
Mahomes was 6-7 for 60 yards and a touchdown. He even hooked up with his most reliable target, tight end Travis Kelce, for a 19-yard gain. If Mahomes, Kelce and Kansas City can do it, so can the Broncos.
While the 17-7 win over the Cowboys came with its fair share of impressive moments, there were also real concerns. The run game was putrid, the offensive line left a lot to be desired and the Broncos only scored points in one of the four quarters.
The simplest way to correct those mistakes is to play the players that will actually be out there against the Seahawks. I’m not going to panic about the run game when Mike Boone and Max Borghi struggle. If the same happens with Javonte Williams and Melvin Gordon, that’s a different story.
If guys who may not be on the roster two weeks from now can’t block effectively, then so be it. But if the Broncos starting offensive line fails to keep opposing defenders out of the backfield, that will be a big issue. It’s the same with consistently scoring — the Broncos need to work out the kinks against the Bills and not wait for September 12 in Seattle.
While the defense looked great against Dallas, particularly Baron Browning, it’s important for the starting unit to get a half of real football together too. Bradley Chubb couldn’t get on the field a season ago. D.J. Jones and K’Waun Williams are brand new. Every level of the defense has added layers, and they need to start building chemistry.
If Josh Allen gets a few series on Saturday, there’s no better opposing QB to take a test ride against. Allen and the Bills are Super Bowl favorites for a reason, and he’s as good of a bet as anyone to win 2022 NFL MVP.
Injuries happen in football. I was a mere 30 yards away when Tim Patrick’s ACL gave out during a practice drill early in training camp. You can’t put these guys in bubble wrap all the time. Hackett will play all his starters in Week 1 and beyond, so acting like one more half of football is too big of a risk is silly.
The Broncos and Wilson should hopefully smack the Seahawks around in Week 1. Denver has Super Bowl aspirations; Seattle is potentially looking at picking No. 1 overall in the 2023 NFL Draft.
But to make sure a quick start happens out of the gate, and not after halftime adjustments in the Pacific Northwest, all the Broncos starters need to play on Saturday. The work they put in on August 20 will make a huge difference on September 12.