This 10-6 scoring affair wasn’t quite the barnburner you’d expect to see in the regular season from these two teams, but a good opportunity nonetheless for the pair of contenders to knock the rust off and get a look at some new pieces.
As expected for the preseason, the starters didn’t see a lot of time, but we did get some interesting looks — such as Peyton Manning in the pistol formation — along with some impressive new faces. So who stood out? Let’s take a look.
Broncos – Three Performances of Note
Finding Help for Miller
One of the biggest issues for the Broncos this upcoming season is finding a pass rusher to complement Von Miller. The team signed Shaun Phillips (+1.3) this offseason for that very reason and he certainly created cause for optimism in his first action. Phillips abused RT Patrick Omaneh to the outside for a pair of hits and a hurry in the second quarter — not a bad day’s work in 15 snaps rushing the passer.
Supporting the new addition was second-year man Malik Jackson (+2.2), who added two QB hits of his own. Unlike Phillips, Jackson also showed well in run defense, as he got the best of Joe Staley on two straight occasions — first beating him to the inside for a tackle for no gain, and then standing the LT up at the point of attack to force a cut (Q1, 5:05 and 4:36). Though he played most of his snaps at DT, all four of Jackson’s positive plays came from DRE.
As for the rest of Denver’s edge rushers, not a lot stood out. A player to keep an eye on going forward, however, is rookie free agent Lerentee McCray. McCray saw time in Miller’s SLB role and, at 2:04 in the fourth quarter, flashed a spin move to the inside to pick up a sack, a play nearly identical to the one Miller made in the first quarter.
Lilja Looks Good
With Dan Koppen out for the year with an ACL injury — and the starter before him J.D. Walton out until at least midseason — the Broncos brought Ryan Lilja (+2.0) out of retirement to fill the void at center. Lilja looked as if he hadn’t been retired at all, playing 41 snaps and proving a force in the run game. A perfect example was at 2:16 left in the third quarter, when Denver ran the ball on 4th-and-1. Though the run ultimately fell short, it was no fault of Lilja’s, who drove NT Lamar Divens a yard-and-a-half off the ball. The center also posted a clean sheet in pass protection, providing early optimism that this offensive line won’t miss a beat once the regular season rolls around.
The Heir Apparent at QB
Though Peyton Manning has the reins of the Denver offense for another few years, Brock Osweiler (+0.3) should get every chance to cement himself as the next guy in line. On this night he really did nothing to change that expectation in 46 snaps under center. While he did complete 13-of-18 passes, including one drop and one throw away, none of his throws were of the ‘wow’ variety — he averaged just 5.8 YPA. However, he avoided any big mistakes and moved well for a guy of his stature, such as his scramble at 3:11 in the first quarter. Behind Osweiler is rookie Zac Dysert, who, much like his counterpart, did nothing to stand out, though he saw only 14 snaps and dropped-back to pass just four times.
49ers – Three Performances of Note
What was the league’s most dominant pair of offensive tackles a season ago showed a surprising amount of rust in their first action since the Super Bowl. Joe Staley (-3.1) and Anthony Davis (-2.6) graded as the two worst players on the San Francisco offense, despite playing just 16 snaps each. Staley wasn’t terrible in his limited pass protection opportunities, but he wasn’t great either, bested by Robert Ayers once for an outside pressure in five snaps. In the run game, however, he struggled blocking both Ayers and Jackson. It was certainly not the kind of performance we’ve become accustomed to seeing from the NFL’s premier run-blocking LT (by a wide margin) last season. On the right side, Davis was similarly shoddy, as he was penalized for a false start and was wrecked by a Von Miller spin move for a pressure (Q1, 8:41).
The rest of the San Francisco starting offense was pretty sharp, though, with Colin Kaepernick, Vernon Davis, and new addition Anquan Boldin all grading in the green. Boldin in particular picked up right where he left off after last year’s Super Bowl run with a pair of first down catches, one coming with a linebacker on his back.
While the acquisition of Boldin is looking better and better in the wake of Michael Crabtree’s Achilles tendon injury, the 49ers are still looking for some additional help on the outside. Last season’s little used first-round pick AJ Jenkins would seem to be the prime candidate to step up in his second year, but had a forgettable night in 39 snaps. He was targeted three times in the game, with Colt McCoy at fault on two incompletions, while his single reception was promising until he fumbled the ball. Costly turnovers like that will make it even more of an uphill battle for Jenkins to get the elusive first-team reps.
As far as the team’s other receiving options, no one really stood out, though the QB play once Kaepernick left the game certainly affected that. Based on past performance, Austin Collie could be a decent candidate to fill a bigger role if he stays healthy — a big “if”. He did nothing to hurt his case in this game with a pair of catches in 13 routes run. On the other hand, Lavelle Hawkins did as much as he could to ensure he doesn’t make the team, dropping both passes that came his way.
Few starting spots are contested on a defense like San Francisco’s, but the few that are will definitely provide interest as they develop throughout the preseason. One such spot is at safety opposite Donte Whitner, where first-round pick Eric Reid appears to be the favorite to take over for the departed Dashon Goldson. Playing 45 snaps, the rookie wasn’t tested in coverage, but showed off his aggressive hitting ability on multiple plays (2Q, 11:38 for one). A lone missed tackle marred his performance in run defense, but otherwise Reid should be fairly content with his first NFL game action.
Cornerback should also be an interesting position to watch, particularly after the ACL injury to Chris Culliver earlier in camp. One of the competitors to replace Culliver is Tramaine Brock, who saw 42 snaps, most of them coming in the first half. Like Reid, Brock was unremarkable, allowing two first-down receptions in the first quarter, though he showed off some nice coverage skills on a deep ball intended for Demaryius Thomas. A much bigger name did stake his claim, with Nnamdi Asomugha (+1.4 coming up to stop a reception short on third down and adding another stop in the run game, while playing exclusively at RCB.
–– Parys Haralson ( in his first action since 2011 after missing all of 2012 with a triceps injury, produced a sack and a hurry along with three stops against the run.
— ILB Michael Wilhoite led the 49ers’ defense with a +1.7 grade on a team-leading 53 snaps.
— Rookie free agent RB C.J. Anderson (+0.4) threw his hat into the Broncos’ backfield ring with 69 yards on 15 carries, including forcing five missed tackles.
PFF Game Ball
Denver safety Duke Ihenacho played well both in coverage (+2.2) and against the run (+1.1). Ihenacho broke up the only pass that went his way in coverage, forced the Jenkins fumble, and led the team with six tackles, including three stops.
Follow John on Twitter: @John_Maney