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Siemian solidifies QB job in Denver’s 17-9 win over Rams

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DENVER (AP) Trevor Siemian thinks he’s done enough to win the Denver Broncos’ starting quarterback job.

If he feels the same way, coach Gary Kubiak isn’t saying just yet.

“I’m going to make a decision this week … but I’ve got a lot of things going on, so I’ll take my time, do it the right way,” Kubiak said after watching Siemian throw his first TD pass of the preseason in Denver’s 17-9 win over the Los Angeles Rams on Saturday night.

Siemian was more impressive than his stat line – 10 of 17 for 122 yards, one TD and one arguable interception – showing off his strong right arm and just the kind of patience, poise and precision required of Peyton Manning’s successor as Denver defends its Super Bowl title.

“I feel confident,” Siemian said when asked if this was his job. “Ultimately, that’s up to Kubes.”

Asked if he felt he’d done enough, Siemian said, “I do, but again, that’s not my call.”

Aside from his 1-yard TD strike to Virgil Green, he had a beautiful pass to Demaryius Thomas streaking down the Rams sideline for a 43-yard gain that set up the go-ahead score.

“I’m impressed,” Kubiak said. “I think he’s very calm. I can tell by the way he handles the team in the huddle, he’s got control of what’s going on. What I see is I see a guy getting better every time out.”

Rookie Paxton Lynch was also more impressive than his stats – 6 of 13 for 57 yards – leading a scoring drive that ended with Ronnie Hillman‘s 7-yard TD run.

That left Mark Sanchez as the odd man out on this night and, possibly, come cut-down day.

If he’s not on the 53-man roster, the Broncos will save $3.5 million and the seventh-round draft pick they would have owed the Eagles.

After announcing Siemian would make his second straight start, Kubiak decided he’d play his first-round pick and sit Sanchez, something he told him about over breakfast.

“Bottom line, I’ve got a lot to go off of on Mark. He’s played a lot of football. But we needed to see these other two kids play again,” Kubiak said.

Sanchez left the stadium without comment.

It was Sanchez’s job to lose when training camp began and he’s apparently done just that with a slew of turnovers in the preseason.

An afterthought while taking just one snap – a kneel-down – as a rookie last season, Siemian has emerged as the best option to lead the team with Manning on the links and Brock Osweiler in Houston.

Siemian’s only blemish came on a deep ball that went off receiver Cody Latimer‘s hands at the goal line and hit the ground, but was still ruled an interception by safety Cody Davis.

The Rams settled for three field goals by Greg Zuerlein.

M-V-P! M-V-P!

Super Bowl MVP Von Miller recorded his first sack of the preseason, a 9-yard takedown of Case Keenum on the Rams’ first series.

“I feel better than I ever have before with my conditioning,” Miller said. “I’m feeling comfortable out there. We’re ready to go back to the regular season.”

Miller’s was the first of six sacks by the Broncos, including 2 1-2 by LB Dekoda Watson, but the biggest hit was LB Vontarrius Dora‘s clean shot to the chest of No. 1 overall draft pick Jared Goff just before he left the game in the third quarter.

TALIB TROUBLE

Broncos CB Aqib Talib was pulled following his 15-yard penalty for hitting Keenum out of bounds on a scramble in which the Rams QB was heading for the sideline, not turning upfield.

“You don’t like to see that happen, especially in a preseason game,” Rams coach Jeff Fisher said.

Keenum, for one, didn’t see it happen.

“It all happened pretty fast,” he said. “I was on the ground before I knew it.”

Kayvon Webster came in and made several nice plays in Talib’s place, including a pass breakup on a fourth-and-1 toss from Jared Goff to Michael Thomas.

ROOKIE WATCH

Rams: Goff was 4 of 12 for 45 yards and was sacked for a 10-yard loss.

Broncos: G Connor McGovern went in at center midway through the fourth quarter.

POSITION BATTLES

Rams: While most of L.A.’s starters played through the first half, RB Todd Gurley sat this one out.

Broncos: Riley Dixon, a seventh-round draft pick, got the start ahead of Britton Colquitt, who has a $4 million hit against the cap this season. Dixon’s night included a 56-yard punt and a nice hold on the 50-yard FG.

INJURY UPDATE

Rams: DE Robert Quinn received his first playing time since undergoing back surgery in December.

Broncos: Anderson needed stiches to close a cut on his right ear. Latimer suffered a knee injury while blocking on a punt return in the third quarter. Kubiak said he didn’t think it was serious. FB Andy Janovich injured a shoulder.

AP NFL website: http://www.pro32.ap.org and AP NFL Twitter feed: http://www.twitter.com/AP-NFL

Follow AP Pro Football Writer Arnie Melendrez Stapleton on Twitter: http://twitter.com/arniestapleton

Garoppolo, Patriots face Bears to highlight NFL Week 2 preseason betting slate

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Jimmy Garoppolo will be facing his hometown team when the New England Patriots play host to the Chicago Bears in a matchup that could be a little more intense than the typical Week 2 NFL preseason game.

The Patriots and Bears are having joint practices prior to their game on Thursday, and the first was marred by a near-brawl after a run-in between New England CB Malcolm Butler and star Chicago WR Alshon Jeffrey.

The matchup will provide Garoppolo, who grew up in the Chicago suburbs, with another opportunity to get comfortable filling in for Tom Brady. The future Hall of Famer will be serving his Deflategate suspension during the first four weeks of the regular season.

New England is listed as a four-point favorite against Chicago at sportsbooks monitored by OddsShark.com. Dating back to 2010, the Patriots are 7-3 straight-up and 6-4 against the spread as a home favorite in the preseason.

Patriots TE Martellus Bennett will face his former team, and might perhaps get some extra targets since All-Pro TE Rob Gronkowski could opt to play it safe after sustaining a lower-body injury on Monday.

Chicago is 3-7 SU and 4-6 ATS in their last 10 preseason matchups where they were a road underdog according to the OddsShark NFL Database.

Thursday’s slate also includes a playoff rematch, with Russell Wilson and the Seattle Seahawks listed as 3.5-point favorites against the Minnesota Vikings. Seattle, which is 8-2 SU and ATS in their last 10 preseason home games, have had RB Thomas Rawls back at practice, but it’s more likely that rookie Alex Collins will be first up in the backfield.

For the Vikings, playing Seattle is a test for third-year QB Teddy Bridgewater, who has to show more arm strength to take the next step in his progression. Minnesota is 5-5 both SU and ATS in their last 10 preseason road games.

Robert Griffin III is also expected to play most of the first half for the Cleveland Browns, who are 2.5-point betting favorites against the Atlanta Falcons. The Browns are on a 4-6 ATS run as a preseason home favorite.

Two Saturday matchups to monitor are the New Orleans Saints-Houston Texans and San Francisco 49ers-Denver Broncos contests. The Texans, who are three-point favorites, are adapting to new QB Brock Osweiler and new RB Lamar Miller. The Saints’ track record on defense isn’t any better in August than in the regular season; the total has gone OVER in 13 of their last 20 games.

Denver is a 3.5-point favorite against San Francisco. Trevor Siemian, judging from his increased share of first-team reps, is ahead of Mark Sanchez in the Broncos’ QB competition. Denver is just 2-8 ATS in their last 10 preseason games as a home favorite, and seven of those matchups have gone OVER the posted total.

Is Sam Bradford suddenly … better?

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When we last visited Sam Bradford‘s performance as Philadelphia Eagles quarterback, it wasn’t at all clear that the decision to trade Nick Foles for him was correct. Chip Kelly recently doubled down on Bradford’s performance, declaring he saw improvement on a weekly basis that got Kelly excited. What might Kelly be seeing, and what context can we add to Bradford’s performance?

The Contrast with Sanchez

One thing we’ve seen lately that we didn’t see earlier in the season was the Eagles’ 2015 offense with another quarterback. Mark Sanchez started two games and finished a third as Bradford suffered a shoulder injury and a concussion. While playing half the season in 2014, Sanchez was, on the whole, roughly as good as Foles was. In his playing time this season, Sanchez has been a significant downgrade from Bradford. Table 1 shows the statistical details, using adjusted net yards per attempt (ANY/A) and Football Outsiders’ metric DVOA.

Table 1. Mark Sanchez vs. Main Starters, 2014-15

Year QB DVOA ANY/A
2014 Foles 1.8% 5.93
Sanchez -1.4% 6.18
2015 Bradford -11.3% 5.50
Sanchez -43.8% 4.62

Two specific areas stand out as major issues for Sanchez. First, he has continued the trend from most his career of throwing interceptions at a rate above the league-average while Bradford has taken better care of the football. Sanchez’s interception rate is 4.4 percent, compared to Bradford’s 2.8 percent.

Second, the Eagles’ offensive line has been much more problematic for Sanchez in pass protection. His adjusted sack rate, as calculated by Football Outsiders, is 9.0 percent, the seventh-highest rate of the 40 passers with at least 100 dropbacks this season. Bradford’s, by contrast, is just 4.9 percent, the tenth-best rate in the same group, even though he started both games the Eagles played without Jason Peters. Quarterbacks can do a lot to control this number, as Denver’s similarly contrasting numbers with Brock Osweiler and Peyton Manning and many other examples show, and Bradford is helping the line in a way Sanchez is not.

This contrast suggests that even though Bradford’s production is down from what Foles did in 2014, this could be the result of broader offensive issues which Bradford is doing well to mask.

Bradford Is Playing Better

Bradford’s numbers since returning from injuryare better than the ones he had earlier in the season. His DVOA earlier was -17.9 percent. Since then, it is 2.5 percent, better than the league average. His game against the Bills was his worst in the last four contests; on a per-play basis, it would have been his third-best performance in the first seven games.

One other thing Bradford is not doing is running. He has just one actual rushing attempt in the past couple games, while most of his nominal carries have been aborted snaps or kneeldowns. This is important, because he was not an effective runner when the Eagles tried to use him as one in the option game.

Finding the Range Downfield

The biggest development in Bradford’s game of late has been the deep pass. His performance on short throws has been roughly the same as it was earlier in the season, with a DVOA of -1.9 percent compared to -0.2 percent over the first seven games. If anything, he has been less consistently productive on them, posting a success rate of 39 percent compared to 47 percent earlier. Only throwing fewer interceptions has saved the numbers from being worse.

Where Bradford has improved the most has been on deep throws. This was where the great Foles-led offense of 2013 made most of its hay, and it was a big struggle for Bradford earlier in the season. He had the sixth-worst success rate of the 32 passers with the most deep attempts earlier in the season. Over the past six weeks, he has the second-best success rate, 60 percent, and the third-best DVOA among the 32 passers with the most deep attempts.

The easy response is to say that this is a fluke due to a small sample size, the product of a limited number of games and passes. What makes Bradford’s performance so encouraging, though, is he has been doing it at multiple levels. His numbers are better on throws 11-15 yards downfield, 16-20 yards downfield, and even that 21-25 yard area where he did not have a single completion on 18 attempts in the first seven games, while he has continued to enjoy success on very deep throws like his 53-yard touchdown pass to Nelson Agholor last week.

Going Forward

The numbers suggest Kelly was not just blowing smoke, that Sam Bradford has been playing better of late and may well be doing much better than Nick Foles would have done for the 2015 Eagles. Kelly still has a problem, though: the Eagles are still a below-average offense. Looking just at the last four games Bradford has played, they are 20th in DVOA and just 17th in passing DVOA. Even if Bradford is in fact the answer, Philadelphia still has offensive problems to address.