Joe Flacco Struggles in ‘Very Choppy’ Practice vs. 49ers

Joe Flacco

Getty Joe Flacco

The Denver Broncos‘ offense had something to prove Friday as they welcomed the San Francisco 49ers to Dove Valley for the first of two joint practices ahead of Monday’s preseason tilt.

Unfortunately for them, the day ended with more questions than answers surrounding Joe Flacco and Co.

Flacco threw a pick-six interception, star running back Phillip Lindsay uncharacteristically committed a pair of drops, and Denver’s offense was systematically smothered by a fired-up Niners defense in what was the Broncos’ worst session this summer.

“I thought it was very choppy and it felt like they got after us up front a little it,” said offensive coordinator Rich Scangarello, formerly San Francisco’s quarterbacks coach.

Providing a masterclass in futility, the Broncos got nothing going against Kyle Shanahan’s squad, save for a nice scamper by Lindsay or solid route-running by Emmanuel Sanders, working against former All-Pro cornerback Richard Sherman.

Things were especially quiet on the aerial front, as Flacco was wholly neutralized. His offensive line — missing starting right guard Ronald Leary, who walked to the locker room midway through practice — suffered multiple breakdowns, with 49ers defensive linemen DeForest Buckner and Arik Armstead eating Broncos left tackle Garett Bolles’ lunch, and center Connor McGovern continuing his concerning propensity for poor shotgun snaps.

“I don’t know if I can pick out grades very well, but we did below average for sure,” Flacco said, kindly. “That’s part of it. Part of being a good football team is responding to tough days. Listen, this is a 16-game season. There are very few teams that can go 16 games and hold their head up and say they had an ‘A+’ day every single day. You’re going to have to learn how to deal with tough times and some adversity. Get hit in the face and standing up to it. I think that this is all part of the process of building a team that can respond to those kinds of things.”

Familiarity Breeds Success?

Connecting the dots, one could argue that San Fran benefited from facing Scangarello, a rookie play-caller still cutting his teeth in the big seat. He is, after all, a Shanahan disciple who readily admitted the Broncos’ offense will be molded after his mentor’s. On could even say the 49ers knew what was coming, and from where.

Scangarello doesn’t believe the factors are mutually exclusive. Further, he alluded to the reality that defensive install is a lot easier to digest this time of year — a built-in excuse that holds a fair amount of water.

“They practice against the similar style every day and the truth of it is that I’d heard they’ve made changes up front and all that,” he said. “They’re playing a new style of defense and they have a new D line coach, who I’ve heard has done a great job. They’ve got really good players. It’s just a different style of scheme for us and yeah, we have to adapt to all that stuff. But I don’t—maybe, a little bit they are familiar with. There were plenty of good plays too and until you see the film it’s just one of those things. But yeah, it is the Jim Schwartz model of defense, so it’s good stuff.”

Fangio (Un)Surprisingly Upbeat

Despite the offense’s ineptitude, Broncos head coach Vic Fangio was in his glory watching both defenses dominant the respective competition (Broncos safety Justin Simmons pick-sixed Jimmy Garoppolo), and thought the end result was “pretty equal.”

Either Fangio isn’t putting much stock into a single joint practice or he’s turning a blind eye to that other side of the ball. He gave little indication it’s the latter.

“I think it was good. I spent most of my time on the defensive field obviously. I thought it was good work had by both teams,” he said.

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Follow Zack Kelberman on Twitter @KelbermanNFL