Denver Broncos Week 1 Player Grades: Defense

The Denver Broncos showcased their new defense against the Indianapolis Colts, winning 31-24. MHH Analyst, Erick Trickel asks the question; just how well did the defensive players do?

The game ended with the Denver Broncos coming out on top 31-24. From start to finish the Broncos defense was formidable. Obviously, there were a few mishaps that led to some points on the scoreboard for the Colts.

However, despite those few mistakes, they had moments of excellence. One of them being a four down stop on the goal-line, keeping any points off the scoreboard. They also stepped up in the waning moments of the game, forcing another four down stop to seal the victory.

Now onto the grades for the defensive players, starting on the defensive line. The grading system is the school metric of A-F. Every player starts off with a C. A bad play lowers the grade, while a good play raises it.

Note: All stats and snap counts are from ProFootballFocus. They do not do half sacks. Subscription may be required.

DeMarcus Ware

Snaps: 52. Stat line: 2 sacks, 3 hurries, 1 stop

Surprisingly, there are some who claim Ware did not have a good game. Their reasoning? He didn’t get enough sacks. For any player to get two sacks in a game is great and not something to be overlooked. Fact is Ware almost had more, but was beaten by a quick throw. Ware is known for his explosion off the snap, but the offensive tackle used it against him. His grade: B+. Ware was strong rushing the QB and two sacks are great, but more consistency is needed.

Terrance Knighton

Snaps: 33. Stat line: 1 hit, 2 hurries, 1 tackle, 1 stop.

The Colts interior offensive line did a good job shutting Knighton down. He was not the dominating force against the run that he usually is. Getting after the QB, he showed quickness for a man his size. He was able to beat the center multiple times to put the heat on. His grade: B-. Knighton struggled in a matchup that he should have done great in. He consistently faced off against the Colts second string center with little success in the run game.

Sylvester Williams

Snaps: 32. Stat line: 1 tackle.

Despite being a pass rushing defensive tackle, Williams got credited with no pressure on Luck. Against the run, he ate space up, but when you are getting pushed back it doesn’t do a whole lot of good. His grade: C+. He did have one play that really stood out. Against the run, Williams spun off his block and forced the ball carrier outside on a designed run up the middle. Linebackers were able to break through and make the stop behind the line.

Derek Wolfe

Snaps: 45. Stat line: 2 tackles, 2 stops.

Like the majority of the defensive line, Wolfe was shut down rushing the QB. On the other hand, he was stout vs the run. Wolfe held his ground and able to disrupt the play often. On one of his stops, he plowed through a double team to help bring the ball carrier down. Though he did play in the preseason, this was his first serious action since last November. His grade: B. He has been getting beat up on for his lack of pass rush against the Colts, but he was close to excellent against the run.

Malik Jackson

Snaps: 39. Stat line: 1 sack, 1 hit, 3 hurries, 1 tackle, 1 stop.

Jackson was a force to reckon with all game long, especially getting after the QB. He was a matchup nightmare for the offensive line. Against the run, he was lackluster at times, often being pushed back in a one-on-one situation. His grade: B+. Jackson is a valuable tool, subbing in on the defensive line. His versatility to play inside, or out, helps create those mismatches.

Quanterus Smith

Snaps: 24. Stat line: None

During the preseason Smith showed a lot of promise, but they were against second and third string offensive linemen. When facing off against the Colts underrated offensive tackles, he showed he has a lot of work left to do. He was shut down again and again. His weak spot has been stopping the run, and it is still the weak spot in his game. His grade: D+. Smith is essentially a rookie, due to missing his first season on IR. He has potential and is worth keeping an eye on.

Marvin Austin

Snaps: 18. Stat line: None

During training camp and preseason all the hype was surrounding Marvin Austin. Needless to say, he didn’t live up to it against the Colts. After dominating during preseason action it is curious to see him with such a low snap count. Could that be a testament to his showings in practice for the first unit offensive line? Who knows? But for some reason he was limited. His grade: C. For the most part Austin was invisible. He did have one great play to force a run outside, but on a later play Austin was pushed over, easily, by the offensive linemen.

Von Miller

Snaps: 58. Stat line: 4 hurries, 1 tackle, 1 stop.

Have no fear, Von is here! Though many say Von was invisible, that wasn’t quite the case. Miller was disruptive getting after the QB, he just didn’t get the sacks. Twice Miller almost had the sack, but Luck was lucky and quick on his feet. Miller also dropped into coverage 12 times and looked really good out there, good enough to feel comfortable when he drops back. He is back to his 2012 form, if not better. Just be patient and the sacks will come. His grade: A. Despite Miller having no sacks, he looked better and more consistent than Ware. Also, coming of an ACL injury, it’s surprising he missed only 18 snaps and got more than Ware.

Nate Irving

Snaps: 39. Stat line: 1 sack, 4 tackles, 1 assisted tackle, 5 stops.

Nate Irving was a monster out on the field. He is becoming a key player, and it showed. When he left the field, the unit got worse. He is excellent vs the run. He rarely misses a tackle, or takes the wrong angle. His grade: A. Irving has the tools to be a true 3-down MLB in the NFL, and he has flashed that potential. If he keeps it up at this level, he will be a Pro Bowler. He also led all linebackers in run stop percentage with 37.5%. The next closest was 27.3%.

Brandon Marshall

Snaps: 76. Stat line: 8 tackles, 2 assisted tackles, 1 missed tackle, 2 stops, 10 targets, 8 receptions, 75 yards, 1 pass deflect.

In his first real action starting for the Broncos, Marshall did really well. However, there were a few big mistakes. The biggest was failing to get the receiver out of bounds, which ended in a touchdown. Later in the game he showed his ability to break on the ball, almost getting an interception. His grade: B. Marshall does an excellent job of snaking through blockers to cause disruption. But, if he gets engaged, he struggles to get off blocks. His failure to get the receiver out of bounds was a big drop in his grade.

Lerentee McCray

Snaps: 18. Stat line: 1 hurry, 1 tackle, 1 stop.

In his limited reps, McCray was very effective. He caused disruption against the run multiple teams. Getting after the QB, he did get one hurry. Besides that, he could be more consistent. McCray looked slow off the snap at times. His grade: B-. Like Smith, McCray is essentially a rookie after spending his first year on injured reserve. He has shown plenty of flashes of being starting material, however.

Steven Johnson

Snaps: 6. Stat line: 1 assisted tackle.

When Nate Irving got hurt and had to leave the game for a few plays, Johnson stepped in as the “Mike” backer. He looked okay, but thankfully, Irving was able to return to the game. Johnson's grade: B-. Johnson looks to have grown on the defensive side of the ball, but there is still plenty of room to continue his growth.

Aqib Talib

Snaps: 74. Stat line: 4 tackles, 1 stop, 10 targets, 5 receptions allowed, 70 yards allowed, 2 pass deflects.

Talib showed exactly why the Broncos brought him in. He was tough and physical on every play. He is more than willing to come up in run support, something other cornerbacks don’t do. Talib was stuck on T.Y. Hilton for most the game and held him to one catch. His grade: B. Only a few mistakes hurt Talib’s grade. There's plenty to look forward to with having him on the team.

Chris Harris Jr.

Snaps: 39. Stat line: 3 tackles, 6 targets, 2 receptions allowed, 16 yards allowed, 2 pass deflects.

Chris Harris has had an extremely fast recovery from an ACL injury suffered in January. This led to him being limited against the Colts. However, in his limited reps, he was excellent. He stuck by his man and allowed two catches, both of which were excellent throws. His grade: A. One of the biggest moments for Harris came on a perfectly timed jump to break up what would have been a touchdown for the Colts.

Bradley Roby

Snaps: 65. Stat line: 6 tackles, 1 assisted tackle, 1 missed tackle, 2 stops, 11 targets, 8 receptions allowed, 98 yards allowed, 2 pass deflects.

Being a rookie cornerback in the NFL is hard. It is even harder when you are consistently matched up on a future Hall of Famer. Even worse is having one of the better quarterbacks in the league slinging the rock. Yet, Roby held his own. His grade: B+. Roby made a huge stop near the goal-line, which kept the Colts out of the endzone. Then he sealed the game with a pass breakup on Reggie Wayne. Wayne originally had Roby beat, but the rookie recovered to make the play.

Tony Carter

Snaps: 35. Stat line: 2 tackles, 3 targets, 2 receptions allowed, 18 yards allowed, 1 touchdown allowed, 1 pass deflect.

Tony Carter had a rough game. It wasn’t just stuff that showed up in the stat line either. He got flagged for two penalties, both obvious calls, one of which was declined. His problems on the stat line are not entirely his fault. Carter was mismatched against a bigger receiver, something that Luck easily took advantage of. His grade: C. Carter had some big plays, but he showed his issues. He can’t match up with bigger receivers and he gets called for a lot of flags.

T.J. Ward

Snaps: 76. Stat line: 2 tackles, 2 missed tackles, 2 stops, 8 targets, 5 receptions allowed, 24 yards allowed, 1 pass deflect.

The first free agent on the Broncos spending spree, Ward made his presence known. He was flying all over the field, causing some kind of disruption. A few times he threw the offensive line for a loop when he came up to blitz. His grade: A-. Missing two tackles is never a good thing. That kept his grade lower.

Rahim Moore

Snaps: 76. Stat line: 4 tackles, 2 interceptions.

Matching your career high for interceptions in a single game has to be a great feeling. Well, that’s just what Rahim Moore did. He was excellent against the Colts. Having a safety like Ward out there with him is a major help, and gives Moore more roaming freedom. His grade: A. It was great to see Moore look like a ball hawk out there. He also showed his strength as a run defender.

Quinton Carter

Snaps: 31. Stat line: 3 tackles, 1 assisted tackle, 1 missed tackle, 1 stop, 2 targets, 2 receptions allowed, 51 yards allowed, 1 touchdown allowed.

Having Quinton Carter back is great. It adds a lot of versatility to the defense, with Moore and Ward. Not having played in a regular season game in two years is a cause for some rust, and it showed. Despite that, he showed moments of brilliance. His grade: C+. Carter had a few big plays, one of them was forcing a fumble, which unfortunately bounced right back into the Colts receivers hands.


There is a lot of promise with the Broncos defense. Are they the Orange Crush? No yet, but they can be. As time goes on and chemistry grows, they will get better. One thing is for sure. This is not the same unit from last year. They are miles better, and not just in ways that show up on the stat sheet.

You can find Erick Trickel on Twitter @AlaskanBronco.

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