Against the Kansas City Chiefs, the Broncos defense caught a lot of flak for their performance. However, they were better than what is being said would make you think. They were 10/12 on goal line stands, which is no easy task for any defense. Of course, there are areas they must work on.
One of the biggest issues from the defense were the penalties. The Broncos were drawn offsides 5 times by the Chiefs offense, and those penalties negated some big plays, like a pick-6. The other big issues was their inability to get off the field on third down. All great defenses in NFL history have excelled in one key area; getting off the field. Denver has the potential for a great defense, but they are not there yet.
Now onto the grades. Each player starts off with a C. A positive play adds to their grades, while a negative play takes away from the grade. On the defensive side of the ball we start down in the trenches on the defensive line.
Note: All stats are from PFF. They do not do half sacks.
Snaps: 70. Stat line: 3 hits, 4 hurries, 1 tackle, 1 stop.
DeMarcus Ware is paying off in terms of getting after the QB. He has such a quick first step, which is important. However, at times that first step does harm. When you get off the snap so fast, it is easy for an offensive tackle to just control your momentum past the QB. His grade: B+. Ware’s first step also hurts at times against the run. He gets up-field so quick, that the run just blows by underneath him.
Snaps: 53. Stat line: 3 hurries, 1 tackle, 1 stop.
Wolfe is a quiet player. He does all the right things, but rarely fills a stat sheet. After a hard time vs the Colts, Wolfe rebounded against the Chiefs. Wolfe’s strength comes in run defense. He sets the edge and forces the runner to find a new course. On one run, Wolfe destroyed a triple team forcing the ball carrier inside. The play went for negative two yards. His grade: B+. Wolfe also made noise in the passing game. If it weren’t for Wolfe, Miller wouldn’t have a sack.
Snaps: 1 hurry, 1 tackle, 1 stop.
Jackson was a force of disruption against the Colts. Against the Chiefs, that wasn’t the case. Jackson did face some double teams, which shut him down. However, he was consistently shut down by a single blocker. His grade: C-. Jackson was close to invisible all game. There was one play where he wasn’t, but not in a good way. He got called for roughing the passer, a penalty that shows a lack of judgment from the player.
Snaps: 31. Stat line: 1 hit, 1 hurry, 1 tackle, 1 stop.
In a limited amount of snaps, Smith is somewhat effective. He has shown plenty of concerns, especially in run defense. But, it needs to be remembered that this is essentially his rookie year. Smith did a solid job getting push in the passing game. His grade: C+. There are a few plays that stick out in a negative manor, the worst of which was getting called for off-sides on a play that would’ve put an end to the game sooner than it did.
Snaps: 46. Stat line: 1 hurry, 2 pass breakups, 2 tackles, 2 stops.
Knighton was dominate in the middle of the Chiefs offensive line. He always seemed to be in the backfield causing disruption. When he wasn’t able to get some good pressure on the QB, he was getting his hands up to potentially knock down passes. His grade: A. When Knighton gets his hands up, he knocks the pass down often. He had the game saving play when he knocked down a pass on 4th down at the goalline with only seconds left in the game.
Snaps: 31. Stat line: 2 hurries, 1 assisted tackle.
The 2nd-year player had a rough time his rookie year. Eventually he looked like he was coming around in the preseason. Since the regular season started, Williams has looked worse than he did his rookie year. He has shown his potential as a disruptive defensive tackle in the passing game, but nothing consistent. In the run game, Williams get bullied around. His grade: D+. Williams needs to turn it around and fast. As soon as he does the defensive line becomes even stronger and it will force opposing interior offensive lines to not just focus on Knighton.
Snaps: 14. Stat line: None.
Austin was a disruptive force in the preseason and hyped up the fans. Everyone was anxious to see him once the regular season came around. However, it has been nothing special so far. He has shown the flashes of being great that were seen in the preseason, but that is it. His grade: C-. Against the Chiefs, it was noticeable when Austin was on the field, and not just for the big #76 running around. The defense got weaker, and that is not fitting with the hype that was made during the preseason.
Snaps: 9. Stat line: None.
After being inactive against the Colts, Unrein saw action against the Chiefs. He has become versatile for the Broncos and used in multiple different ways. He has been used at both tackle spots in a 4-3 look, as well as a defensive end in a 3-4 look. His grade: C. Unrein never stands out, but did the right thing. There were no negatives from his game, but no positives either.
Snaps: 57. Stat line: 1 sack, 1 hurry, 5 tackles, 1 assisted tackle, 1 missed tackle, 4 stops, 1 target, 1 catch allowed for 11 yards.
Miller got hurt during the second half and was kept out of the rest of the game as a precaution. Until that point Miller was having a great game. He was causing all kinds of disruption behind the line of scrimmage. In pass coverage, Miller looks better and better with each snap. His grade: A-. Miller is being used as more than just a pass rusher, thankfully. He has grown as a player to be more than just a pass rusher.
Snaps: 71. Stat line: 7 tackles, 3 assisted tackles, 2 missed tackles, 4 stops, 5 targets, 5 catches allowed for 44 yards.
Nate Irving continues to impress as a run stopper. But, in coverage he looked like his old, lost self. A few times he lost his man in coverage, but he wasn’t targeted then. Irving is becoming one of the better two-down linebackers in the NFL, but there is a lot of work left for him to become an every down player, despite being used as one. His grade: B-. Irving has shown flashes in coverage, but hopefully they can become more than just flashes.
Snaps: 86. Stat line: 1 sack, 6 tackles, 3 assisted tackles, 4 stops, 7 targets, 4 catches allowed for 24 yards.
Marshall has done well stepping in, but he is no Danny Trevathan. Marshall likes to bite on play action fakes, which hurts him later on. One play stands out in particular. It was the first run since Jamaal Charles left with an injury and it was made to look like a play action. Marshall originally goes after the ball carrier, then sees Smith roll out, so Marshall changes to go back to cover his man. By the time he realized it was a run, it was too late. His grade: C+. If Marshall can grow in his play recognition, he will only get better. Often, that grows with time.
Snaps: 10. Stat line: 1 tackle, 1 hurry, 1 stop.
Steven Johnson is mainly a special teams player, though he has slightly improved on the defensive side of the ball. He is faster on the uptake to recognize the play. His grade: C-. Johnson has shown flashes, but not enough to get more snaps. A big reason he got the snaps he did, were due to injuries to others.
Snaps: 4. Stat line: None.
Unfortunately, McCray got hurt early on. So, it was hard to hand out a grade. His grade: C+. On his four snaps, he looked great. Got off the snap quick and put some pressure in the backfield.
Snaps: 83. Stat line: 3 tackles, 4 targets, 2 catches allowed for 30 yards.
Talib has been huge for the Broncos. He has upgraded the secondary from last year as a shutdown corner. His physical play has been noticed in coverage and in run defense. His grade: B+. There are few faults to Talib’s game. He did allow 2 catches for 30 yards, but he immediately came up and made the stop.
Chris Harris Jr.
Snaps: 80. Stat line: 6 tackles, 2 stops, 4 targets, 2 catches allowed for 18 yards.
Harris has quietly been the best slot corner in the NFL. But, even that isn’t giving him full credit. Harris is one of the best cornerbacks in the NFL. Against the Chiefs, he showed why. He is so quick in coverage, that if he gets beat he recovers quickly to make the tackle. He also isn’t afraid to come up in run defense. His grade: A-. His grade would be higher, if it weren’t for a pass interference call.
Snaps: 61. Stat line: 1 hurry, 6 tackles, 1 missed tackle, 2 stops, 6 targets, 5 catches allowed for 45 yards.
After putting up a great game against the Colts, where he saved the victory on a pass breakup, Roby struggled against the Chiefs. His struggles often led to the defense's failure to get off the field on third down. His grade: D+. Roby was consistently lost in coverage, which is why he struggled so much.
Snaps: 5. Stat line: 2 tackles, 1 stop, 2 targets, 2 catches allowed for 12 yards.
In his limited snap count, Webster was all over the place. On four of his five snaps he was somehow involved. He was the third best cornerback out there. His grade: C+. Webster was at fault for one of the third down failures, when he allowed 11 yards. Outside of that, he was great, though limited.
Snaps: 86. Stat line: 6 tackles, 1 assisted tackle, 1 missed tackle, 3 stops, 3 targets, 2 catches allowed for 42 yards.
Having Ward has been a big difference for the defense. He is always around the ball, if not involved in the play. He did get picked on in coverage a couple times, but stood strong in the run game. His grade: B. Ward is a really good player, but he isn’t without weaknesses. Those weaknesses hurt the defense a few times during the game.
Snaps: 86. Stat line: 4 tackles, 1 assisted tackle, 1 stop, 1 target, 1 catch allowed for 1 yard.
After having two interceptions against the Colts, it may be a letdown to see Moore with none. Despite the lack of ball-hawking, Moore was great on the defense. Having Ward gives Moore freedom to play a centerfield type role that is becoming important for safeties in the NFL. His grade: B+. Moore was all over the place. He is more than willing to come up to make the play, something that has always been a strong suit for him.
Snaps: 16. Stat line: 1 assisted tackle, 2 targets, 2 catches allowed for 28 yards.
Carter had a big role in the game vs the Colts, but he had his snap count cut against the Chiefs. In the snaps he did get, Carter struggled. His reactions seemed off, often taking the wrong angle to come up to stop the run. His grade: C-. Carter struggles were consistent and clear on each snap.
Upon further review, the Broncos defense really wasn’t as bad as many make it out to be. Often, the Chiefs just found the weak spot. When that wasn’t the case, it was the result on a miscue by the defense. There were plenty of mistakes from the game, but nothing that should bring worry, or cause anyone to jump ship. There are a lot of pieces that are new, or coming back from injury, on the defense and it takes time for them to gel.
You can find the offensive player grades here.
Erick Trickel is an Analyst for MileHighHuddle.com. You can find him on Twitter @AlaskanBronco.