With an undeafed NFC West team coming to Sports Authority Field at Mile High, some wondered if the Denver Broncos would struggle to out-slug the Arizona Cardinals. The 41-20 score answers some of those questions. The Broncos were able to out-physical the Cardinals, as Arizona lost Drew Stanton, Calais Campbell and Patrick Peterson to injuries in-game.
Amid the victory, some players performed better than others. Let's take a look at 3 Broncos whose stock is on the rise, as a result of yesterday's win, and 3 whose stock is falling.
Von Miller, linebacker
After tearing his ACL in week 16, and being suspended for 6 games last year, there were questions surrounding Miller heading into this season. So far, he has answered them with the aplomb we've come to expect from the 2-time All-Pro. Each week thus far, Miller has improved and is now fully operational and wreaking havoc on the opposition.
In yesterday's matchup, Miller notched 3 tackles, 2 for a loss, 1.5 sacks and hurried, or hit the quarterback 3 times. Over the last 3 games, he has 3.5 sacks. This effort earned him a +3.8 overall grade via ProFootballFocus.com. Welcome back, Von Miller.
Nate Irving, middle linebacker
In a resounding defensive effort by the Broncos, there isn't much to dislike, but the Cardinals only big play came at the expense of Irving. Rookie quarterback, Logan Thomas, rifled a pass down the right sideline on a wheel route to Andre Ellington, with Irving in close coverage. It was a perfect throw, and although Irving had good coverage, he failed to turn his head around in time and make the tackle, following the completion. The play resulted in an 81-yard touchdown.
Because Irving had solid coverage, some might think I'm being a tad too hard on him here, but there's no getting around the fact that the play was made at his expense. Coverage is not his strong suit. He excels as a two-down thumper, but if he wants to become a fully rounded linebacker, he needs to strive to continue to improve in this arean.
Chris Harris, cornerback
Harris has been excellent all season long, so it's no surprise to see his name here, however, he was absolutely dominant in yesterday's win. Cardinals wide receiver, Michael Floyd, was held to one catch, for 7 yards, on 7 targets. He came into the game leading the NFL in yards per reception with 22.9. Harris shut him down.
Harris was targeted 7 times and relinquished zero receptions. This performance earned him a +4.1 overall grade via PFF, a team high on defense. In a contract year, he continues to play lights out football.
Aqib Talib, cornerback
Talib has been an immense boon to a Broncos defense trying to reestablish a physical identity in 2014. Yesterday, however, Talib did not have a good game. He was often out of position. And on 9 balls thrown into his coverage, he allowed 4 receptions. None of them went for touchdowns though.
It may not have been a good game for Talib, but it wasn't terrible either. He is often in position to make a play, but is just milliseconds off, or maybe he slips, which creates a window for the completion. He's been so close to making some big plays this season. With his tenacious style of play, I have no doubt that it's only a matte of time before he hits pay-dirt.
Demaryius Thomas, wide receiver
Thomas had been relatively quiet for the first 3 games of the season, as he battled through a lingering foot injury. The bye week, and the rest therein, was just what the doctor ordered for him.
Yesterday, Thomas exploded with 8 receptions, for 226 yards and 2 touchdowns. He also scored on a 77-yard strike, which would have put him over 300 yards, but the play was called back due to a chop block penalty on Julius Thomas.
Nonetheless, Thomas' day was record-setting, as he now owns the Broncos single-game record for receiving yards. He showcased his blazing straight-line speed in yesterday's win, and absolutely abused Antonio Cromartie. I actually felt bad for the guy.
Manuel Ramirez (Manny), center
I've been an ardent supported of the ManRam throughout this young season. It's no secret that the Broncos have struggled to establish the run. This has largely been a failure of the offensive line. Many in Broncos Country hoped to see a marked improvement from Ramirez and company in week 5.
Alas, Ramirez had one of his worst games at center vs the Cardinals. He was often beaten to the point of attack and allowed his blocking assignment to beat him to the ball carrier. Overall, he earned a -1.3 grade via PFF for his lack of effort, which made him the only player on the offensive line to grade out in the negative. Ramirez has to improve, or the Broncos could look at making a change at center.