For the first game of the season, almost every phase for the Broncos seemed to be firing on all cylinders for the majority of the game. That doesn’t mean they didn't struggle at times, just that this was their most consistent game from start to finish. The worst phase for the offense was the running game, as it has been thus far this season. Later in the game, they seemed to get it going. Now, they just need to establish it right out of the gates to take pressure off of Peyton Manning and the passing game.
Now on to the grades. Every player starts with a C. A positive play raises their grade, while a negative play lowers it. We will start at the quarterback position.
Snaps: 82. Stats: 31-47 479 yards, 4 touchdowns and 2 interceptions, 1 tackle.
Peyton Manning threw for career touchdown number 500 on Sunday. He was great for the majority of the game, but there were some issues. He threw two interceptions. One was a great read and react by the Cardinals defender. The other showed that Manning’s arm strength is not always there. His grade: B. The two interceptions keep his grade lower than it should be. Mainly, it is just one interception that was a bad throw that never should have been made. The other interception is not so much on Manning, so he catches a little break there.
Snaps: 30. Stats: 1 QB hurry, 6 rushes for 7 yards, 3 targets, 2 catches for 11 yards.
Ball showed that the run game is still not where it needs to be. A lot of the blame still lies on the offensive line and play-calling, but Ball did not look like normal. When he has the ball he usually keeps his legs driving forward. Against the Cardinals, he often gave up at first contact. An injury ended his day early. His grade: D-. Ball is a power back, yet he committed the biggest sin for a power back: he stopped his legs from churning. He was met in the backfield, but that does not excuse him of his mistakes.
Snaps: 40. Stats: 15 rushes for 64 yards, 1 target.
When Ball got hurt, Hillman was the player to step in and take over. He ended up having a great game. His speed and burst helped out the offense a lot. He seemed to have more confidence in himself, which showed in his rapid decisions. His grade: B. The offensive line did a lot better blocking for Hillman than they did for Ball (more on that under the offensive line section) but Hillman helped the offensive line. His runs also came later in the game when the Cardinals defense was gassed.
Snaps: 8. Stats: 3 rushes for 15 yards and a touchdown. 1 forced missed tackle.
Finally, the fan favorite got to see some action on the offensive side of the ball. Thompson did not disappoint in those snaps and earned himself more playing time, especially with Ball out the next few weeks. Thompson, like Ball, is a power back, but Thompson did not do what Ball did. Instead, Thompson kept his legs churning which helped him pick up a few extra yards here and there. His grade: B+. Though his snaps were limited, what he showed was excellent. If he keeps it up with more playing time, he could push for being the bell cow of the running back corps.
Snaps: 80. Stats: 15 targets, 8 catches for 226 yards and 2 touchdowns, 1 dropped pass.
"Thomas needs to be benched” and “Thomas sucks” were phrases uttered during the Broncos first three games. Well, he proved them wrong. It was no secret that Thomas was dealing with a foot injury for a time. It was the cause of his struggles. He was deemed healthy and was beyond excellent. His grade: A+. It is a shame that the grading system can only go to an A+, because Thomas deserves something even better. He was firing on all cylinders and looked like the star Broncos fans have come to know and love.
Snaps: 78. Stats: 2 rushes for 8 yards, 9 targets 7 catches for 101 yards.
Sanders' hot streak continued with his third straight 100+ yard receiving game. Sanders is so explosive that the Broncos are trying to find ways to consistently get him the ball, even if it is an end around, or a jet sweep. This season is his fifth in the NFL, and he already has his third highest receiving yards total. His grade: A. Sanders has been an upgrade for this offense. His speed and explosiveness are always handy, and it showed vs the Cardinals. Also, for being a smaller receiver, Sanders can take some big hits.
Snaps: 69. Stats: 9 targets 7 catches for 58 yards and 1 dropped pass.
Having Welker back has helped the offense a lot. It adds a completely new dynamic that they didn’t have in their first two games. Since getting Welker back, the offense has been more effective, especially when lined up in a 3-wide receiver set with Welker on the field. His grade: B+. Welker helps this offense so much just by being on the field. He doesn’t even need to have a big game to be effective. He executes what he is supposed to do, which opens up others to have a great game.
Snaps: 6. Stats: 1 target.
It is time to activate Cody Latimer and deactivate Andre Caldwell. Caldwell has done nothing to help this offense, as a blocker or a receiver. He is their primary returner, but against the Cardinals, it was Bolden back to return kicks more often. If the Broncos were to make the switch, Latimer wouldn’t see many more snaps than Caldwell is now, but the potential impact is great, even in the run game. His grade: F. If by next week, Caldwell doesn’t step it up, it is time for a switch to be made.
Snaps: 78. Stats: 7 targets 6 catches for 66 yards and 2 touchdowns.
Julius Thomas is a man on a mission. He is in a contract year and working to get paid, either by the Broncos or another team. He showcased his excellent receiving abilities against the Cardinals. But he also showcased his horrendous blocking abilities. His grade: B-. It is unlikely Thomas turns his blocking around. While his chop block wasn’t a dirty play, it was a desperate move by a desperate blocker.
Snaps: 6. Stats: 1 target 1 catch for 17 yards.
Tamme showed why he is Mr. Reliable. Of his 6 snaps, only two were as a receiver, and he made an impact on those plays. On one, he opened up space for another receiver. On another snap, he made the catch himself. His grade: B+. Tamme is like Welker. When he is on the field, you can tell. The offense just flows better. Tamme isn’t a top target in Denver, but he does all the right things.
Snaps: 5. Stats: None.
Green has seen a decrease in snaps the last few weeks. The big reason for that is Welker being back and two tight end sets being ineffective. However, he is still used as a blocker on the majority of his snaps. On those snaps, he does great work. He always does his job and executes it to near perfection. His grade: B. It is a sad thing that blocking tight ends don’t get the recognition they once did. If so, Green would be up there with the best of them. If he could get more snaps and come out as a receiver, the Broncos offense becomes even more deadly.
Offensive Line: Ryan Clady, Orlando Franklin, Manny Ramirez, Louis Vasquez, Chris Clark, Paul Cornick
Snaps: Clady, Franklin, Ramirez, Vasquez, Clark-82, Cornick 10. Stats: Clady 1 hurry, Ramirez 1 hit 3 hurries, Vasquez 2 hurries, Clark 1 sack 1 hurry.
To get the grade out right away, they all get an F. No longer do they get a pass for good pass protection. Until they get their run blocking going, their grade is a reflection of it. As a unit, they are horrible. They can’t get any push on the defensive line. Against the Cardinals, the only time they got any push, was when the top Cardinals defensive linemen, Calais Campbell, was out of the game. Even then, they had to bring in an extra offensive lineman and still they had struggles.
Now to be fair, the Broncos have faced some really good run defenses so far this season. However, that is not an excuse for getting zero push on 99% of the run plays. They need to step it up and do their part to help take pressure off of the passing game.
The Broncos still have work to do upfront in the run game. Other than that, everything is firing on all cylinders. If they keep it up, and their defense plays like it has been, they will be back in the Super Bowl. However, if they want to win it, they need to get the run game going. Last year their run game was better than this and look what happened.