Against the Arizona Cardinals, the Denver Broncos defense was stellar, but despite this, many want to write off their performance for the caliber of offense they were matched up against, which is a valid point. However, even against a bad offense you want to see your defense shine. Otherwise, it leads one to think that they take plays or games off.
All aspects of the Broncos defense were performing at a high level last Sunday. They had one horrible play as a unit, which is far better than previous games. They were able to effectively shut down the run all game long. As for the passing game, they held the Cardinals quarterbacks to 12-34 on passing attempts and 199 yards, including an 81 yard touchdown pass.
Now, onto the defensive player grades. Each player starts off with a C grade. A positive play raises their grade, while a negative play hurts it. As always, we will start off on the defensive line.
Snaps: 45. Stats: 1 sack, 1 hurry, 1 tackle, 2 stops, 1 missed tackle.
DeMarcus Ware continues to show why he was signed by the Broncos. He is an upgrade over what the Broncos had last year, and is a major contributor in causing disruption behind the line of scrimmage. Against the Cardinals, he was shut down early by the left tackle, but as the game went on Ware took control. His grade: B+. There were very few mistakes to take away from his game. All of them were just minor aspects that had little, to no effect, on the outcome of the play.
Snaps: 38. Stats: 2 hurries, 3 tackles, 2 stops.
There are many out there who want Derek Wolfe to be benched. However, he showed once again why he should be the starter, especially against a run-first offense. He is an underrated component in the defense, both in pass rush and run defense. His grade: B+. Wolfe will rarely fill a stat sheet, but he plays a major role. Against the run, he often takes on double teams and still sets the edge, forcing the run defender inside. In pass rush, he opens up space for others, while creating push on the interior to keep the QB from stepping up.
Snaps: 29. Stats: 1 sack, 2 hits, 1 hurry, 1 tackle, 2 stops.
For as good as Jackson is at rushing the QB, he is not on the same level as a run defender and often gets beat by his man. Rushing the QB though, Jackson is really good. He has an excellent combination of size, speed and strength, which makes him so hard to block. His grade: B. Against the Cardinals, the Broncos were moving him around the defensive line. He is too quick and fast for interior offensive linemen, while strong and long for the tackles.
Snaps: 15. Stats: None.
Smith has been very up and down on the season, from play to play, and series to series. That trend continued against the Cardinals. While he didn’t accumulate any stats, he did have a few shining moments. The best was controlling a double team to set the edge against the run. His grade: C+. He did have some good plays, but when he made a negative play, it was really bad.
Snaps: 26. Stats: 3 tackles, 1 assisted tackle, 3 stops.
Knighton continued his dominance in the middle against the Cardinals. The interior offensive line of the Cardinals could not figure out how to stop the monstrous man. He was consistently in the backfield causing some kind of disruption. His grade: A-. If he hasn’t already, Knighton is becoming one of the best interior defensive linemen in the NFL. He has a well-rounded skill set that not many have anymore.
Snaps: 21. Stats: 1 hurry, 1 tackle, 1 stop.
As the season has progressed, Williams has been losing snaps. In fact, he had his season low of 21 snaps, which was 10 less than his previous low. Williams doesn’t make a lot of negative plays, but he doesn’t make the positive plays either. His grade: C+. It is beyond time for Williams to step it up. If he doesn't soon, the coaching staff needs to make the switch to the next player and use Sly as a rotational player.
Snaps: 16. Stats: 1 hurry, 1 batted pass.
Austin has been playing great all season with limited snaps. He actually has been playing so well, he is deserving of more time on the field. He and Knighton would be a dynamic duo in the interior of the defensive line. Both of them can cause all kinds of disruption in the passing game and running game. His grade: B+. Austin has been getting more and more snaps. When he sees the field, he makes the most of his time out there. With more snaps, he can really become the player that Broncos fans had hoped he would be when he was signed by the team.
Snaps: 53. Stats: 2 sacks, 2 hits, 1 hurry, 1 tackle, 2 stops.
After the last few games, people have claimed "Von Miller is back!" But it's important to keep in mind that he has been back since the start of the season. Against the Colts, he was great but didn’t have a sack. Lately, the sacks have been coming. Against the Cardinals, he was all over the place behind the line of scrimmage. Pretty much from the first snap, to the last, Miller was controlling what the Cardinals left tackle did. His grade: A. Miller is one of the best defensive players in the NFL. Now that he is keeping his nose clean off the field, he can display what makes him such a great player on it.
Snaps: 21. Stats: 4 targets, 3 catches, 88 yards and a touchdown allowed.
Nate Irving had his worst game of the season. When he was on the field, he was missing in run defense and poor in pass coverage. It does not help that he was mismatched on a faster running back in coverage, however. His grade: D. It seems unfair to fault him for being placed in a mismatch by the play call, however, it is on the defender to execute, no matter what. Irving failed to do that, and also is at fault on the 81-yard touchdown by the Cardinals.
Snaps: 56. Stats: 6 tackles, 4 stops, 4 targets, 3 catches, 30 yards allowed.
In his first game of the season, Danny Trevathan showed why he is so important to the defense. They played with more fire and intensity then they did in their previous games. Not only that, but Trevathan was all over the field making plays. His grade: A. It is great having Trevathan back. The defense looked at it's best of the season, and it is only going to get better.
Snaps: 38. Stats: 2 tackles, 1 assisted tackle, 2 targets, 0 catches allowed, 1 deflected pass.
Marshall was playing so well in place of Trevathan that the Broncos created a look on defense just so that they can get him on the field. It is called the “derby”. It is a four linebacker look, but not a 3-4. It is the base 4-3 under, only with Von Miller at defensive end, Marshall, Irving and Trevathan at linebacker. Marshall plays really well against the run and pass. He has a way of snaking through blockers to cause disruption in the passing game. His grade: B+. As the season goes on, expect to see more of this “derby” look. When the Broncos featured it, they looked at their best.
Snaps: 8. Stats: None.
Lamin Barrow continues to see just a few snaps per game. Often, they come when a linebacker has to come out for a snap because they are banged up. Against the Cardinals, he saw a snap at every linebacker position and did well. He is a rookie, so there is obviously room for improvement. His grade: C+. Some may be surprised that a college coverage linebacker struggles in coverage at the NFL level, but the pro passing game is very different. Barrow has the ability, he just needs to get a grasp on all the different concepts in the NFL.
Snaps: 58. Stats: 4 tackles, 1 missed tackle, 2 stops, 9 targets, 4 catches, 39 yards allowed.
Talib is one of the better run support cornerbacks in the NFL, and he showed just that against the Cardinals by often coming up to help stop the run. In pass coverage he is excellent at reading the QB’s eyes and then reacts. This has led him to a few close interceptions that he just barely missed. His grade: B+. Talib is better than many give him credit for. Rarely will he shut down a receiver, but he rarely allows a big play. He often is right there to make the stop if he allows the catch.
Snaps: 57. Stats: 1 tackle, 7 targets, 0 catches allowed, 3 passes deflected.
Against the Cardinals, Chris Harris had just about as good of a game a cornerback can have. He shut down every receiver he was matched up against. But, there were a few mistakes that he made. Those mistakes were not the worst mistakes one could have. His grade: A. Harris gets his hands on the ball, but doesn’t come down with many interceptions. That is something he needs to work on. Against the Cardinals, he had at least one opportunity to come away with the pick, only for it to fall through his hands.
Snaps: 40. Stats: 2 tackles, 2 targets, 2 catches, 42 yards allowed.
Being a rookie cornerback in the NFL normally comes with a lot of mistakes. In the case of Bradley Roby, however, he's playing like this is his third or fourth year. He does make mistakes that prove he is a rookie, but they are not as often as one would think. He sticks by his man in great coverage the majority of the time. When he does lose his man, or gives him space, Roby is quick to recover and make the tackle. His grade: B. Roby looks really good four games into his NFL career. If he continues at this pace and continues to grow, as he should, he is going to be something special.
Snaps: 11. Stats: None.
Webster sees limited snaps on defense, and for good reason. When he is out there he looks lost and out of place. He does, however, play really well on special teams. His grade: D-. Grades do not take into account special teams. For the defensive side of the ball, Webster has done little when he is out there. It is starting to look like he needs to be benched.
Snaps: 59. Stats: 2 hits, 3 tackles, 2 stops.
It is amazing that there are Broncos fans out there who want Ward benched because he is not getting interceptions. When the Cardinals came to play, Ward showed exactly why that is not an option. He was all over the field making plays for the defense and played a major role in the success they had. His grade: A-. Ward is so versatile that he can line up all over the place and play well. With the Cardinals run first physical offense, Ward had the opportunity to shine and show why the Broncos went after such a player.
Snaps: 59. Stats: 1 tackle, 1 stop, 1 target.
Moore is looking like one of the best safeties in the NFL right now. Playing this centerfield type role that is becoming more and more popular with the free safety, seems to fit him perfectly. He is always around the ball and has been able to show why he was called a ball hawk coming out of college. He does not always come away with the interception, but he has been close often. His grade: A-. If Moore were to catch every ball that hit his hands, he would be sitting at about 6 interceptions on the season. He looks better than ever and if he can work on catching the ball, his interceptions will come more frequently.
The Cardinals do not have the best offense in the NFL. So, the success of the defense should be taken with a grain of salt. For now. However, every great defense is able to shut down bad offenses. It is part of the game. Consistency is needed against any and every opponent. Next up for this Broncos defense is the New York Jets offense. This should be another dominate game by the defense, but on any given Sunday, anything can happen.