Here at MHH, we've been pounding the table, waiting to see the vastly talented roster of the Denver Broncos execute for a full 60 minutes, up to their potential. For the first time this season, we can confidently check that feat off the list.
In their 42-17 blowout of the San Francisco 49ers, as impressive of a performance as it was, there were some players who showed that there's room for improvement. And others whose stock is soaring through the roof.
LB Von Miller
With 8 sacks through 6 games, it's safe to say that Miller is back and he's looking better than ever. With 2 sacks, 2 QB hits and 4 hurries, he was an absolute terror in the Niners backfield. This performance earned him a +6.2 overall grade via ProFootballFocus, his highest grade of the season.
Through seven weeks, the Defensive Player of the Year race seems to be between he and Houston Texans defensive end, J.J. Watt. As dominant as Watt has been, if the Texans are unable to compete for a post-season berth, and Miller's trajectory continues exponentially higher, then the honor could go to the 2nd overall pick of the 2011 NFL draft.
For some inexplicable reason, the Broncos have chosen to keep Caldwell active every game this year, over the uber-talented rookie, Cody Latimer. It's no secret that head coach, John Fox, loves veterans and gives them the first opportunity to succeed. But Caldwell has done nothing with the opportunity.
In 20 snaps last night, he earned a -1.4 overall grade via PFF and did nothing to positively influence the offense. The Broncos have put him back returning kicks and he's been unable to add any kind of a spark there either. Other than recovering two offensive fumbles, Caldwell has yet to make a difference in 2014. And the hue and cry for Latimer from Broncos Country is turning into a cacophony.
Hillman's stock is way up. After accounting for more than 200 total yards and 2 touchdowns, over the last two weeks, he has added an electric element to the Broncos offense that has catapulted it to juggernaut status. With a legit run threat, Peyton Manning is even more lethal, as his perfect passer rating vs the Niners showcases.
The question burning in everyone's mind, is will Hillman continue to start, once Montee Ball returns from his injury in a couple of weeks? The way Hillman is playing, there's not a doubt in my mind that Fox will stick with the "hot hand'. For his 14 rushes, for 74 yards and 2 score performance last night, he earned a +2.4 overall grade via PFF.
FS Rahim Moore
Moore played terribly last night. He was often out of position in coverage and he took a few bad angles to the ball carrier, whiffing on some tackles. This is discouraging for a player who started off the season with such a bang. His 2 interceptions in two weeks seems like ancient history.
This sub-par performance netted him a -3.4 overall grade via PFF, the lowest on the defense. With a history of being benched for poor play, Moore better step it up, or he could lose his starting position at free safety.
Carter played lights out in limited snaps (23/75). He was excellent in coverage and quick to react to the route in front of him. He notched one stop and earned a +1.6 overall grade via PFF.
In their respective rookie seasons of 2011, Carter supplanted Moore as the Broncos starting free safety and even picked off Ben Roethlisberger and Tom Brady in the playoffs. Were it not for his knee injury, requiring micro-fracture surgery, that following off-season, he would have likely been the starter in 2012 as well. If the Broncos ultimately lose faith in Moore, Carter is waiting in the wings.
SS T.J. Ward
Ward was brought in on a multi-year deal last March by John Elway. The Broncos were looking for free agents who would bring a swagger to a Broncos defense that had been labeled as "soft" by some. And so far, Ward has done just that.
But the All-Pro safety has been up and down this season. His leadership and mindset have made a difference, but his play has been inconsistent. Against the Niners, Ward earned a -2.1 overall grade via PFF. After finishing 2013 as the football metric website's 4th highest rated safety, he's only graded out in the positive once thus far in 2014.
Between missed tackles and at times suspect coverage, Ward has yet to play up to his potential in the orange and blue. He's in no danger of losing his job, however. He's one of the best strong safeties in the league and a true heat-seeking missile in the box.
Check out Brandon Perna's Niners score prediction below. Scary accurate.