The Denver Broncos defense has been one of the best defensive units over the last four games. They have allowed an average of 18.75 points and 235.5 passing yards. But, where the defense is really excelling at is stopping the run and getting takeaways.
In the same four-game stretch, they have allowed 191 rushing yards on 67 carries for a putrid 2.85 yards per carry. That is great defense. Then you add in the 5 takeaways and you have a top defense in the NFL over that four-game stretch. The sad truth for other teams is, the defense is getting better and better every game.
Now, onto the player grades. Each player starts off with a C. A positive play raises their grade while a negative play lowers it.
Snaps: 42. Stats: 1 hurry.
The impact that Ware had against the Chargers does not show up on the stat sheet, but that doesn’t mean he didn’t have one. Ware was causing disruption in the passing game, without getting after the QB. However, Ware struggled in the run game, yet again. He had moments of great run defense, but moments of failure. His grade: B-.
DE Derek Wolfe
Snaps: 39. Stats: 1 sack, 3 hurries, 1 tackle, 1 missed tackle, 1 stop.
Wolfe has been huge for the Broncos run defense, all while being an underrated asset in rushing the QB. Wolfe currently sits at the top of great NFL run stopping defensive ends, but recognition only goes to the pass rushers at that position. Wolfe is a disciplined player, often maintaining the edge and forcing runners back inside. Rushing the QB he is disciplined as well. He stays in his lane and eats up space for one of the star pass rushers to get to the QB. His grade: A-.
DE/DT Malik Jackson
Snaps: 34. Stats: 2 hurries.
Jackson showed off his strength in getting after the QB against the Chargers. On the other side though, he showed bad decision making when he got flagged for unnecessary roughness, after an interception. Jackson could be a starter elsewhere, but he needs to stop with the dumb penalties. His grade: C+.
Snaps: 9. Stats: None.
After having a great game against the 49ers, Smith took a small step back this past Thursday night against the Chargers. He struggled staying in his lane in run defense, and got shut down when getting after the QB. His grade: C-.
Snaps: 25. Stats: 1 sack, 1 hurry, 1 tackle, 1 assisted tackle, 2 stops.
After a quiet two games from Knighton, he returned to dominating form against the Chargers. He was a clog, shutting downs runs designed to go up the middle. He didn’t stop there, either. He showed that he is a force rushing the QB, too. He is a complete player in the middle of the Broncos defensive line, and shows it nearly every week. His grade: B+.
Snaps: 26. Stats: 1 assisted tackle.
Similar to the case of Ware, Williams' impact does not show up in the stat sheet. The last few games have been a complete turnaround from his start of the season. He has been clogging the middle in the running game and getting pressure on the QB, or at the very least, keeping the QB from stepping up in the pocket. His grade: B+.
Snaps: 19. Stats: 1 hurry, 1 tackle, 1 stop.
The Broncos have an excellent three man rotation of pure defensive tackles. A five man rotation, if you add in combo defensive linemen, Wolfe and Jackson. A big reason for the success of the rotation is Austin. He is a very capable pass rusher. He is quick and strong, but nimble enough to squeeze through the gaps. In the run game he is stout and disciplined. He takes on his blocker and keeps holes from being opened up on him. His grade: B+.
SLB Von Miller
Snaps: 55. Stats: 1 sack, 1 hit, 2 hurries, 2 tackles, 3 stops.
Miller was dominant against the Chargers. He was always in the QB's face, or close to him. There is no doubt that Miller is not only one of the best pass rushers in the league, but one of the best defensive players, period. He is more than just a pass rusher. His coverage is always solid and his run defense is vastly underrated. The Chargers right tackle looked like he had no business being in the NFL when facing Miller. His grade: A-.
MLB Nate Irving
Snaps: 50. Stats: 1 hit, 5 tackles, 1 assisted tackle, 1 missed tackle, 1 stop, 1 target, with 1 catch allowed for 13 yards.
Irving got some of his coverage responsibilities back against the Chargers, and did really well. One time, he lost his assignment, but got bailed out with a sack on the QB. His run defense still is at a high level. He does an excellent job of reading the run and bursting through the gap to make a play. His grade: B+.
WLB Brandon Marshall
Snaps: 62. Stats: 1 hit, 11 tackles, 1 assisted tackle, 1 missed tackle, 10 stops, 10 targets, with 8 catches allowed for 37 yards.
Marshall played an excellent game against the Chargers, up until the last 20 minutes or so of the game. He was looking at a perfect grade. Then things started to go downhill. He still had a good game, but by the end it was no longer excellent. His play against the run was great all game long. Somehow, Marshall manages to sneak through the trenches to get into the backfield to make the stop. His grade: A.
Snaps: 7. Stats: 1 hit.
Coming in on a limited basis, McCray actually made an impact. He was able to hit the QB as he got rid of the ball. Not only that, he was able to set the edge against a run, which ended up as a tackle for a loss. When you play the same position as Von Miller, you won’t see a lot of snaps, but McCray is making the most of the ones he does get. His grade: C+.
CB Aqib Talib
Snaps: 58. Stats: 6 tackles, 1 assisted tackle, 1 missed tackle, 2 stops, 8 targets, with 6 catches allowed for 40 yards, 2 passes defensed.
Talib showed, yet again, why the Broncos signed him against the Chargers. He is so quick to react on a catch, and rarely does he miss. He is also one of the best run support corners in the NFL. He is more than willing to come up and meet the ball carrier in the open field. His grade: B+.
CB Chris Harris
Snaps: 62. Stats: 4 tackles, 6 targets, with 4 catches allowed for 37 yards and 1 interception.
Against the Chargers, Harris wasn’t exactly the shutdown corner he was the last couple games. He still played a great game, however. When he allowed a catch, he was quick to make the stop, allowing a total of 12 yards after the catch. The Chargers made the mistake to keep throwing it his way which he read and reacted, coming away with the interception. His grade: B+.
CB Bradley Roby
Snaps: 55. Stats: 4 tackles, 1 missed tackle, 1 stop, 5 targets, with 5 catches allowed for 43 yards and 1 touchdown.
Roby had another tough game. The Chargers picked on him from start to finish. There was some good to take away from his game though. Like with Harris, Roby was quick to make the tackle after he allowed a catch, keeping the yards after catch at 10 yards. He also made a few plays at or behind the line of scrimmage. His grade: D.
Snaps: 2. Stats: 1 tackle, 1 target, with 1 catch allowed for 26 yards.
When you come in and play two snaps, you have to make the most of them. Instead of Webster making the most of it, the Chargers capitalized by targeting Webster and completing a 26 yard pass. His grade: F.
SS T.J. Ward
Snaps: 62. Stats: 1 hit, 2 tackles, 1 assisted tackle, 2 missed tackles, 5 targets, with 3 catches allowed for 16 yards and 2 touchdowns.
Ward continues to struggle in coverage, and was unable to maintain his great play against the run. He was unable to read and react correctly, often plugging the wrong hole against the run. In coverage, Ward was outplayed. He did make some plays, but they did little to help out his grade with the negatives. His grade: D+F.
FS Rahim Moore
Snaps: 62. Stats: 1 tackle, 3 targets, with 0 catches allowed, with 1 interception and 1 pass defense.
On paper, Moore looks like he played a great game. On the tape, it's a different story. Moore had a rough time against the Chargers. He took bad angles and was out of position on a couple plays. He did make some great plays, like knocking down a touchdown. His interception is one that should not be his. If Moore were not there, Talib would have picked off the pass. The ball was thrown to the Broncos defenders, not the Chargers receiver. His grade: C-.
Snaps: 12. Stats: 3 tackles, 2 targets, with 2 catches allowed for 40 yards.
Carter has seen an increase of snaps the last couple games, with little success. He is failing to show the ability that had Broncos fans hyped before the season started. He looks lost in coverage and unaware of what he should actually be doing and against the run. He seems to struggle with diagnosing the play. His grade: D-.
Snaps: 1. Stats: None.
Bruton came in and played one snap. He looked like he did what he was supposed to, but with one snap for a defensive player, it is hard to gauge how well they did. His grade: C.
The Broncos defense has a reason to celebrate. They have been playing like the best defense in the NFL and it is only going to get better. However, the players on the Broncos defense won’t celebrate. They know what the goal is and they are focused on achieving it. Until they bring that Lombardi back to Denver, the defense will remain focused and striving to always be better than their last game.