The Broncos boasted the best run defense in the NFL prior to the game. Afterwards, they were left a mess, due to the Rams running the ball at at will. One good thing for the defense was they allowed only one touchdown, holding the Rams to five field goals. That’s good, but even field goals put points on the board.
That is where the issue with the coaching staff comes in. They are firm believers in the “bend but don’t break” mentality. This mentality excuses mistakes, as long as they don’t allow a touchdown.
So, all the mistakes the Broncos make are no big deal because, hey, they allowed only one touchdown. Players need to be held accountable for when they don't execute, yet on this defense, and team, they are not.
Now onto the defensive player grades. Each player starts off with a C. A positive impact on a play raises their grade, while a negative impact on a play lowers it.
Snaps: 48. Stats: 1 QB sack, 3 QB hits, 2 QB hurries. 4 tackles with 1 missed tackle and 4 stops. Targeted 1 time, allowing 1 catch for negative 3 yards.
Ware played a great game, rushing the passer. He gave the Rams offensive line fits, by even beating double teams, to apply pressure on the quarterback. The area he struggled was in run defense. Yet again, Ware displayed his amazing burst off the snap and when the play was a run, the ball carrier just ran through the opening Ware created. Ware also lacked discipline on maintaining the edge, allowing the ball carrier to cut outside and get to the edge. His grade: C+.
DE Derek Wolfe
Snaps: 46. Stats: 1 QB sack. 1 tackle with 2 stops.
Wolfe was not his normal self against the run. He did a solid job, but was pushed back too often. Part of the problem was that he consistently faced a double team, and he could not split them. He was moved off the edge, allowing the cut back lane. Rushing the quarterback, Wolfe played better. He notched a sack and applied solid pressure throughout the game. His grade: C.
DE/DT Malik Jackson
Snaps: 38. Stats: 1 QB hit, 1 QB hurry and 1 batted pass. 5 tackles, with 4 stops.
Jackson was easily the best run defender on the Broncos defensive line. He took advantage of his matchup and often caused disruption on the play. But, the edge was not maintained and the runner just cut outside. When Jackson was on the edge, his run defense was not as good as it was on the interior. He also showed up over and over rushing the quarterback, making it hard on the Rams offensive line to keep the pocket clean. His grade: B.
Snaps: 14. Stats: 2 missed tackles.
Smith’s inconsistencies this season continued last Sunday. While he was solid, or better, the past few weeks in run and pass defense, he was awful against the Rams. He could not set the edge, or put himself in a position to make a play. When he did, he failed to make the tackle. Rushing the quarterback, he was unable to provide pressure. His grade: D.
Snaps: 42. Stats: 1 QB hit. 1 tackle, with 1 missed tackle and 1 stop.
Knighton did more harm than good for the Broncos defense. Against the run, Knighton would clear the middle of the offensive line, but the Broncos defensive line would clear too. That opened huge running lanes for the Rams ball carriers. He was also pushed around and a few times, and put on his rear. Rushing the quarterback, Knighton was slightly better, but not by much. He put another big hit on the quarterback, which would be his highlight of the game. His grade: D-.
Snaps: 29. Stats: 3 tackles, with 3 stops.
Williams played a really good game against the run. For the most part, he maintained his position and plugged the hole. He also did a good job in shedding blockers to make the stop. Rushing the passer is where he struggled. Williams ended up on the ground multiple times, facing off with one offensive linemen. His grade: C+.
Snaps: 21. Stats: 4 tackles, with 4 stops.
Austin played the best of all the defensive tackles. His ability to penetrate almost right off the snap was on display. He was consistently getting behind the Rams offensive line, causing some kind of disruption. When he was able to penetrate, he either maintained position and clogged the run lane, or got push to collapse the pocket. His grade: B.
SLB Von Miller
Snaps: 65. Stats: 1 QB sack. 4 tackles, with 1 assisted tackle and 5 stops.
Miller played a better game than many realize. He did have a hard time getting pressure on the quarterback, but that is on how the Rams blocked him. The Rams would chip him with a tight end, while the offensive tackle dropped and set his base. When the tight end released Miller to go into his route, Miller would then run into an already set right tackle.
Against the run is where he struggled. He was collapsing the middle consistently, which was good, until the runner cut back outside. Despite not being targeted once, Miller played 8 snaps in coverage. Even though he wasn't targeted, the Rams took advantage. He was lined up on a wide receiver each time, which brought safety help his way. Then the Rams just went to a receiver who got open against one-on-one coverage. His grade: B-.
MLB Steven Johnson
Snaps: 40. Stats: 4 tackles, with 3 assisted tackle, 1 missed tackle and 2 stops. Targeted 2 times, allowing 2 catches for 29 yards.
Statistically, Johnson is doing no better or worse than Nate Irving. The film shows otherwise. Johnson has been a major weak link on the defense. He consistently reads the play incorrectly, often heading away from the proper running lane. One thing he does do well is recover. So, when he does read the play wrong and plug the wrong hole, he recovers and becomes part of the play. That is the only positive aspect to come out of his play so far. His grade: D-.
WLB Brandon Marshall
Snaps: 66. Stats: 12 tackles, with 3 assisted tackles, 1 missed tackle and 6 stops. Targeted 8 times, allowing 8 catches for 45 yards.
Marshall has been excellent against the run all season, and that continued against the Rams. He does an excellent job at avoiding oncoming blockers, which enables him to make the play. His issues have been biting on play-actions, which has been an issue all season, and in coverage, but that has just been the last few games.
The Rams exploited Marshall in play-action. He would bite and create space for the quarterback to hit the receiver. On non-play-action passes, Marshall would lose his assignment for a second, which gave the receiver space, which the quarterback capitalized on. Luckily for the Broncos, Marshall was able to recover and make the quick tackle. His grade: C-.
SLB Lerentee McCray
Snaps: 1. Stats: None.
McCray came in for one pass rush snap. It was a quick throw, where no rusher could have gotten pressure. His grade: C.
CB Aqib Talib
Snaps: 66. Stats: 4 tackles. Targeted 7 times, allowing 5 catches for 64 yards.
Defensive coordinator, Jack Del Rio, is on record saying he does not tell Talib how to line up, either press-man coverage or off. It is time he tells Talib exactly what to do; play press. Talib has rarely played press coverage and when he does, he is successful.
When in off coverage, Talib gives up catch after catch. Against the Rams, he also relied on over the top safety help multiple times, and he never got it. A few of those times happened because the safeties had other responsibilities, like giving help to Von Miller, who was matched up on a receiver. Talib is a press-man corner playing off-zone coverage. It is obvious why he has been often unsuccessful for the Broncos so far this season. His grade: F.
CB Chris Harris
Snaps: 66. Stats: 2 tackles, with 1 missed tackle. Targeted 3 times, allowing zero catches.
John Elway, you need to pay this man. What more can be said? Harris has had a few rough games this season, but they are few and far between. In the game vs the Rams, Harris was his shut-down self. All three of his targets came in the first half, and then the Rams went away from him. His only issue was in run defense, where he went low on a tackle and failed to bring the ball carrier down. His grade: A-.
CB Bradley Roby
Snaps: 26. Stats: 1 tackle. Targeted 3 times, allowing 2 catches for 66 yards and 1 touchdown.
On the touchdown Roby allowed, he did get beat by the receiver. However, the safety, who was supposed to be covering the top, bit on an underneath crossing route. That left Roby in a one-on-one matchup, when he was supposed to have help and relied on having that help. Besides that play, Roby had a very bad game. He was beaten multiple times, but the Rams quarterback did not look that way. In run support, Roby was nonexistent. His grade: D-.
SS T.J. Ward
Snaps: 66. Stats: 1 tackle, with 1 missed tackle. Targeted 3 times, allowing 1 catch for 9 yards.
Since the injury to Nate Irving, Ward has played closer to the line of scrimmage, which is where he should be. Even when Ward drops into coverage, it is better to have him closer to the line, instead of so far off. With him up closer, he has started to turn his bad play around into solid, if not good, play. Ward did miss a tackle, and that is his biggest mistake on the game. Other than that, he was great. He was closing the running lanes and staying disciplined in coverage. His grade: B.
FS Rahim Moore
Snaps: 66. Stats: 4 tackles, with 1 missed tackle and 2 stops.
Never before have I seen Moore so willing to help out the run defense. Normally, he runs up and by the time he gets to the ball carrier, the play is over. This game however, Moore was getting there faster and got involved in multiple run plays. In coverage, he was not the main deep safety. Instead, he played a little closer to the line, providing help to one of the corners, or even a linebacker matched up on a receiver. This was not his best game, but was not his worst game on the season by far. His grade: B-.
Snaps: 26. Stats: 2 tackles, with 1 assisted tackle and 2 missed tackles. Targeted 1 time, allowing 1 catch for 10 yards.
Carter played a horrible game. He was given the deep safety responsibilities multiple times and failed every time. He would bite on underneath crossing routes that were already well covered by another defender, leaving the top wide open. In the run game, he continued his atrocious play. Twice he had the ball carrier dead to rights, and instead of applying good technique to form-tackle, Carter goes for the big hit and fails, which has been a common occurrence this season. His grade: F.
Side note: I don’t do special teams grades, but if I did, Carter would get an F there as well. Multiple times he just stopped five yards from the returner, then got blasted by a blocker to open up the running game.
If you like the bend but don’t break mentality, then the Broncos defense played great! They allowed only one touchdown on six scoring drives! However, if you hate that kind of mentality, like myself, you hated their performance. They struggled to get off the field on third down, unless the Rams were already in field goal range.
They could not stop the run and were beaten multiple times in the passing game. Many Broncos fans refer to this defense as “Orange Crush 2.0” but they are not close to that level. Even when their run defense was one of the best in the NFL there for a few weeks, they were not that defense. Time and time again, their pass coverage lets them down.
Next up, the Broncos return home to take on the Miami Dolphins. Hopefully, for the sake of the Broncos, a home game is what they need to turn it around. The Dolphins are a talented team, and if they win, it puts the Broncos in a horrible position moving forward towards the playoffs.