In their return home in week 12, the Denver Broncos defense struggled, sometimes mightily, against the Miami Dolphins offense. They continued their recent struggles of defending against the pass, and their strength of defending the run was missing for the second game in a row.
Starting with the first drive, the Dolphins seemed to be moving the ball at will. The Broncos defense managed to end the game on a strong note, playing close to excellent in the final 20 minutes.
On a good note, the Broncos showed some of their versatility with the personnel they have on defense. They started the game in a different sub-package than normal. Instead of the normal 4-2-5 or 4-3 look, they came out in a 3-3-5 set that was a borderline 3-4 look, with a safety as the other linebacker. Throughout the game, the players on defense were rotated in and out. Part of the reason for that were the injuries that occurred on the defensive side of the ball. Now, onto the player grades. As always each player will start off with a C grade. A positive play will help their grade, while a negative play hurts it.
DE Derek Wolfe
Snaps: 44. Stats: 2 quarterback hurries, 1 tackle, 1 assisted tackle, 1 stop.
Wolfe played an extremely up and down game. His usual dominance against the run wasn’t there. He flashed dominance multiple times, but wasn’t a consistent force. The one area he was consistent was in his discipline against the run.
He maintained the edge, which kept the Dolphins ball carrier from bouncing the ball outside. They also used their options to the opposite side of Wolfe. As for the pass rush, Wolfe was his usual inconsistent self. He would get solid push on one play, then the next, he would be brought to a standstill at the line of scrimmage. His grade: C+.
DE/DT Malik Jackson
Snaps: 33. Stats: 1 quarterback hit, 1 quarterback hurry, 3 tackles.
Jackson is an undisciplined player. Not just with his play, but with penalties as well. Against the Dolphins, he was flagged for yet another penalty, with a late hit, after the whistle. The lack of discipline showed in his play as well, especially against the run.
When the Dolphins ran the ball, they would pull the defenders inside. In such situations, it is on the edge guys to contain and keep the ball carrier from bouncing outside, but Jackson wasn’t maintaining contain. This also led to exploitation, on the Dolphins part, by running the read-option to Jackson's side, where he would bite inside, allowing the rusher to get to the edge with ease. The only area Jackson looked good in was rushing the quarterback, but even that was inconsistent. His grade: D.
Snaps: 41. Stats: 1 quarterback hit, 1 quarterback hurry, 1 tackle, 1 assisted tackle.
Ware did not start the game. Instead, he subbed in the first few drives, in and out, before ultimately being used at his normal frequency. In his matchup against the Dolphins offensive tackles, there was a lot of give and take in both the running game and passing game. Ware had moments were the Dolphins had no answer for him. Then he had moments of being shut down and dominated. His grade: C.
Snaps: 18. Stats: 1 quarterback hurry, 1 tackle, 1 stop.
Smith was effective in his limited snaps. He was actually the most effective of all the defensive ends for the Broncos. Meaning, he had a bigger impact in a smaller amount of snaps. He was disruptive, in one form or another, on almost every play. He was getting solid pressure on the quarterback. In defending the run, he was able to maintain his discipline with success. His grade: B.
Snaps: 32. Stats: 1 sack, 3 tackles, 4 stops.
Knighton was not as good as his numbers reveal, though he was still solid. The sack he got was a coverage sack, meaning the coverage guys did their job and forced the Dolphins quarterback to hold onto the ball long enough for the rush to get to him. In the run game, Knighton was inconsistent at best.
He had a handful of great plays where he used his size and clogged the running lanes. Then there were a bunch of horrible plays where he was maneuvered to open the running lanes. For a player of his size, the fact the Dolphins did it with seeming ease, is astounding. Knighton has been a solid player for the Broncos this year, but nothing like the special player he was a year ago. His grade: C-.
Snaps: 25. Stats: 1 quarterback hurry, 1 tackle, 1 missed tackle.
Williams had a horrible game. In the running game, he was consistently pushed off the line of scrimmage. He was weak and showed poor technique at the point of attack and got dominated. He looked solid getting after the QB, but there were plenty of issues in that aspect as well. His grade: F.
DT Mitch Unrein
Snaps: 3. Stats: None.
Unrein was active and many figured he would see snaps on offense in the jumbo formation. Unrein has been used in that formation before as the fullback, and has a touchdown catch from it. Instead, he was hardly used on defense. He played solidly in his limited action, however. His grade: C.
SLB Von Miller
Snaps: 50. Stats: 1 quarterback hit, 3 quarterback hurries, 1 tackle, 1 assisted tackle.
Miller was effectively taken out of the game for the most part. Part of it was because of how the Dolphins prepared to stop him, the other part was on him. Miller is normally disciplined against the run, and at times on Sunday he was, but for the most part, he was biting on the inside, opening the edge. As for getting after the quarterback, Miller was chipped a lot and that shut him down most of the time. When he did get pressure, it came from a one-on-one matchup, where the secondary forced Ryan Tannehill to hold onto the ball a bit longer. His grade: C-.
MLB Lamin Barrow
Snaps: 21. Stats: 1 assisted tackle. Targeted 3 times, giving up 2 catches for 19 yards.
Barrow played a bad game. He was taken out of the play when defending the run. A blocker would engage and Barrow could not disengage. In coverage, he looked lost almost every time he dropped back. There were no good things to take away from his game. Without Nate Irving, the Broncos are struggling to find help at middle linebacker. Barrow started this game, but likely won’t be starting moving forward. His grade: F.
WLB Brandon Marshall
Snaps: 50. Stats: 3 tackles, 2 assisted tackles, 3 stops.
Marshall left the game and is going through the concussion protocol. That is bad news, Broncos fans, because the Broncos are already thin at linebacker. Before he left, he wasn’t playing his best game against the run. He was struggling to do what he normally does, and does so well; snake through blockers. He was getting engaged and taken out of the play by the Dolphins blockers.
In coverage, he played really well, which is a step up from the past few games. He kept his coverage tight and precise. Going into Kansas City is worrisome, even more so if Marshall is unable to go. If he's a no-go, expect even more exotic looks from the defense. His grade: B-.
SLB Lerentee McCray
Snaps: 7. Stats: 1 quarterback hurry, 1 missed tackle.
McCray played badly in his limited snap count. Most of his snaps came on the first drive of the game, after Miller took a knee to the groin. He did have one excellent play where he got great pressure on the quarterback, but that was only one play. It was not enough to save his grade from all the bad plays. His grade: D-.
WLB Steven Johnson
Snaps: 10. Stats: Targeted 1 time, giving up 1 catch for 18 yards.
Johnson was starting at the mike linebacker position for the injured Nate Irving, but he failed and was benched. His replacement didn’t look any better and Johnson had a chance to fight for the spot back, but he dropped the ball. Johnson looked awful out there on every snap. He was lost in coverage and taken out of the play as a run defender. The linebacker depth on this Broncos team is holding the defense back right now. Getting Danny Trevathan back and Marshall getting cleared, will be huge going forward. His grade: F
WlB Corey Nelson
Snaps: 2. Stats: None.
When Marshall exited the game, it was Nelson who stepped in. When he first got some serious action, earlier in the season, he played well but then followed it up with a bad game. Going forward, Nelson may be the best option to step up for the depleted Broncos linebacker corps. His grade: C.
CB Aqib Talib
Snaps: 17. Stats: 2 tackles, 1 assisted tackle, 1 stop. Targeted 2 times, giving up 2 catches for 14 yards and 1 touchdown.
Yet another player to get hurt for the Broncos. Talib left with a hamstring injury, but came back for the next drive, only to leave again and be kept out of the game. He did play a good game, before he got hurt, and once he was injured, it was noticeably affecting him. He made a few good plays, even after getting hurt. If he hadn't gotten hurt, the game probably would have looked a lot different. His grade: C+.
CB Chris Harris
Snaps: 62. Stats: 5 tackles, 2 missed tackles, 2 stops. Targeted 8 times, giving up 6 catches for 50 yards. Broke up 1 pass.
Harris started off badly, allowing a catch, then failing to make the tackle on a 20-yard gain. After that, he turned his play around. He did allow more catches than usual, but was quick to make the tackle, keeping the yards after the catch to a low number. He also helped the turnaround late in the game by playing tight coverage on the targeted receiver. That play ended with a teammate picking off the ball. His grade: B-.
CB Bradley Roby
Snaps: 58. Stats: 3 tackles, 1 assisted tackle, 1 missed tackle. Targeted 7 times, giving up 5 catches for 49 yards and 1 touchdown. Also broke up 1 pass.
Roby has been very up and down for the Broncos on the season and that continued against the Dolphins. He has shown growth as the season has progressed, and at times, he has looked like a NFL veteran. But he also has those moments where he looks like a rookie, and there were a lot of those moments against the Dolphins. His worst play came on the touchdown where he was just beaten by a quick move inside for the easy touchdown. His grade: D+.
Snaps: 30. Stats: 4 tackles, 1 stop. Targeted 2 times, giving up 2 catches for 16 yards.
Webster played a really good game when he stepped in for the injured Talib. He allowed no yards after the catch, which is huge. He was playing good coverage and was there when the pass was completed and made the tackle quickly. Even when he wasn’t targeted, he played excellent coverage and was in good position. Webster eventually left the game with a shoulder injury. His grade: B.
CB Omar Bolden
Snaps: 15. Stats: 2 tackles. Targeted 1 time, giving up 1 catch for 13 yards.
Bolden played a great game, when you take special teams into consideration. When looking at the defensive snaps, he still played really well. He plays quick, and that sometimes hurts him, especially when he bites on a double move. He also got flagged for a penalty, but it was actually a smart penalty. If he doesn't interfere, the Dolphins score a touchdown. With the penalty, he gave the defense more opportunities to get a takeaway. At the very least, it eats up more time on the clock. It was smart, although I doubt he meant to do it. His grade: B-.
SS T.J. Ward
Snaps: 62. Stats: 1 quarterback hurry, 3 tackles, 2 assisted tackles, 1 stop. Targeted 8 times, giving up 5 catches for 48 yards. Broke up 1 pass and intercepted 1 pass.
Ward played a really good game. Compared to the last few games, he looked outstanding out there. The key for the difference in his play was how he was used. He played closer to the line of scrimmage, like an extra linebacker, than a safety. This also helped him perform better in coverage. His best play came on the interception, and when the ball was in his hand, he looked like a receiver out there. His vision was great and did an amazing job avoiding tacklers. His grade: A-.
FS Rahim Moore
Snaps: 60. Stats: 6 tackles and 1 missed tackle. Targeted 2 times, giving up 2 catches for 4 yards and 1 touchdown.
Moore also bounced back from bad play to end up with a really good game. He missed the final two snaps of the Dolphins first dive, but was out there for every other play. He was quick and decisive in coverage. Best of all though, was the aggression he showed. While other defensive backs sat and waited for the catch, Moore was aggressive with the ball in the air. That aggression also led to the touchdown he allowed. He jumped on the pass, and failed. His grade: B.
Snaps: 40. Stats: 1 quarterback hurry.
Carter actually played a strong game. He played really well in coverage, and looked disciplined, instead of biting on routes. In the run game, he was missing for the most part. His best play, is the one that shows up on the stat sheet. He rushed the quarterback, avoided blockers and put pressure. However, his grade is still low due to the lack of overall impact on the plays. His grade: C+.
FS David Bruton
Snaps: 2. Stats: None.
When Moore came off the field to end the Dolphins first drive, it was Bruton who came in. Bruton is an excellent special teams player, but should not be used on defense. He looks lost, like he doesn’t belong out there on the field. His grade: C-.
The defense really started out rough and it continued for the most of the game. In the last 20 minutes, they really turned up their performance, however. The issue was, while one unit was performing well, another was failing. That was true even in those final 20 minutes. They need to get more consistent and work as a unit moving forward.
Going through the grades, there is a lot of discipline issues, especially where the run game is concerned. The Broncos used to be one of the most disciplined units against the run, and at that time, they were the best in the NFL. They all of a sudden saw an attitude change and started playing undisciplined. They really need to revert back to that excellent and disciplined unit that was dominant against the run. Forcing a team to be one dimensional is huge in the NFL, and right now the Broncos are not doing that.