The Denver Broncos played a mostly great game defensively against the Buffalo Bills. Then the fourth quarter started. The Broncos had a multiple score lead, 24-3 to be exact, which prompted Jack Del Rio to deploy a defense he is well known for; the prevent defense, a soft zone that allows underneath passes, but is supposed to stop the deep passes. However, teams just move the ball with ease by taking what is given with those soft zones.
With the Broncos in prevent, the Bills moved the ball down the field to score 14 points, putting the game closer than it should have been. Should the blame be laid fully on the players for this? No, but they played their part. In the prevent, they struggled and not just in stopping the underneath throws, but deeper throws, as well. The prevent defense is something that needs to be thrown out the window and should have been thrown out a long time ago.
Now, onto the player grades. Each player starts with a C grade. A positive impact on a play raises their grade, while a negative impact on a play hurts it.
Snaps: 58. Stats: 1 QB hurry and 1 assisted tackle. Targeted 1 time, allowing 1 catch for 12 yards.
Ware did not play his best game. He was ineffective in putting pressure on the quarterback, although the Bills quick passes nullified the rush. His run defense was lackluster, as well. The Bills consistently went at Ware with various rates of success. His grade: D+.
DE/DT Derek Wolfe
Snaps: 1 QB hurry, 1 assisted tackle and 1 missed tackle.
Wolfe quietly played a great game against the run. He did miss a tackle, as he was coming across formation. However, he forced the Bills to run away from him. They ran at Wolfe only a handful of times for a long of 2 yards. His pass rushing was less than stellar, as it has been all year. He had the QB for an easy sack, but missed as the QB made a lazy step forward to avoid the tackle. His grade: C+.
DE/DT Malik Jackson
Snaps: 50. Stats: 1 sack, 1 hurry, 5 tackles and 5 stops.
Jackson is pretty much the polar opposite of Wolfe. He played a great game against the pass, but struggled against the run. He did make some flash plays against the run, but a couple of them came with Jackson going unblocked. Outside of those plays, he was bad. He was moved out of position and ran at multiple times with success. His pass rush was excellent, however. His best play, by far, came in sacking the QB, where he knocked the Bills offensive linemen off balance at the snap. His grade: B-.
Snaps: 25. Stats: None.
Smith was hands down the worst out there on the Broncos defensive line. He was taken out of the play multiple times, in both pass and run plays. While he was not facing his easiest matchup on the season, it was not the hardest either. Yet, the Bills made Smith a non-factor in his limited snaps. His grade: F.
Snaps: 34. Stats: 1 sack, 2 hurries and 2 assisted tackles.
Knighton has been inconsistent all season, but against the Bills, he played a great game. He was clogging the middle and the few times the Bills ran at him with success, it was because multiple blockers focused on him. That just opened up another player to make the play freely, however. When getting after the QB, Knighton was collapsing the interior of the pocket somewhat consistently. His grade: B+.
Snaps: 35. Stats: 1 QB hit, 2 tackles and 1 stop.
Williams played a solid game, but it should have been better. The focus in the run game was on Wolfe and Knighton, while the focus in the pass game was on Ware and Miller. That should have opened up a lot of opportunities for Williams. Instead, he was shut down too often. He did make some great plays in both phases, but just not enough to say he played anything more than a solid game. His grade: C+.
Snaps: 13. Stats: 1 assisted tackle.
After being on the sideline for the majority of the last two games, Austin made his return as the No. 3 defensive tackle. He looked slow off the snap and struggled to get penetration, which he normally excels at. His grade: D+.
DT Mitch Unrein
Snaps: 8. Stats: None.
Unrein saw most of his snaps due to defensive linemen getting banged up. He saw all but one of them rushing the quarterback and was able to get push on most of them. His grade: C.
SLB Von Miller
Snaps: 72. Stats: 1 sack, 3 hurries, 1 tackle and 2 stops. Targeted 2 times, allowing 2 catches for 2 yards.
Miller played an excellent game. He was dominant rushing the passer, even when dealing with the quick passes, or being chipped at the line. When defending the run, he was strong and disciplined. He maintained his position, then when the runner made his move, Miller reacted perfectly. Even in coverage, Miller played a great game. He only dropped back into overage 8 times, but he looked like an All-Pro coverage linebacker when he did. His grade: A.
MLB Steven Johnson
Snaps: 22. Stats: 1 sack, 2 tackles, 1 assisted tackle and 2 stops. Targeted 2 times, allowing 1 catch for 6 yards
Johnson has had a rough time on defense, but he finally stepped up and played a good game, in his limited snaps. He was quick with his reactions against the run, and reacted correctly to plug the right holes. He also came on a blitz and got to the QB. But his best showing came in coverage. He looked excellent on the majority of his coverage snaps. For once, he looked like he belonged as part of the Broncos defense. His grade: B.
WLB Brandon Marshall
Snaps: 83. Stats: 2 QB hurries, 7 tackles and 1 stop. Targeted 7 times, allowing 3 catches for 31 yards, with 1 interception and 1 pass deflected.
Marshall put up another great game in all phases. He was able to blitz the QB and put the pressure on. He was sneaky in the run game, avoiding blockers on his way to make the play. His coverage was great. He did allow catches, but had good coverage on two of them. On the third, he relied on help he didn’t get. He also made two plays on the ball, intercepted one and almost picked off the other. His grade: A.
SLB Lerentee McCray
Snaps: 11. Stats: 1 batted pass.
McCray was somewhat effective in his small snap count. He was able to bat a pass at the line of scrimmage. That was the highlight of his game, but not the only good thing he did. He played a strong game defending the run and solid job getting pressure on the QB. He also looked good in the two snaps he dropped into coverage. His grade: C+.
CB Aqib Talib
Snaps: 77. Stats: 4 tackles, 1 missed tackle and 1 stop. Targeted 6 times, allowing 3 catches for 35 yards and 1 touchdown.
Talib has received a lot of unnecessary flak for his performance against the Bills. The two biggest reasons why are coming from a touchdown he allowed and a missed interception. On the TD, he tripped over a different Bills receiver and was on the ground, as the receiver who caught the ball ran it in to the endzone. On the interception, he collided with a teammate, while playing the ball in the air. However, he had not seen his teammate until it was too late, which was just a split second before the collision. Even with those two “mistakes” he played a good game. He was tough in coverage and played the run aggressively, like always. His grade: B+.
CB Chris Harris
Snaps: 82. Stats: 1 sack, 2 hurries, 3 tackles, 1 missed tackle and 2 stops. Targeted 9 times, allowing 6 catches for 53 yards with 1 interception.
Harris was the best cornerback to take the field for the Broncos. He was excellent in coverage, as he has been for majority of the season, despite allowing six catches. Remember, when he does allow a catch, he does not allow yards afterward. His highlight came from picking off a pass on the goal line, which he could have returned for a pick-6, but barely missed out. He also played a great game when he was sent to rush the QB on a cornerback blitz. His grade: A.
CB Bradley Roby
Snaps: 61. Stats: 9 tackles, 1 missed tackle and 2 stops. Targeted 12 times, allowing 9 catches for 121 yards. Forced 1 fumble.
Roby played like a rookie. He was picked on the majority of the game by the QB. He was matched up often against rookie wide receiver, Sammy Watkins, and allowed 6 catches on 6 targets. The only plays he made came when matched up with a different receiver. His best play came when he knocked the ball out of Watkins' grasp to force a fumble. His grade: D-.
CB Tony Carter
Snaps: 6. Stats: None.
Carter stepped in for a handful of snaps late in the game. He played solid, but was never targeted in coverage. He played his coverage like he always does; off his assignment, so he can make a break if targeted. As a run defender, he was taken out of the play, which is largely due to his small frame. His grade: C.
SS T.J. Ward
Snaps: 83. Stats: 2 QB hurries, 6 tackles, 1 assisted tackle, 2 missed tackles and 1 stop. Targeted 11 times, allowing 8 catches for 77 yards.
Ward has been playing closer to the line of scrimmage and it has boosted his game. He does still struggle with coverage responsibilities, but playing closer to the line helps him out when defending the run, or rushing the quarterback. Those were the two aspects he excelled in against the Bills. He was flying on the field and making plays at the line again and again. His grade: B-.
FS Rahim Moore
Snaps: 83. Stats: 4 tackles, 2 assisted tackles and 2 missed tackles. Recovered 1 fumble.
Moore played a solid game. He defended the deep passes and didn’t allow plays to get behind him. His issues came when coming up to defend the run. He missed two tackles, coming up in run defense and got blocked out in other plays. His highlight was recovering a fumble. His grade: C+.
SS David Bruton
Snaps: 61. Stats: 9 tackles, 1 assisted tackle and 3 stops. Targeted 5 times, allowing 5 catches for 18 yards. Forced 1 fumble.
Bruton played a great game. He, for a change, did not look lost on defense and was making the correct plays and reads. When he allowed a catch, he was quick to make the stop, and made a couple of them behind the line of scrimmage. His best play came from reading a dump off pass to the running back. He was off the right tackle, and the running back was going outside the RT. Bruton ran across the formation to make the stop behind the line. He almost had a couple of interceptions, but one hit the ground and the other he collided with a teammate on. His grade: A-.
The Broncos really played a great game overall. Their fourth quarter was lackluster, but that is not just on the players but the coaches, as well. The philosophy changes with the coaching staff and with that, the play calls change.
However, when that happens, the players need to play great, too, but they seem to not play as hard, or as well as they do before the change.
Going forward, this scheme change will need to be erased. In the playoffs, you can’t let teams get back into it, like the Broncos did vs the Bills. The game should have been worse than 24-3, but missed opportunities by the offense, combined with the soft fourth quarter defense, allowed the game to appear closer than it actually was.
Next up, the Broncos take on the San Diego Chargers in a divisional matchup. If the Broncos win, they claim the division, yet again. A win also puts them closer to clinching a first round bye, which they can secure this week with a win and a loss by the Indianapolis Colts and Cincinnati Bengals and a loss or tie by the Pittsburgh Steelers. A New England Patriots loss would put Denver in control of the No. 1 seed in the AFC.