3 Broncos Up, 3 Down: Week 15

In the Broncos 22-10 victory over the Chargers, some players' stock rose, while others' dropped. MHH Lead Analyst, Chad Jensen, examines.

On Sunday, the (11-3) Denver Broncos went on the road, into hostile territory, and defeated the (8-6) San Diego Chargers 22-10. It was a very physical bout, replete with injuries on both sides.

The win earned the Broncos their fourth-straight AFC West division title, clinching them a playoff berth. Because of injuries, several players were forced to the forefront, who wouldn't otherwise have seen the field.

Let's get to this week's stock report. All grades and stats via ProFootballFocus (Subscription Required).


CB Aqib Talib (+3.8)

Talib had a monster game vs the Chargers. He was physical, willing to stick his nose into the play in run support (8 combined tackles), and stingy in his coverage. He has struggled with an hamstring injury, over the last few weeks, but looked loose and focused on Sunday.

Talib was targeted by Phillip Rivers 6 times, relinquishing only 3 receptions for 17 yards. When he did allow a catch, he immediately wrapped up his assignment, allowing only 6 yards after the catch.

His crowing achievement of the day came when he picked off Rivers in the fourth quarter, as the Chargers attempted to overcome a 9-point deficit. It essentially clinched the game and paved the way for 3 more points. Talib's stock is definitely on the rise.


SLB Von Miller (-2.0)

For the first time this season, Miller received a negative grade. He was ineffectual as a pass rusher. Chargers right tackle, D.J. Fluker, played him tough, relinquishing just one QB hurry and no hits or sacks.

With 13 sacks on the season, Miller is still PFF's highest rated linebacker and second-highest rated defender, behind only J.J. Watt. Miller's lack of impact was surprising, as he's been nothing short of dominant all season long. Alas, all players have "off" games from time to time.


K Connor Barth (+0.5

Barth made some history yesterday, hitting 5-of-5 field goal attempts, including a clutch 49-yarder, his second-longest of his short season. He's now a perfect 11-of-11 for the Broncos and has connected on 5 field goals in two of the team's last three games.

He's carved himself out a nice slice of history, tying former Broncos kickers, David Treadwell and Rich Karlis, for most consecutive field goals made to start their career in Denver. Barth's performance has also served to take some of the pressure off of John Fox and John Elway for their decision to release Matt Prater and Brandon McManus.

It's amazing what a reliable kicker can do for the confidence of a team.


P Britton Colquitt (-2.0)

For a collective performance as impressive as the Broncos in week 15, I'm having to dig deep for the "Down" column, but I'd be remiss not to mention Colquitt. On the day, he punted 3 times, averaging just 40.3 yards per attempt. Only one of his punts was for a fair catch. The other two returned for 61 yards.

Colquitt did somewhat make up for his lackluster day punting by slowing up Eddie Royal on his 58-yard return, arguably preventing a TD. Had Colquitt not tripped him up, it would have cost the Broncos 7 points, rather than the 3 it ended up netting the Chargers.

With a cumulative grade of -1.5 for the season, Colquitt is PFF's No. 28 punter, while his $2M base salary for 2014 makes him the NFL's eighth-highest paid punter. When Elway gave him his three-year, $11.68M contract, last season, it made him the highest-paid punter for a short time.

Needless to say, the Broncos are not getting a good return on that investment. Don't be surprised to see the team bring in a bona fide contender in the off-season to compete with him.


QB Peyton Manning (+2.3)

Manning entered yesterday's game under the weather, suffering from flu-like symptoms, having to be fed fluids intravenously at halftime. He injured his thigh in-game, but still managed to finish the day with a 125.6 QB rating. Going 14-of-20 for 233 yards and a touchdown, he displayed true grit, earning even more respect from his teammates.

As the Broncos have changed the identity of their offense, over the last four weeks, Manning has been under fire for his lack of stats. "Manning" and "Father Time" have been used in the same sentence on the regular. The truth is, there's nothing wrong with the 38-year old signal caller, other than his fight with the common flu bug.

Manning is adjusting to his new role within his new offense and it's simply a matter of course that his numbers (yards and TDs) would suffer as a result. When you run the ball 39 times, to 20 passes, what else could you expect?

Don't worry about Peyton Manning. He's simply following in the footsteps of his boss, John Elway. Manning has realized that he can rely on other teammates to help the Broncos win, rather than having to do it all by himself. The Broncos are playing complimentary football, and as such, what other QB would you rather have at the helm?


Offensive Line

After rattling off a few games of highly improved play as a unit, the Broncos offensive line took a step back yesterday. It didn't help that they lost left tackle, Ryan Clady, after only 13 snaps. But to be fair, Clady gave up a sack, which caused a Manning fumble, which Clady adroitly recovered. Fortunately.

Right tackle, Louis Vasquez (+0.3) was the only Broncos O-lineman to grade out in the positive via PFF. They struggled to get any push at the point of attack, as well as getting to the second level in their blocks. Were it not for C.J. Anderson being absolutely unwilling to go down on first contact, I shudder to think what the Broncos already abysmal average per rush would have been.

As it was, they only averaged 2.8 yards per rush. Their inability to open a hole was most conspicuous on the goal-line. Anderson could find no room to run, and first contact was often behind the line of scrimmage. There's no need to panic, but when this unit watches the tape of this performance, hopefully they'll learn from it and use it as a tool to improve.

Chad Jensen is the Publisher and Lead Analyst for MileHighHuddle. You can find him on Twitter @CJ_Broncos and on Google+.

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