The Denver Broncos defense have been playing near the top of the NFL over the past few games. Their streak of hot play continued, as they went into San Diego and beat up on the Chargers. They did make some mistakes, allowing the Chargers to move the ball, but tightened up as the game went on.
They were able to shut down the run game, holding the Chargers to 56 yards on the ground. When the Chargers were forced to pass, they managed to pick up 232 yards and a score, but also turned the ball over twice. This Broncos defense is the same unit that was top-5 in the NFL earlier in the season. They faltered, but have regained their footing.
Most of the mistakes the Broncos made on defense came at the individual level, but the unit as a whole was able to correct the mistake. The only consistent issue for the Broncos defense was the lack of pressure put on Phillip Rivers, but more on that with the grades.
The secondary played well, considering the lack of pressure up front. Towards the end of the game, the Broncos defense really saved the day, picking off two passes to squash any hopes of a Chargers comeback.
Now onto the player grades. As always each player starts with a C grade. A positive impact on a play raises their grade, while a negative impact lowers it. With the defensive side of the ball, the grades will start on the line.
Snaps: 50. Stats: 1 quarterback hurry, 1 tackle and 1 stop.
Ware played a good game defending the run, but his pass rush was a different story. He was unable to get pressure on Rivers, outside of a play here and there. Once the Broncos had forced the Chargers into their passing game, it was time for Ware to step up, and he failed to do so. The only thing that saves Ware’s grade, even slightly, is his run defense. His grade: D+.
DE/DT Derek Wolfe
Snaps: 49. Stats: 1 quarterback hurry. Targeted 1 time, allowing zero catches.
Wolfe played a good game. He was stout in stopping the run, eventually forcing the Chargers into running away from him. As for his pass rush, it was consistent with what it has been all season. What made it look worse was the lack of pressure from the Broncos two main pass rushers, but Wolfe actually was one of the few who did a solid job. His grade: B.
DE/DT Malik Jackson
Snaps: 32. Stats: 3 quarterback hurries, 2 tackles and 1 stop. Batted 1 pass.
Jackson was the best pass rusher for the Broncos, but even he was inconsistent. He was able to get great pressure, and it helped when he got it, but the Broncos pass rush still failed as a unit. When Jackson was defending the run, he did a commendable job, and at times made an excellent play. However, run defense is still the weak link in his game. His grade: B.
Snaps: 16. Stats: None.
Smith had a rough game. He was unable to make his presence felt in either run defense or the pass rush. He was shut down by the Chargers offensive tackles and was rendered useless on the field. His grade: F.
Snaps: 39. Stats: 2 tackles, 1 missed tackle, 2 stops.
Knighton played a really good game. He was clogging the running lanes up the middle consistently, which forced the ball carrier into a bad spot. As for rushing the QB, Knighton was able to get some good push up the middle to keep the QB from stepping up. However, the lack of edge pressure rendered Knighton’s push almost pointless. His grade: B+.
Snaps: 16. Stats: 1 quarterback hurry.
Williams played a solid game. Like Knighton, Williams was getting push up the middle, while rushing the passer. Unfortunately, it was negated with the lack of edge pressure. In the run game, however, Williams was inconsistent. He had some great plays, but also was easily moved off of the line to open up a hole for the ball carrier. His grade: C+.
Snaps: 11. Stats: 1 tackle and 1 stop.
Austin played a really good game. What helps him is his step off the snap. It is a lot quicker than one would expect for a man his size. That allows him to get good penetration against the run or push up the middle against the pass. In his limited snaps against the Chargers, it was clear that his step is why he played such a strong game in both phases. His grade: B.
SLB Von Miller
Snaps: 58. Stats: 1 quarterback hurry, 3 tackles and 1 stop. Targeted 3 times, allowing 3 catches for 22 yards.
Simply put, Miller played his worst game of the season and one of, if not the, worst of his career. He was ineffectual in all phases. He could not get the job done as a pass rusher, struggled to defend the run, and looked horrible in coverage. His grade: F.
MLB Steven Johnson
Snaps: 21. Stats: 1 quarterback hurry, 2 tackles and 1 stop.
Johnson played a strong game. He did great in coverage, which is a step up from where he started. His run defense was solid. Johnson made some mistakes in the run game, but was able to correct himself and be involved in the play. He started out rough and undeserving of the starter spot, but has since turned it around and done a solid job standing in for Nate Irving. His grade: B.
MLB Brandon Marshall
Snaps: 22. Stats: 2 tackles and 1 stop.
Marshall was putting together another really good game, until he suffered a foot sprain, never to return to the field. He was looking great in coverage and defending the run. He did what he was supposed to on each snap he. Hopefully, his foot sprain can heal in time for the playoffs, because the Broncos defense will need him. His grade: B+.
WLB Danny Trevathan
Snaps: 42. Stats: 4 tackles and 2 stops. Targeted 3 times, allowing 2 catches for 33 yards.
Trevathan returned to the field for the first time since the New York Jets game, when he suffered his second knee injury on the year. He played a really solid game vs. the Chargers, but did look rusty at times, mostly in coverage. However, it came to an end when he hurt his left knee for the third time since training camp and is now done for the season. His grade: B.
MLB Todd Davis
Snaps: 24. Stats: 1 tackle and 1 stop. Targeted 2 times, allowing 1 catch for 17 yards.
When Marshall got hurt, the Broncos called upon Davis, and he answered the bell. He stepped in and played a great game for the Broncos. On the catch he allowed, he did make a mistake. Instead of dropping off onto the running back, he stuck with the crosser, whom the safety was supposed to pick up. He saw this and made the adjustment, just not fast enough. Outside of that mistake, his game was nearly flawless. His grade: B.
SLB Lerentee McCray
Snaps: 8. Stats: None.
McCray was ineffectual when he was on the field. The best thing he did was on his one snap in coverage, where he stuck with his assignment. When rushing the passer or stopping the run, he was taken out of the play with seeming ease from the Chargers. His grade: D-.
CB Aqib Talib
Snaps: 62. Stats: 8 tackles and 2 stops. Targeted 6 times, allowing 3 catches for 17 yards. Intercepted 1 pass and deflected 2 passes.
Talib was the best corner out there for the Broncos. He played an excellent game, in run support and in coverage. His worst play in coverage came when he was just a bit late to react on a curl route, but was there to make the tackle immediately. He made a great play on his interception and almost picked off another pass not long after that. His grade: A.
CB Chris Harris
Snaps: 64. Stats: 3 tackles. Targeted 7 times allowing, 3 catches for 33 yards. Deflected 1 pass.
Harris played a solid game, but not his best, nor his worst. He was targeted early in the game, and the Chargers ended up going away from him, which speaks volumes to his ability as a corner. He played really well in run support. He recently signed a 5-year, $42.5M extension, and based on his season-long performance, that was a steal. Harris said himself that he knew he could get a lot more on the open market, but wanted to stay in Denver. His grade: B+.
CB Bradley Roby
Snaps: 50. Stats: 3 tackles and 2 stops. Targeted 5 times, allowing 4 catches for 31 yards.
Roby has been having some rough games lately, and the Chargers game was no different. In a bit of good news, it was not as bad as it has been for him. He did a great job when close to the line of scrimmage, either on a pass or run play. In coverage, he only had one really bad coverage play, but reacted quickly to make the tackle. His grade: B-.
CB Tony Carter
Snaps: 4. Stats: Targeted 1 time allowing 0 catches.
Carter stepped in for a handful of snaps, and played as well as you can hope. His one target was an inaccurate pass, but Carter had good coverage on the play. His grade: C+.
SS T.J. Ward
Snaps: 66. Stats: 6 tackles and 4 stops. Targeted 4 times, allowing 4 catches for 38 yards and 1 touchdown.
Ward played a solid game. His issues still come in pass coverage. On the touchdown he allowed, he was matched up with Antonio Gates close to the endzone. Ward was expecting an outside route, and instead, the Chargers called a quick slant inside. He shouldn’t have been covering Gates that close to the endzone. Ward played an excellet game when closer to the line of scrimmage. It enabled him to defend the run at a high level. His grade: B-.
FS Rahim Moore
Snaps: 66. Stats: 2 tackles and 1 missed tackle. Targeted 1 time, allowing 1 catch for 15 yards. Intercepted 1 pass.
Moore played a solid game. The catch he allowed was because of his own mistake. He was matched up on Gates. Gates cut outside and Moore was just too slow to react, giving up a step to Gates, which is all that was needed. He more than made up for it later in the game, when the Chargers were looking to make a comeback and were in the redzone. Moore read the QB, made a jump on the ball and intercepted it. That put an end to any hopes of a Chargers comeback. His grade: B.
SS David Bruton
Snaps: 26. Stats: 1 tackle and 1 stop. Targeted 3 times, allowing 3 catches for 26 yards.
Bruton played a really good game as the No. 3 safety for the Broncos, but was not as strong as last game's performance. He had moments of looking lost in coverage, and was exploited once. He played better when he was closer to the line of scrimmage and did a great job defending against the run. His grade: B-.
The Broncos defense played a great game. They did everything you want from a defense. They held the Chargers to just 10 points, shut down the run game and took the ball away twice. They did all that without a consistent pass rush from their premiere pass rushers, Ware and Miller.
Again, the only issues for the defense were all at an individual level, which is how it should be this late in the season. If they were still failing as a unit, then it would really be bad news, with the playoffs right around the corner.
Next up, the Broncos take on the Cincinnati Bengals in a Monday Night Football showdown. It’ll be a hard-fought battle, but if the Broncos defense can shut down the run game, force turnovers and get their pass rush going, they should be able to pull out the victory. All the Broncos need is one more win to secure a first round bye in the playoffs.