The Denver Broncos defense played an up and down game on Monday night. They started off incredibly strong and slowly went downhill after that, with intermittent spikes trending upwards. They managed to take the ball away a couple of times, with one of them even going for a score. They even came up with a couple of huge stops when needed.
However, between those great plays or series of plays, the defense was lackluster. They had a hard time stopping the Bengals rushing attack. Part of the problem was that they were exhausted. The Broncos offense was failing to move the chains and kept the defense out on the field for long periods of time. They also got exploited with horrible mismatches, again and again.
The Broncos defense had been playing some great football, but that halted against the Bengals. They have a lot of work to left to do, in order to be ready for playoff-caliber football. Injuries have taken their toll on the Broncos, it must be said. That is something they have to overcome, moving forward.
With that said, it is time to get down to the player grades. As always, each player starts off with a C grade. A positive impact on a play raises their grade, while a negative impact on a play lowers it.
Snaps: 47. Stats: 2 quarterback hurries, 2 tackles, 1 assisted tackle, 1 missed tackle and 1 stop.
Ware played a strong game against the run, albeit not his best of the season. His pass rushing was non-existent for yet another game. He was consistently shut down one-on-one by the Bengals offensive line. His grade: D.
DE Derek Wolfe
Snaps: 49. Stats: 2 tackles.
In his homecoming, Wolfe played his worst game of the season, by far. He was nowhere to be seen when rushing the quarterback. His run defense was solid, but not at the level he has played at previously. The worst thing in his game was losing his head and committing a dumb penalty that cost his team. His grade: D+.
DE/DT Malik Jackson
Snaps: 40. Stats: 1 quarterback hit, 1 quarterback hurry, 4 tackles and 4 stops.
Jackson actually started this game on the interior of the Broncos defensive line. He also played the strongest game of the Broncos defensive ends. He got solid pressure on the QB, but was unable to do it consistently. His run defense was strong, but was helped by others using their strength to free him up. His grade: C+.
Snaps: 45. Stats: 3 tackles, 1 missed tackle and 3 stops. Targeted 1 time, allowing 1 catch for 8 yards.
Knighton should not drop into coverage ever again. Having him drop into coverage is using him improperly. Outside of that, he played a decent game. He was solid against the run, although there were times he was beaten. As a pass rusher, he was unable to get consistent pressure up the middle. His grade: C-.
Snaps: 25. Stats: 1 tackle and 1 stop.
Williams stepped up as a run defender against the Bengals. He was stout in the middle and clogged the running lanes. His pass rush was weak, however. He could not get any kind of push up the middle. His grade: C.
Snaps: 18. Stats: 1 quarterback hit, 1 tackle and 1 stop.
Austin played an "okay" game. However, he was inconsistent at best. He made some great plays, only to be followed by bad plays. His worst came on a late hit on the QB, which cost his team 15 yards. His grade: C.
DT Mitch Unrein
Snaps: 1. Stats: None.
Unrein came onto the field for one run play. He didn’t flash in a positive or negative manner. Just what he was supposed to do. His grade: C.
SLB Von Miller
Snaps: 63. Stats: 1 quarterback hurry, 3 tackles, 1 assisted tackle, 1 missed tackle and 3 stops. Targeted 1 time, allowing 1 catch for 12 yards.
Miller played a mediocre game. He started out missing in action for the Broncos, unable to stop the run and unable to get any pressure. He eventually turned around his run defense, but never got his pass rush going. He dropped into coverage twice, and both times was on a mismatch, which the Bengals exploited once. His best play of the night came when he stripped Jeremy Hill of the football and managed to hold onto it, which led to the Broncos go-ahead score. His grade: D.
MLB Steven Johnson
Snaps: 45. Stats: 1 tackle, 2 assisted tackles and 2 missed tackles. Targeted 1 time, allowing 1 catch for 22 yards and 1 touchdown.
Johnson played a horrible game. He was ineffective when attempting to stop the run, and was more of a liability. In coverage, it was a similar story. He was mismatched and exploited in coverage. It is unfortunate that the Broncos are stuck using Johnson moving forward, due to injuries. His grade: F.
WLB Todd Davis
Snaps: 51. Stats: 6 tackles, 1 assisted tackle, 1 missed tackle and 5 stops. Targeted 3 times, allowing 2 catches for 8 yards and 1 touchdown.
Davis played well in his first action last week. This time it was a different story. He missed a key tackle on what ended up being an 85-yard touchdown run. On top of that, he looked lost in coverage. He eventually turned his game around somewhat against the run, but it was too little, too late. His grade: D-.
SLB Lerentee McCray
Snaps: 7. Stats: 1 tackle and 1 stop.
McCray only saw seven snaps, and was largely ineffective with them. He made a good play on one of them, but the balance was replete with mistakes. He could not get pressure on the QB and was unable to defend against the run. His grade: D+.
CB Aqib Talib
Snaps: 64. Stats: 4 tackles and 1 stop. Targeted 7 times, allowing 2 catches for 14 yards. Intercepted 1 pass and returned it for a touchdown.
Talib played a great game. He shut down A.J. Green and took away his area of the field in the passing game. His pick-six on the first defensive series was an acrobatic thing of beauty. He also was strong in run support. The two catches he allowed came while playing off coverage, but he came up to make the stop, almost immediately. His grade: A.
CB Chris Harris
Snaps: 59. Stats: 3 tackles, 1 assisted tackle and 2 stops. Targeted 1 time, allowing zero catches.
Harris showed why he is one of, if not the, best cornerbacks in the game. He took on Mohamed Sanu most of the game and took him out of it. When he was not matched up on Sanu, he took that particular receiver out of the play, as well. He also played a great game in run support, coming up to help make the tackle after the linebackers failed. His grade: A+.
CB Bradley Roby
Snaps: 38. Stats: 1 tackle and 1 assisted tackle.
Roby played an excellent game in coverage. He was also solid in his run support. He took his assignment out of the game to the point that Dalton didn’t even target the rookie cornerback, who had been picked on in recent weeks. His grade: A-.
SS T.J. Ward
Snaps: 57. Stats: 10 tackles, 1 missed tackle and 7 stops. Targeted 5 times, allowing 5 catches for 13 yards.
Ward quietly played a great game. He was stout when playing closer to the line of scrimmage, especially vs. the running game. In coverage, he had some struggles. One target in coverage was on a touchdown, where Ward was the only cover man on two receivers. The touchdown was not credited to Ward as the receiver's cover assignment. Outside of that play, where he was left out to dry by teammates and/or the play call, he was solid in coverage. His grade: B+.
FS Rahim Moore
Snaps: 64. Stats: 1 tackle, 1 assisted tackle and 2 missed tackles. Targeted 3 times, allowing 3 catches for 47 yards.
Moore was awful against the Bengals. He is a soft player who floats in run support, instead of engaging and being part of the play. He took bad angles consistently, and failed in one-on-one coverage. He is a “ballhawk” who struggles with tracking the ball in the air, which almost led him to an interception on two plays back-to-back. Had he tracked the ball better, it probably would have been an interception. His grade: F.
SS David Bruton
Snaps: 41. Stats: 2 tackles and 2 assisted tackles. Targeted 2 times, allowing 1 catch for 18 yards.
Bruton played a solid game against the Bengals. He was tough and physical in run support, which helped the Broncos a lot. He also over-pursued the ball carrier a few times, which hurt. In coverage he was up and down. He looked lost at times, then turned around and looked great. His grade: C.
CB Omar Bolden
Snaps: 1. Stats: 1 tackle and 1 stop. Targeted 1 time, allowing 1 catch for 4 yards.
Bolden played one snap defensively for the Broncos, and it was a huge play. However, it meant little on the drive, outside of a great performance on a single play. His grade: C+.
Alas, the Broncos defense was very up and down, all game long. They lacked a consistent pressure in rushing the passer and their run defense was not up to their usual strength. The coverage from the linebackers and safeties was a weakness all game long. The only real positives of the game was the coverage from the Broncos cornerbacks and their ability to force turnovers. On top of the turnovers they did did get, they almost got a couple more, but "almost" doesn’t count in football.
Moving forward, the biggest thing the Broncos defense has to work on is consistency. They have to maintain their run defense, which has been a strength all year. They have to get improvement from their linebackers, both in coverage and against the run. The safeties have to step up their play in coverage.
The final thing is, they need to get their pass rush going again. It has been borderline non-existent for the past few games. In the playoffs, they need to be firing on all cylinders, if they want to win.
Next up is the final game of the season. The Broncos return home to take on the Oakland Raiders. A first-round bye is on the line for the Broncos. If they win, the No. 2 seed is theirs. If they lose, it could end up with the Bengals and the Broncos being the No. 3 seed.