Broncos Divisional Player Grades: Defense

The Denver Broncos lost to the Indianapolis Colts in Denver last Sunday, which eliminated them from the playoffs. With the game in the books, MHH Analyst Erick Trickel reviewed the film in order to hand out his defensive player grades.

The Denver Broncos fell short of their goal to win the Super Bowl. Some of that boils down to coaching, which has led John Elway and the rest of the organization to look for a new coaching staff.

However, some of the responsibility lies with the players and how they performed. They just fell flat with their effort and not up to par from the regular season. They had moments of glory, but they were outweighed by the numerous mistakes.

On an individual level, the Broncos defense played really well. The issue was, there was a player or two on each play who made a mistake, which reflected poorly on the unit as a whole. They were just playing at an individual level, while they needed to play as a unit.

The defense did get make some nice stands and got a couple takeaways, but they were rendered meaningless, due to the mistakes they made at other times.

Now, onto the player grades for the defense; the last of the season. As always, each player starts with a C grade. A positive impact on a play raises their grade, while a negative impact lowers it.

DE DeMarcus Ware

Snaps: 55. Stats: 3 quarterback hurries, 3 tackles, and 2 stops.

Ware played a solid game. He played the run really well and was getting pressure on Andrew Luck. However, he was unable to get a sack and Luck is cool under pressure. The biggest issue Ware put on display was his lack of discipline to stay inside his rush lanes. That opened up areas for Luck to escape pressure and make the throws. His grade: C+.

DE Derek Wolfe

Snaps: 49. Stats: 1 quarterback hit, 8 quarterback hurries, 3 tackles and 2 stops.

Wolfe quietly played a great game. He was one of the few getting consistent pressure on Luck all game. However, he was unable to get to Luck and sack him. Wolfe also played the run game excellently and gave the Colts fits when running in his direction. He was disciplined in his lanes and did his job. His grade: A-.

DE/DT Malik Jackson

Snaps: 46. Stats: 1 quarterback hit, 4 quarterback hurries, 4 tackles, and 2 stops.

Jackson is another guy who played a great game, though not so quietly. He was getting solid pressure on Luck, just not on a consistent basis. His run defense was strong, but not great. Jackson’s biggest flaw came in lack of discipline. In both rushing the quarterback and defending the run, there were times he lost gap discipline and opened up a hole for the offense to maneuver through. His grade: B.

DT Terrance Knighton

Snaps: 50. Stats: 1 quarterback hit, 1 quarterback hurry, and 2 tackles.

Knighton played a solid game. He hustled on the field and got some excellent penetration against the run. If he wasn’t getting penetration, he was clogging the running lanes, making it difficult for the Colts offensive line to move him out of the way. His pass rush was limited, which it was mostly during the season. His grade: B-.

DT Sylvester Williams

Snaps: 33. Stats: 1 tackle, and 1 stop.

Whenever Williams took the field, the defense struggled. He was unable to get any kind of push in the middle of the pocket to keep Luck from stepping up. His run defense was borderline non-existent as well. With new coaches coming in, hopefully they can resurrect his career. Otherwise, he may never live up to the first round pick that he was. His grade: D.

DT Marvin Austin

Snaps: 20. Stats: 3 tackles and 2 stops.

Austin was more effective than Williams, but was not outstandingly better. Austin did a better job when defending the run, because he stayed in position, instead of being moved around. When it came to rushing the quarterback, Austin was missing. His grade: C-.

SLB Von Miller

Snaps: 64. Stats: 1 quarterback hit, 3 tackles, 1 assisted tackle, 1 missed tackle and 3 stops. Targeted 3 times in coverage, allowing 2 catches for 11 yards.

Miller played a better game than he's been given credit for, but it was not great by any means. He played the run well, but had his struggles. However, Miller’s specialty is getting after the quarterback, and it was something he was unable to do. You have to give credit to the Colts game-plan in that regard. They schemed how to take him out of the equation and executed it to near perfection. His grade: C+.

MLB Steven Johnson

Snaps: 36. Stats: 6 tackles and 3 stops. Targeted 1 time in coverage, allowing 1 catch for 3 yards.

Johnson actually played really well. He was excellent against the run because of his reads and reaction to it. He did make a few mistakes but in coverage, he played really well also. He stuck by his man and kept coverage tight. His grade: B-.

WLB Brandon Marshall

Snaps: 41. Stats: 5 tackles and 4 stops. Targeted 4 times in coverage, allowing 4 catches for 32 yards.

Having Marshall back helped the Broncos defense, just not enough. Marshall was playing excellent when the play was kept close to the line of scrimmage. He was flying to the ball and making the tackle. His biggest issue came in coverage down-field. He was getting separated from his man in coverage and giving up the catch. His grade: B-.

LB Todd Davis

Snaps: 36. Stats: 1 quarterback hurry, 5 tackles and 3 stops. Targeted 4 times in coverage, allowing 4 catches for 42 yards.

Davis played a good game when defending the run, but a bad game in coverage. He was reading and reacting to the run really well and clogging the correct running lanes. In coverage, however, Davis was just slow to react. He would not turn and run with his assignment in time and that would create separation for the throw to be completed. His grade: C.

SLB Lerentee McCray

Snaps: 31. Stats: 2 quarterback hurries, 2 tackles, 1 missed tackle and 2 stops. Targeted 1 time in coverage, allowing 1 catch for 3 yards.

McCray played a good game when getting pressure on the quarterback. Everything else was below average, at best. His run defense was inconsistent and more often than not, he was controlled at the edge. He dropped into coverage three times, and was only targeted once, but easily could have been targeted the other two times. He was just unable to stick close to his man in coverage. His grade: C-.

CB Aqib Talib

Snaps: 76. Stats: 4 tackles, 1 missed tackle and 1 stop. Targeted 8 times in coverage, allowing 7 catches for 90 yards and 1 touchdown. Deflected 1 pass.

Never before have I seen a player so betrayed by a game-plan and coaching than Talib was against the Colts. He started in a bad matchup, and when it obviously wasn’t working, Del Rio stuck to it. Outside of that, he played well. The issue is that he's a cornerback and yet, he struggled to cover. Bad matchup or not, he failed to do what he gets paid to do. His grade: F.

CB Chris Harris

Snaps: 74. Stats: 1 quarterback hurry, and 3 tackles. Targeted 6 times in coverage, allowing 1 catch for 22 yards. Deflected 1 pass.

Harris played a great game. However, he too was betrayed by the game-plan and coaching staff, just in a different way. Harris should have been the one on T.Y. Hilton, instead of Talib. But Harris was asked to cover other receivers and he did just that. Even when Talib-on-Hilton failed, Harris wasn’t switched over to cover him. His grade: A.

CB Bradley Roby

Snaps: 41. Stats: 2 tackles and 1 assisted tackle. Targeted 6 times in coverage, allowing 3 catches for 34 yards and 1 touchdown. Intercepted 1 pass.

Roby played a solid game, albeit an inconsistent one. He made some excellent plays in coverage and in run support. However, he also made some big mistakes in coverage. The biggest was allowing his cover assignment to get position on him and make the catch. His grade: C+.

SS T.J. Ward

Snaps: 77. Stats: 2 tackles, 2 missed tackles, and 1 stop. Targeted 7 times in coverage, allowing 3 catches for 14 yards. Deflected 1 pass.

Ward had a game like Roby. He was solid but inconsistent in all phases of what he was asked to do. His run defense was mostly strong, but he did make some mistakes with his reads. In coverage, he didn’t allow big plays, but did allow the Colts to move the ball. He started out rough in coverage and strong in run defense, but later in the game it seemed to have swapped. His grade: C+.

FS Rahim Moore

Snaps: 76. Stats: 2 tackled. Intercepted 1 pass.

Moore was up and down last Sunday. The worst of his mistakes was the lack of physicality he consistently displayed. He avoided blockers in the run game and tried to avoid being part of the tackle. He did play solid in coverage, but showed lack of physicality there as well. His grade: D+

SS David Bruton

Snaps: 42. Stats: 2 tackles. Targeted 1 time in coverage, allowing 1 catch for 14 yards.

Bruton was not a part of many plays, but he still made an impact. He was flying on the field and was doing the right thing most of the time. His biggest mistake came on the one catch he allowed. He simply failed to pick up the receiver and stuck on someone else. He eventually made the switch, but it was too late; the damage was already done. His grade: C+.


The Broncos defense put in a lot of good individual performances. However, they just rarely all clicked on the same play. To top it off, they were all betrayed by a horrible game-plan, bad coaching, and their inability or refusal to adjust in-game.

When you have a player get consistently exploited in a bad matchup, it is on the coaches to adjust. The bad showing from the Broncos defense falls onto the coaching in more ways than one. Yes, players could have clicked and executed better, but if there is one area to exploit and it doesn’t change, it doesn’t matter much how the players perform.

Erick Trickel in an Analyst for MileHighHuddle. You can find him on Twitter @AlaskanBronco. And be sure to like MileHighHuddle on Facebook.

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