If you have yet to do so, make sure you read my grades for the offense. In that article the new grading system is also explained.
The Denver Broncos pulled out the 22-20 win in Seattle largely because of the play of a stifling defense. The Broncos defense had a total of 25 pressures on the opposing quarterback, including six sacks. They also showed that they can be stout against the run by racking up 31 total stops. They were stout in all of the aspects that a defense needs to be and showed if need be, they can carry the team to some victories.
With that said, time to get into the player grades. I will start at the left defensive end position and go through all the starters. The rest will be grouped by position after the starters are done.
Snaps: 6. Stats: one tackle, one stop.
In only a few snaps, Derek Wolfe showed that he fits excellently in this defensive system. His run defense is some of the best in the NFL, and it was no different in Seattle. He clogged running lanes and made the plays needed. When rushing the passer, he showed why he isn’t known as a pass rusher.
He was able to stand up offensive linemen, but wouldn’t shed them until it was too late. Against the run he has the timing down perfectly. If he can get it down as a pass rusher, his game would become more well-rounded.
Snaps: 12. Stats: N/A
Many are doubtful of Williams playing nose tackle in Wade Phillips' scheme. However, Williams showed he can handle the responsibilities that fall onto that role. That doesn’t mean he didn’t have issues. Rushing the passer, Williams did a solid job to get consistent push. When defending the run however, Williams struggled at times to remain stout at the point of attack.
He did flash moments of greatness against the run as well. He is still getting the system down, so some struggles were to be expected. In fact, he actually played much better than I thought he would in his first game in this scheme.
Snaps: 11. Stats: one sack, one hurry, one stop.
In this defensive scheme, Jackson is going to be a force to be reckoned with. He is put in a position to be successful every snap, and he has the talent to do so. In this Seattle game, the only thing that slowed Jackson down even a little bit was using a double team to block him. If he can keep up play like that and continually demand double teams, it makes a great defense even better.
Snaps: 7. Stats: one sack, one tackle, one stop, targeted once, allowing one catch for 12 yards.
Von Miller played as near of a perfect game as you can expect. He had a strip sack right off the bat and never slowed down. He was a constant issue for the Seattle quarterback. The only thing keeping Von from getting a perfect grade was the catch he allowed. He seemed to get confused with two other defenders, as to who was supposed to cover who, and allowed his man to get free and pick up 12 yards.
Snaps: 11. Stats: one tackle, one stop.
Going over Johnson’s game I came away pleasantly surprised. He played a really solid, well-rounded game. He showed that he has grown as a player from a year ago, when he got starting reps, due to injuries depleting the linebacker corps. He is best as a run defender, and that was clear against Seattle.
However, he showed that he has really taken the needed steps to improve his pass coverage. It used to be you didn’t want Johnson stuck out on the field in obvious passing situation. The Seattle game erased some of that worry.
Snaps: 22. Stats: one tackle, one assisted tackle, one stop, targeted once, allowing zero catches..
It can be summed up simply by saying that Todd Davis will make the Broncos 53-man roster and have some kind of impact, in a good way, during the season. Davis played an excellent game against the run and pass. His worst play came when he and two other defenders got confused on who was to cover whom, but he rebounded nicely to end up on his man, although his man wasn’t the target.
For a player that is only in his second year, Davis plays amazing football and takes a leadership role that you don’t expect from someone with so few NFL years, but of someone with 5+ years at least.
Snaps: 11 Stats: N/A
Even though he only played in a handful of snaps, Talib looked like a different player from a year ago. He was seen playing press-man, which he excels at, instead of off-man from a year ago. The difference is astonishing. With how Wade Phillips runs his defense and uses players to their strengths, Talib should really excel.
Snaps: 22 Stats: one tackle, one stop
With Chris Harris, Jr. not playing in the game, Roby got the start opposite of Talib. In his 22 snaps, Roby showed he has the makings of a special player at the cornerback position. Many corners nowadays, do not play the run very well. Roby is an exception and played it very well.
On top of that, he can also bring the heat as a pass rusher and disrupt the quarterback, on top of what he can do in coverage. He has grown and is really developing into the player the Broncos hoped for when they took him in the first round.
Snaps: 22 Stats: two tackles, one stop
The new starter at the free safety position for the Broncos is an upgrade over the old one and the reason was made obvious almost immediately. When defending the run, Stewart flies to the ball and helps make the play, instead of shying away from contact.
He also showed he can handle coverage responsibilities, and do really good job. On top of his physical ability, Stewart seems to have a high football IQ and can read the plays as they develop. That helps with his reaction time and helps tremendously to break the play up.
Snaps: 11 Stats: one hurry
Just like with Talib, Ward only played 11 snaps and looked like a different player. This scheme will have a tremendous impact on Ward, and what he does during the game. Part of what will change is seeing Ward blitz more often. In the game against Seattle, Ward blitzed early in the game and played a big part in a strip-sack by Von Miller. As time goes on, Ward will only get better and better in this defense.
That wraps it up with the starters from the game. One notable player is missing was DeMarcus Ware, who was held out of the game. Now let's get on to the rest of the defensive players.
Snaps: 31 Stats: one hurry, one tackle, one assisted tackle, one missed tackle, one stop.
The new Bronco had a very rough game. He managed to fill the stat sheet, but that doesn’t translate to good play. He was constantly getting pushed out of the way and beaten off the snap in the run game. As for getting after the quarterback, his skill-set seemed to be the most limited of all the other Broncos defensive linemen.
I had high hopes for Walker when he was signed. I remember watching do well in his games when he was with the Kansas City Chiefs, but this game left me disappointed and wanting to see more.
Snaps: 29. Stats: one sack, one hit, four tackles, five stops
A year ago Anunike showed he should make the roster only to find himself on injured reserve. This year, he showed that he should make the roster yet again. He is not the best scheme fit, as he is an undersized 3-4 defensive end, but he uses that to his advantage and was able to make an impact no matter where he lined up at.
Anunike was a dominant from the time he hit the field to the time he was pulled out of the game. His dominance was so obvious and was sorely missed when he came out of the game.
Snaps: 8. Stats: one hurry
Smith only played in a handful of snaps, and he made his impact as a rusher very obvious. However, he also showed his weakness when defending the run. He just gets maneuvered out of the way to where he can’t make the play. This is how Smith has been basically his whole career, so I wouldn’t expect anything to change.
Snaps: 8. Stats: one batted pass.
Watson didn’t have many reps, but did have a solid showing in those limited reps. He didn’t get much push as rusher, but he got his hands up when he was unable to get to the quarterback, which lead to a batted pass. That said, this undrafted rookie still has a very steep hill for even a small shot at the roster and will have to step up for a shot at the practice squad.
Snaps: 21. Stats: one sack, one tackle, two stops.
The rookie defensive linemen looked really good against the Seahawks. He was stout against the run and was able to generate push on the interior. That doesn’t mean he was perfect, but he was consistent. His mistakes were very few, with only two really bad plays. Both of which are nearly identical. They came against the run and Kilgo was simply maneuvered out of the way to open a good sized running lane.
Snaps: 16. Stats: one hurry.
A year ago, Fua was with the Broncos, only to be cut. This year, he is getting another shot, although in a completely different scheme. The current scheme seems to fit Fua better, as he looked better against Seattle than he did in preseason action a year ago. With the injury to Marvin Austin and him being placed on injured reserve, Fua has a shot to make the roster. However, he will have to turn his solid play against Seattle into something even better.
Snaps: 10. Stats: two QB hits.
Even though he saw only 10 snaps, Ndulue looked really good against Seattle. He lined up at all three places along the defensive line and made an impact. With most of his snaps coming as a rusher, he looked really quick off the line and able to get a good push consistently. That push ended in two hits on the quarterback.
Snaps: 19. Stats: two QB hits, two tackles, two stops.
It took a few plays for Vaughn to really get going, but once he did, he was a force for the defense. He was getting pretty good pressure off of the edge and did a solid job setting the edge against the run. Unfortunately for Vaughn, he plays a position that is incredibly deep for the Broncos, so his shot at making the roster is a long one. If he keeps having solid performances like this one, he should be looking at getting a practice squad spot.
Snaps: 39. Stats: one sack, three QB hits, one hurry, one assisted tackle, one missed tackle, one stop.
Barrett was another undrafted rookie from a year ago who really put together an excellent game. He was all over the field and in a dominating fashion. He took control of the game, along with Anunike, and made the defense something special. Barrett showed more than excellent pass rushing skills.
He more than proved he can defend the run and drop into coverage and do so effectively. Another game, like the one against Seattle, would make it very hard to not keep Barrett on the 53-man roster. His special teams play was extraordinary on top of excellent defense.
Snaps: 23. Stats: one sack, two hurries, one stop.
For the most part, Rivers had a rough game. He was consistently stalled as a rusher and was taken out of the play when defending the run. He did manage to get a few pressures, one of which led into a fumble recovered by Denver, but those are the big highlights from his game. Rivers is competing at one of the deepest positions on the Broncos roster. He will have to step it up if he hopes to get even a practice squad spot.
Snaps: 16. Stats: two QB hits.
For the most part, Mason was unnoticable against Seattle. There were only four plays I took notice of him because of his play—his two hits on the quarterback, another pass rush and a play defending the run. However, even those were not great plays by any means. The run defense was just a textbook edge setting, but the runner still picked up solid yards. The rushes ended on completed passes, despite his efforts.
Snaps: 23. Stats: one tackle, one stop, targeted four times, with two catches allowed for 15 yards.
Second-year linebacker Lamin Barrow had a rough game, and reinforced my doubts about him making the roster. While he looked decent in coverage, it wasn’t anything good enough to warrant keeping him. He also looked lost against the run, outside of one run where he read the play and snuck through blockers to make the stop. His special teams play also wasn’t anything good enough to warrant keeping him on the roster. He will have to take a drastic step forward in the remaining preseason games.
Snaps: 22. Stats: one assisted tackle.
For as bad as Barrow looked, Walker looked much worse. The veteran was signed because of his special teams play, but I saw nothing that warranted the signing. Saying his special teams play was atrocious is far too nice. His defense was better, but nothing special. He looked lost in coverage and defending the run. The only time he looked even halfway decent on defense came in a pass rush attempt.
Snaps: 21. Stats: four tackles, four stops, targeted three times, with three catches allowed for 23 yards.
Nelson was the best backup inside linebacker, but that isn’t saying much. He is fast, quick and agile, but lacks any kind of strength to hold up as a run defender, which showed. Even in coverage, Nelson had a rough time staying close enough to his man to try and make a play to break up the pass.
Snaps: 20. Stats: one tackle, targeted once, with one catch allowed for 19 yards and a touchdown.
The undrafted rookie has been getting a lot of hype, especially since the middle of training camp. However, he didn’t live up to that hype in the game against the Seahawks. He looked similar to that of Nelson. Fast and quick, but lacking the strength to hold his own against the run. Whenever a blocker got their hands on him, he was taken out of the play. He and Nelson were the best backups on the interior, but not by much.
Snaps: 26. Stats: one tackle, one missed tackle, targeted three times, with one catch allowed for eight yards.
Marsh got a lot of action and got it early on in the game. He looked solid, despite a few bad plays. It was actually surprising how well Marsh played. I had low expectations, but he exceeded them greatly. He was quick, strong and physical, which all are needed for Phillips' scheme. Marsh is in a battle for the final cornerback position, but he will have to take a step forward.
Snaps: 22. Stats: one tackle, one stop.
The speedster corner looked solid when out on the field, but nothing special. There were a few plays I came away worried about his lack of aggressiveness. He was in a good position to help defend the play, but shied away from contact. The defensive scheme plays toward aggression, so Brandon will have to become follow suit if he doesn’t want the opportunity to slip out of his hands.
Snaps: 18. Stats: one tackle, one stop.
Surprise, surprise—Carter got called for a penalty against the Seahawks. On top of that, he didn’t really have a strong showing. The only thing I can give him credit for is how physical he plays. If not for the pass rush disrupting the quarterbacks, Carter would have had a game far worse than he did.
Snaps: 31. Stats: three tackles, one stop, targeted three times, with two catches allowed for 19 yards, one pass defensed.
The rookie Nixon had a solid game when it is all said and done. He is a strong, physical corner, but did get into some trouble with speed. He defensed the run well for a rookie corner. He fits the defense well, but will have to step it up to potentially make the roster. However, he may be best suited with a year on the practice squad, given what I saw in the game against Seattle.
Snaps: 43. Stats: one tackle, one assisted tackle, one missed tackle, targeted twice, with one catch allowed for one yard.
Yet another rookie to see the field, Doss really gave it his all and it showed. Every play he gave 110%, though it did not always work out. He missed a tackle, which he should have had, but didn’t use proper technique. He is quick and flies to the ball. With some technical refinement, Doss can be a solid player. One of the best things that came from Doss’s game, however, was his play on special teams.
His grade: 59.7
Snaps: 18. Stats: one tackle, targeted once, allowing zero catches.
The special teams ace turned it up late last year on defense. In the first preseason action, Bruton looked like a fraction of his old self. His special teams play left a lot to be desired and not anything close to what it has been. He also went back to looking lost on defense more often than not.
Snaps: 26. Stats: one tackle, targeted once, with one catch allowed for 24 yards.
It wasn’t a good game for Bush. While he wasn’t invisible, it would have been better than the showing he put together on the field. His special teams play was mediocre at best. The real issues came on defense. He got blown out of run defense multiple times and looked lost in coverage far too often. Safety depth is a concern, and Bush didn’t do anything to alleviate those worries.
Snaps: 43. Stats: three tackles, one stop, targeted twice, with zero catches allowed, one pass defensed.
Madison did help my concerns for the safety depth. He put together a great showing and was the best of the backup safeties by a mile. His run defense was excellent and smooth. He also was a physical run defender, unafraid to take on contact. In coverage, Madison was quick and smooth. He seems to have a good understanding of the defense and what his role is. He is making a push to try and get a roster spot, but he has to keep his play at this level or higher.
Snaps: 21. Stats: two tackles, one stop, targeted once, with one catch allowed for 9 yards.
For as good as the defense played throughout and how well their grades started, it has to end on a not so good, but not bad note. Furman looked completely lost far too often on the field, both on offense and defense. As a seventh round pick, he really has to step up his play for even a shot at the practice squad, especially with how well so many others are playing.
That wraps up the defensive player grades. A lot of players put together really solid showings, while others struggled. Hopefully for their next game, those struggling pull it together, while those playing great keep it up.
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