The Denver Broncos have struggled running the ball, but they seemingly got that fixed against the Cleveland Browns, although the Browns do have one of the worst run defenses in the NFL. On top of that, the offensive line put together an excellent game. They were getting push and opening holes on a more consistent basis than they did in the first five games, and they kept the quarterback clean.
With that said, time to jump into the player grades.
Peyton Manning, QB
Snaps: 84. Stats: 26-of-48 for 290 yards and 1 touchdown, 3 interceptions and 3 passes dropped.
To put it bluntly, Manning played an absolutely horrendous game. He decision making was questionable on 95 percent of the passes he attempted, which helped result in three interceptions. His accuracy was off, even on completions and he was bailed out by the receivers quite a few times. Manning had a clean pocket to work out of a lot of the time, and still just made bad choices and bad throws. While he did have a few passes dropped, Manning’s bad game, and the interceptions are completely on him (more on why one was on him later). He did manage a couple of solid/good throws, including one for a touchdown, which came on a play following a pick-6.
C.J. Anderson, RB
Snaps: 39. Stats: 13 rushes for 41 yards, 4 targets, 4 catches for 25 yards.
There were finally signs of life from Anderson—too bad they didn’t come consistently on the ground against a bad run defense. He had a few good runs, and they came at good times, but he still isn’t looking good. The only area Anderson has looked good on a consistent basis in is as a receiver. Maybe the Browns game is the turning point on the season for Anderson and he will start getting better, and consistent.
Demaryius Thomas, WR
Snaps: 73. Stats: 17 targets, 10 catches for 111 yards, 1 pass dropped.
The fact that Thomas is credited with only one drop is astonishing. By my count, he had three of them. The biggest issue with Thomas are his inconsistent hands, which have always been an issue. He will make some tough catches, then drop the easy ones. Some of the problem seems to be his focus. It looks like Thomas loses focus on finishing the catch, and starts trying to figure out what to do after the catch. As any receivers coach will tell you—make the catch first. Even though he dropped a pass, he still put together a really solid game.
Emmanuel Sanders, WR
Snaps: 69. Stats: 12 targets, 4 catches for 109 yards and 1 touchdown.
Manning had a hard time finding Sanders throughout the game. Thankfully, they connected on a pass that Sanders was able to take to the house, after adjusting to make the catch. Outside of that play, Sanders was invisible—in plays that actually mattered. He did make another catch, ran it in for a touchdown, and got hurt on the play. The problem was, upon review, he didn’t actually make the catch.
Owen Daniels, TE
Snaps: 54. Stats: 3 targets, 2 catches for 24 yards and 1 dropped pass.
Like Sanders, Daniels was invisible in the game. However, Daniels didn’t make a touchdown catch and didn’t show up until the end of the game. He was unable to get separation, which has been an issue all season, so he was hardly looked at. He also continued to fail as a blocker.
Virgil Green, TE
Snaps: 24. Stats: N/A.
Outside of 8 snaps, Green was used as a blocker. This is a continuing trend, which goes back a few seasons. When he re-signed this past spring, he was told he would have a bigger role in the offense, and he has shown he can handle it, but he just hasn’t received that increased role. It’s a shame because he brings more to the table than Daniels does at this point. As a blocker, Green looked great and back to his normal self, which wasn’t seen in the first five games.
Ryan Harris, LT
Snaps: 78. Stats: 2 QB hurries allowed.
Harris has taken over the left tackle position and has been playing, at worst, adequately. Against the Browns, he was really good. He did have a few issues in pass protection, but recovered really well multiple times. His run blocking is where he struggled more, but while it wasn’t great, he was adequate for the most part. He had a very up and down game as a run blocker, but he did his part on multiple runs that went for some good yards.
Evan Mathis, LG
Snaps: 69. Stats: N/A.
Mathis was dealing with an injury, and did miss a series, but he played a great game. His pass protection was excellent, and he was the only offensive linemen with more than 10 snaps to not allow a QB pressure. His run blocking was a big reason why the Broncos ran the ball as well as they did. When he was asked to pull, it was dangerous for the Browns.
Matt Paradis, C
Snaps: 84. Stats: 1 QB hit, 2 hurries allowed.
When in pass protection, Paradis got blown off the snap quite a few times, but as he has done all season, he recovered very well. There were multiple chances for his assignment to get a sack or even just get more pressure, but Paradis' recoveries kept them limited to three total pressures. When asked to run block, Paradis did excellently. He was getting great push and taking his defender out of the play. The best thing to see was after doing that, he was getting free and making another block or two on just about every run play.
Louis Vasquez, RG
Snaps: 84. Stats: 1 QB hurry allowed.
Finally, the Vasquez that Broncos fans have come to know and love showed up this season. His one pressure was the worst play of the game, and everything else was great, if not excellent. He was consistently making multiple blocks in the run game and opening big holes. On the other side of things, his pass protection was near perfect.
Snaps: 84. Stats: 1 QB hit, 1 hurry allowed.
In Week 5, Schofield started off great, and fell apart in the second half. The next week against the Browns, Schofield was great all game. He did have some misplays in both pass protection and run blocking, but they were limited in number. All in all, Schofield put together a good game.
That wraps up the starters. Now let us get into the players who subbed into the game.
Ronnie Hillman, RB
Snaps: 45. Stats: 20 rushes for 111 yards, 5 targets, 3 catches for 4 yards and 1 dropped pass.
Hillman is getting a lot of flak for Manning’s pick-6, but he shouldn’t be. The ball was behind him, and when sprinting in one direction it is hard to adjust, without coming to a complete stop. While trying to make the catch, Hillman got tripped up. He had plenty of room in front of him, and no reason for that ball to be behind him like it was. The only thing you can fault Hillman for here was the fact he actually tried to make the catch. Rushing the ball, Hillman was excellent. He broke the 100-yard mark and was the spark that the running game needed. Yes, this was against a bad run defense, but he has consistently outperformed Anderson and is deserving of being the main back.
Jordan Norwood, WR
Snaps: 45. Stats: 2 targets, 1 catch for -1 yard.
Norwood had a better game as a blocker than as a receiver. He actually made a few big blocks that helped the ball carriers to pick up a few extra yards. As a receiver, he did manage to get separation on multiple passes that weren't thrown his way, but he just didn’t get looked at.
Cody Latimer, WR
Snaps: 34. Stats: 1 target, zero catches.
On the one pass that went Latimer’s way, it is hard to tell if he ran the wrong route, or if the ball was way off target. Outside of that, Latimer just looked lost as a receiver and seemed to give up on routes early because he couldn’t get separation. The only area he looked good at was as a run blocker, and he did a great job doing this.
Bennie Fowler, WR
Snaps: 20. Stats: N/A.
Fowler looked good as a run blocker, and while he doesn’t have the technique, he gives it his all each time. As for a receiver, he is in the same boat as Norwood. He got separation on multiple pass plays, but just didn’t see the ball thrown his way. There was one play where he ran the wrong route, and he heard about it from Manning.
Andre Caldwell, WR
Snaps: 17. Stats: 2 targets, 2 catches for 18 yards.
As a blocker, Caldwell looked good, as he actually has for most of the season. The difference in the Browns game, compared to the rest of the season, was he actually made an impact as a receiver. He was getting solid separation on almost every route he ran and when the ball came his way he adjusted to make the catch perfectly.
Max Garcia, LG
Snaps: 15. Stats: 1 QB hurry allowed.
Garcia saw quite a few snaps because of the injury to Mathis. He did have a few good plays, including one to spring the running back for a big gain, but mostly it wasn’t pretty. He flat out got beat on the pressure he allowed, and got beat with a badly-executed rush move. He also was set to be the lead blocker on a screen pass, but overran the key block, which kept the screen from really going anywhere.
There was one other player who saw action, Tyler Polumbus, but he saw only six snaps on the game. He doesn’t fall into any of the exceptions for the under-ten-snaps rule, so no grade for him. However, it was great to see that the coaches went away from rotating the left tackle on almost every other series. They stuck with just one and saw the offensive line play their best game on the season.
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