The Denver Broncos defense played a great game against the Cleveland Browns—extending their season trend. However, this game was their most inconsistent game and worst of the season so far. That's saying a lot for how great they have played on the season for this game to be their worst. Not much can be said for the defense, except they once again came out and saved the day to get Denver the win.
With that said, it is time to jump into the player grades.
Derek Wolfe, LDE
Snaps: 57. Stats: 1 QB hurry, 2 tackles, 1 assisted tackle, 2 stops.
The issue with Wolfe’s game came as a pass rusher. He only notched one pressure, but he did get push to help collapse the pocket. Pass rushing has never been Wolfe’s strong suit, and it was no different in Cleveland. His strong suit is as a run defender, and it was excellent against the Browns. If it was just for his run defense, Wolfe would be getting a perfect grade. Unfortunately, the pass rush does hurt his overall grade some, but not a whole lot, as his run defense was just that great.
Snaps: 44. Stats: 1 tackle, 1 stop.
While Wolfe was great overall and excellent against the run, Williams was the opposite. When defending the run, Williams was consistently pushed off the line or out of position and he made too many mental mistakes. Plainly put, he was a complete mess against the run. If you think his pass rush might be better, it actually may have gotten worse. He just couldn’t generate any kind of pressure or push.
Malik Jackson, RDE
Snaps: 59. Stats: 1 sack, 3 QB hurries, 3 tackles, 2 stops.
Rushing the passer has always been the strong suit of Jackson. While his run defense used to be full of mental errors, he has cut down drastically over the past season and a half. However, in this game, the mental errors returned. He just was MIA when asked to defend the run for the majority of the game. Thankfully, he was able to make a huge impact as a pass rusher and really control the line of scrimmage in this aspect.
Von Miller, LOLB
Snaps: 69. Stats: 3 QB hurries, 1 tackle, 1 stop, targeted once, allowing one catch for 4 yards.
When watching the game for the second and third time, it was hard to really see what Miller was doing. He just was invisible for the basically the whole game. Even his highlights weren’t exactly attention drawing. When going over again for the fourth time, I was able to focus in on Miller and realized he played a solid game. It wasn’t anything special, or great, based on his typical performance—a solid game, doing things the right way, just not standing out.
Danny Trevathan, RILB
Snaps: 64. Stats: 1 QB hit, 6 tackles, 2 assisted tackles, 3 stops, targeted 3 times, allowing 3 catches for 17 yards and 1 touchdown.
Despite allowing a touchdown, Trevathan really played a great game. His run defense was stellar, as he was consistently making plays. When he didn’t make the tackle or a stop, he took on a key blocker that allowed a teammate to do so. His worst play came on the touchdown he allowed. The reaction time from Trevathan to the tight end’s route was delayed, which allowed separation and the touchdown. Even if he didn’t allow separation, the size differential probably would have still resulted in the TD.
Brandon Marshall, LILB
Snaps: 77. Snaps: 1 sack, 3 QB hurries, 5 tackles, 2 assisted tackles, 4 stops.
There were no passes thrown Marshall's way, and it was because of his excellent coverage. When asked to drop back, there were only two negatives I noted, both of which were miniscule to the point of basically nitpicking. The run defense from Marshall was great, as it has been all season and he even added a lot as a pass rusher. The big negatives do come in his run defense, and mostly just failing to shed or avoid blocks.
Shaquil Barrett, ROLB
Snaps: 75. Stats: 2 sacks, 5 hurries, 6 tackles, 2 assisted tackles, 1 missed tackle, 5 stops, targeted once, allowing one catch for -2 yards.
With DeMarcus Ware out with an injury, Barrett got the start. He actually made a case to remain the starter on the defense with how great he played. In no way is that meant as a slight towards Ware, who has played great football. Barrett played better than Ware did in any other game on the season, especially against the run, and Barrett is younger. At the very least, a perfect game from Barrett should earn him even more snaps, splitting with Ware, down the stretch. Giving Barrett more reps, even potentially starter's reps, will help keep Ware fresh for the end of the season and playoffs.
His run defense was perfect. He was doing all the right things and doing it greatly. Were there negatives? Yes, but they were so few in number and outweighed by the positives. Same situation with his pass rush. Barrett just played a perfect game, and it came at the perfect time with Ware out, Miller invisible and another injury that occurred to the pass rushers.
Aqib Talib, LCB
Snaps: 74. Stats: 3 tackles, 1 missed tackle, targeted 7 times, allowing 3 catches for 44 yards, with 1 interception (pick-6) and 1 pass deflected.
Even though Talib got his pick-6 when playing off-coverage, playing off limits his opportunities. Being able to make the play relies on him reading the quarterback fast enough to make a play on the ball, and the only reason why he was able to get the pick was because Josh McCown stared the receiver down. Talib played a solid game, but the catches he allowed all came with him playing off. Quick passes, quick routes, or speed from receivers exploit that kind of coverage, and Talib just doesn’t have the speed to recover.
T.J. Ward, SS
Snaps: 84. Stats: 3 tackles, 1 missed tackle, 2 stops, targeted 7 times, allowing 4 catches for 33 yards and 1 touchdown.
Early in the game, it looked like Ward was going to get picked on in coverage. However, he managed to bounce back and shut down his assignment on a consistent basis. There is one play that Ward is getting a lot of blame for, which isn’t justified, as it wasn’t just his fault. Ward let the tight end go by him, but another safety was supposed to pick him up and didn’t do so. The normal strength for Ward, run defense, just wasn’t there against the Browns. He did have some nice plays against the run, but when taking everything into account, it wasn’t as good as usual.
Darian Stewart, FS
Snaps: 72. Stats: 1 QB hit, 6 tackles, targeted 3 times, allowing 2 catches for 59 yards.
Stewart was flying all over the field. Unfortunately, it didn’t help the defense much. His coverage was exploited, as he just was reacting slowly to his assignments. He also reacted incorrectly a few times in coverage, which just allowed his assignments a lot of space. Thankfully, he wasn’t picked on more than he was. When he came up to help against the run, he was taken out of the play until it was already done, or after a solid gain, and he was able to make a play.
Chris Harris, Jr., RCB
Snaps: 84. Stats: 3 tackles, 1 assisted tackle, 2 stops, targeted 4 times, allowing 2 catches for 11 yards.
The Chris Harris who is one of, if not the best corners in the NFL showed up against the Browns. His coverage was excellent, and he was always right there with his man. Even if he allowed a catch, he was still right there to make the tackle. Harris has also been one of the best run defending corners in the NFL, and against the Browns, he made it clear as to why that is the case.
That wraps up the starters. Time to jump into the players who subbed into the game.
Vance Walker, DE
Snaps: 29. Stats: 1 QB hurry, 5 tackles, 3 stops.
When Walker took the field in place of Wolfe, the run defense took a step back, although it was a small one. The difference is the level of discipline from Wolfe to Walker. Walker just tends to over pursue or move incorrectly to open his lane. The big hit was in pass rush. Walker did notch a pressure, but other than that, he got little-to-no push each rush.
Antonio Smith, DE
Snaps: 32. Stats: 1 sack, 2 QB hits, 1 hurry, 1 stop.
It was a great game all around from Smith. His run defense was really strong, which is attributed to his quickness. He just was able to avoid blockers because of his quickness, and end up having a big impact on the outcome of the play. The best aspect for Smith is his pass rush, but against the Browns it was his run defense. Not that his pass rush was bad, it was great, but his run defense was just better.
Lerentee McCray, OLB
Snaps: 21. Stats: 1 sack, 2 tackles, 1 stop.
McCray ended up seeing a lot of playing time, due to injuries. He came in and played really well, but there was obvious rust. His best play came when he was perfect with a pass rush and ended up picking up the sack, with help from Marshall. Run defense was his weak spot, but that was still solid.
David Bruton, S
Snaps: 28. Stats: 1 assisted tackle, targeted 4 times, allowing 1 catch for 11 yards and 1 interception.
Bruton was largely invisible until late in the game. The passes thrown his way that weren't completed were due to bad throws and not his coverage. The two plays worth noting were a touchdown allowed by Ward and his interception. The issue is, Bruton was supposed to pick up the coverage from Ward after he released the tight end, and Bruton didn’t do that. As for his interception, it came at a perfect time, but it wasn’t exactly a great play by Bruton. It was being in the right place at the right time. The Browns quarterback had a lot of pressure on him and was trying to throw the ball away, but couldn't muster enough strength in the pass. It ended up going right to where Bruton was.
Bradley Roby, CB
Snaps: 46. Stats: 3 tackles, 1 stop, targeted 4 times, allowing 2 catches for 25 yards.
On both catches that Roby allowed, he made the tackle right away and allowed zero yards after the catch. At the end of the day, Roby put together a really strong game, where he showed some excellent technique from start to finish.
That’s nearly wraps up the players who subbed into the game, except for three of them. Kenny Anunike saw his first regular season action of his career with four snaps. He had no stats to go with those reps. Todd Davis also saw two snaps, and again no stats. Finally, Shane Ray saw three snaps before getting hurt. He did allow a catch on one target that went for 11 yards, before getting hurt.
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