Many will focus in on the second half struggles, which is acceptable. The execution from the players just wasn’t there. The offensive line started got owned, pretty similar to what happened vs. the Oakland Raiders a week ago. Also, for the second week straight, the Broncos offensive coaching staff found themselves out-coached by the Pittsburgh Steelers defensive coaches.
Both sides made adjustments at halftime, but the Steelers got more aggressive. Meanwhile, Denver went from aggressive play-calling and playing to win, to playing light and playing not to lose. When the coaches went back to being aggressive, the players struggled to execute and play calls became predictable.
These are issues that have been here all season. The O-line has always struggled. Coaches have failed to properly adjust. Receivers failed to catch the ball multiple times within a game. Oh, and there has been a complete lack of a run game all season. No matter the quarterback, it is hard to see success with this formula, but it's a good thing for Denver’s defense. Well, a good thing for the defense, except for Sunday, when they blew a 14-point lead.
With that said, time to jump into the player grades. This week, we are back to the normal grading format. Starters first, followed by players who subbed into the game with ten or more snaps.
Brock Osweiler, QB
Snaps: 76 Stats: 21-of-44 for 296 yards, 3 touchdowns, 1 interception, true accuracy of 21-for-29 for 296 yards and 3 touchdowns, 5 rushes for 19 yards and 1 touchdown, 2 fumbled snaps recovered.
The first half from Osweiler was excellent. No way around that. He showed poise, ability to move from pressure, and throw perfect, NFL-elite passes. However, the second half wasn’t anywhere near as good, but it isn’t as bad as many make it out to be. More than half of the pressures came in the second half, as well as all seven dropped passes. There were bad plays from Brock, including seven horrendous passes, which saw one interception and two near-picks. All in all, the second half from Osweiler was solid, but not great, nor as bad as many will try to make you believe.
Ronnie Hillman, RB
Snaps: 39 Stats: 2 hurries allowed, 14 rushes for 48 yards, 1 fumble lost.
The game from Hillman was something worse than awful. There was no vision, and he ran into defenders multiple times. On top of that, he shied away from contact, running scared, instead of trying to pick up a few extra yards. There was no look at Hillman as a receiver, but his pass protection was weak, at best.
Demaryius Thomas, WR
Snaps: 70 Stats: 5 catches on 12 targets, 61 yards, 2 touchdowns, 2 drops.
The game from Thomas wasn’t great, but not bad, either. The last few games there have been serious issues catching the ball, and he had two drops this game. Effort has also been questioned during the last few games, and rightfully so. This game, he added to those questions having given up on a couple of routes, one of which was after he ran the wrong route.
Emmanuel Sanders, WR
Snaps: 64 Stats: 1 rush for 24 yards, 10 catches on 15 targets, 181 yards and 1 touchdown.
Against his former team, Sanders played an outstanding game. He was a huge part of the offense and so hard for the Steelers to cover. However, at the half, the Steelers made adjustments to help slow down Sanders by being more physical with him at the line.
Bennie Fowler, WR
Snaps: 27 Stats: 1 stop allowed, zero catches on 1 target.
When putting out the blocking unit, Fowler normally sees the field because he does a great job at it. However, he wasn’t so good against the Steelers. He got beat badly by a corner, who ended up making the stop. As for being a receiver, Fowler ran sloppy routes without quickness in his cuts, which is why he couldn’t get any kind of separation.
Owen Daniels, TE
Snaps: 41 Stats: 2 catches on 5 targets, 14 yards, 3 drops.
Even though he had three drops, Daniels' game wasn’t a complete loss. He was aggressive, physical and unafraid of contact, both as a receiver and a blocker. As for his drops, only one would’ve been for a first down, and another was on a play where a holding foul on Denver was declined.
Ryan Harris, LT
Snaps: 77 Stats: 1 QB hit, 7 hurries allowed.
The first half from Harris was strong — in pass protection only. He, and all the other offensive linemen, struggled all game run blocking, and in both phases in the second half. In the whole first half, Harris allowed a total of one pressure, which was a hurry. A tale of two halves.
Max Garcia, LG
Snaps: 77 Stats: 1 sack*, 1 QB hit, 3 hurries allowed.
It was a pretty solid game from Garcia. There were moments where he struggled as a run blocker, but the lack of run game wasn’t because of him. The sack he allowed has an asterisk by it because it came on a fumbled snap, but Garcia just let his man by him as he went to help the center with a double team. Even if the snap wasn’t fumbled, a sack still would have occurred. A sack allowed from lack of experience.
Matt Paradis, C
Snaps: 77 Stats: 2 hurries, 1 stop allowed.
As a pass blocker, Paradis was far and away the best one of the offensive line. However, his issues came in the run game, where he was controlled for the majority of the game. There were some great runs, due in part to Paradis, and not all of the issues in the run game were because of Paradis.
Louis Vasquez, RG
Snaps: 77 Stats: 1 QB hit, 8 hurries allowed.
Vasquez was awful all game in both aspects. There was no sign of technique, which is inexplicable for a veteran. He wasn't aware of what was going on around him, and was just beat by speed and power.
Snaps: 77 Stats: 1 sack, 3 QB hits, 8 hurries, 1 stop allowed.
The grade for Schofield will say everything, but in case it doesn’t, Schofield was awful in all phases of the game. Run blocking and pass protection were both poor, and once again, the question of benching Schofield rings loudly.
That wraps up the players who started the game. Now time to jump into the players who subbed into the game and saw more than ten snaps on the day.
C.J. Anderson, RB
Snaps: 37 Stats: 1 hurry, 4 rushes for 14 yards, 1 catch on 3 targets, 6 yards, 1 drop.
One thing has been obvious with Anderson on the season, and it was confirmed, once again, against the Steelers. When healthy, he is a big part of the offense, but when he is hurt he looks like he doesn’t even deserve to be on a team. This Steelers game was a mess for Anderson, and his latest injury raised questions about how much action he would get. Moving forward past this season, the health of Anderson is a big concern.
Jordan Norwood, WR
Snaps: 19 Stats: 2 catches on 2 targets, 29 yards.
The most exciting play of the game, and one of the most exciting plays I have ever seen, was made by Norwood. Unfortunately, the play doesn’t count, due to a penalty, and the play happened on a punt return. Special teams play doesn’t factor into offensive grades, but this play was exciting enough to warrant mentioning. As for his play on offense, Norwood looked really good. He ran hard and quick routes. He also made a couple of nice catches, one of which would see a good amount of receivers drop the ball.
Andre Caldwell, WR
Snaps: 20 Stats: zero catches on 2 targets.
Caldwell was targeted twice, and wasn’t able to come down with the catch, due to great plays by the Steelers defenders. When asked to run other routes, Caldwell was inconsistent and seemed to tire out early in his routes. Him slowing down was obvious to me about halfway through his route. Not sure if he tired, or gave up. Either way, it is curious to see him getting reps over other receivers who have better chemistry with Brock Osweiler.
Cody Latimer, WR
Snaps: 11 Stats: N/A.
The receiver has a lot of chemistry with Brock Osweiler, but saw limited action on offense. His routes were good, but just couldn’t get separation. The second-year receiver is a strong blocker and that showed against the Steelers.
Vernon Davis, TE
Snaps: 42 Stats: 1 catch on 3 targets, 5 yards, 1 drop.
It was a bad game from Davis. No way around that. He looked scared of contact, even as a blocker, and dropped another pass in a big moment. If he didn't drop the pass, Denver would have had another first down, and who knows what happens from there. Instead, he drops it because he got scared of taking the hit. Hands have been an issue with Davis all season, even with the San Francisco 49ers, but they were written off then, due to the quarterback.
Virgil Green, TE
Snaps: 10 Stats: N/A.
With the starting tight ends unable to catch the ball, it is a mystery as to why Green isn’t seeing more action. In back-to-back weeks, Vernon Davis had two big drops in key moments that really hurt Denver’s chances to make any kind of comeback, and Owen Daniels has been plagued with drops all season. There were four between the two starters, and while Green has only seen limited time, it is hard to believe the younger and more athletic player would struggle as much as the aged veterans. Instead, Green remains as a blocking tight end, which makes for an offensive play-calling mystery.
That wraps up the players who saw ten or more snaps of action. There were a few who saw less than ten, including quarterback Trevor Siemian, who saw one snap to kneel down the ball before the half. James Ferentz and Tyler Polumbus both saw action on the game. Ferentz saw a single snap, while Polumbus saw a total of four snaps.
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