Make no bones about it, this loss falls on the Denver Broncos defense. They were given 27 points and a 14-point lead at halftime but allowed the Steelers to walk all over them in the second half. The good plays from the defense were so few in number in that second half, they can be counted on one hand. When reviewing the tape, it looked like they had a complete break down in fundamentals and technique, on top of looking like they had no direction whatsoever.
With that said, it is time to jump into the player grades.
Derek Wolfe, DE
Snaps: 72 Stats: 1 QB hit, 3 hurries, 1 assisted sack, 1 batted pass, 2 tackles.
Wolfe was one of the few defenders who didn’t have a bad game. His pass rush took a step backward from recent weeks, but still was solid. His usual strength of run defense was there. He was outstanding against the run, even if he wasn’t making the plays himself.
Snaps: 41 Stats: 1 assisted sack, 2 tackles.
The run defense from Williams was strong, but he did struggle to get consistent penetration. That is something that Williams got next to none of rushing the passer. He was just shut down at the line of scrimmage for the majority of his game.
Malik Jackson, DE
Snaps: 51 Stats: 2 sacks, 3 hurries, 1 batted pass, 1 stop, 5 tackles.
Outstanding. That sums up Jackson's game. He was great defending the run, and even better getting after the quarterback. Both of his sacks came on plays that drew a holding call on the offensive lineman sent to block Jackson. He was simply outstanding, and was one of the few.
Von Miller, OLB
Snaps: 60 Stats: 1 QB hit, 5 hurries, 1 missed tackle.
While it wasn’t a good game for Miller, it didn’t help that the Steelers had an excellent plan to slow him down. Just about every play, Miller was chipped and knocked so off-balance that it took him a second or so to recover. The run defense from Miller was solid, but at times it looked really weak, and he found himself controlled on the edge.
Danny Trevathan, ILB
Snaps: 53 Stats: 1 QB hit, 1 hurry, 8 tackles, 2 missed tackles, targeted 4 times, allowing 4 catches for 29 yards.
When tasked to defend the run, Trevathan was great. His issues all came in coverage. Being assigned to cover running backs has been a weak point for Trevathan, but he was able to limit his assignment to very little after the catch. In coverage is also where he missed both of his tackles.
Brandon Marshall, ILB
Snaps: 68 Stats: 2 hurries, 1 assisted sack, 7 tackles, targeted once, allowing zero catches, 1 interception.
The inside linebacker next to Trevathan played a great game. His coverage was outstanding and he consistently took his assignment out of the play. When he came on a blitz a few times, he was able to generate pressure. Then when you turn to the run defense, it was outstanding. Just a great, well-rounded game from Marshall this week.
DeMarcus Ware, OLB
Snaps: 31 Stats: 5 hurries.
In a limited role, as he still comes back from injury, Ware played a solid game. His run defense wasn’t that strong, but wasn’t weak. All in all, it was just very inconsistent. His pass rush, however, was excellent, despite being unable to notch a sack. Most of his hurries were for not, as the Steelers still completed the pass most of the time, but that is due to bad coverage.
Aqib Talib, CB
Snaps: 74 Stats: 8 tackles, 2 missed tackles, targeted 13 times, allowing 10 catches for 87 yards.
Talib is one of the members of the “No Fly Zone”. Well, they weren’t that this game. Talib struggled to contain his assignment all game, and gave a huge cushion consistently. That cushion was plenty of space for the Steelers quarterback to hit wide open receivers early. On top of that, he wasn’t a presence in the run game and missed two tackles.
David Bruton, SS
Snaps: 77 Stats: 1 hurry, 5 tackles, targeted 3 times, allowing 2 catches for 14 yards.
What can be said about Bruton? He played 77 snaps with a broken fibula. He is one tough man. What makes it even better? His game was outstanding. David “I broke my fibula” Bruton was the best Broncos defender out on the field. He made his presence felt in all aspects. He allowed two catches, but it wasn’t because he was beaten. Outside of those two catches, he was taking his assignment out of the play.
Josh Bush, FS
Snaps: 61 Stats: 1 hurry, 5 tackles, targeted once, allowing 1 catch for 2 yards, 1 interception.
Standing in for injured Darian Stewart, Bush’s game was quite the surprise. He was one of the better defenders out on the field, and played a great game. His presence was felt in the run game, and he was coming downhill as a physical presence. In coverage, he knew his assignment and executed it to perfection for a good portion of his coverage snaps.
Chris Harris, Jr., CB
Snaps: 72 Stats: 5 tackles, 4 missed tackles, targeted 17 times, allowing 14 catches for 164 yards and 2 touchdowns.
Not much to be said here. Harris had a tough matchup in Antonio Brown, but Harris didn’t play up to par. Normally, Harris played his game with great technique, executing on basic fundamentals, which he didn’t against the Steelers. It is hard to believe that even if he wasn’t matched up on Brown, that he wouldn’t have had a bad game. He was off all game, and it wasn’t just because of the matchup.
That wraps up all the players who started the game. Now time for the grades for the players who subbed into the game and saw ten or more snaps.
Vance Walker, DE
Snaps: 22 Stats: N/A.
When Walker hit the field there was an obvious change in overall performance between him and whichever of the three starters he was subbing in for. Now, he wasn’t bad for every snap, but he wasn’t good for very many. The Steelers offensive line just controlled him for most of his time on the field.
Antonio Smith, DE
Snaps: 17 Stats: N/A.
The pass rushing veteran looked bad rushing the passer. However, he looked really good when tasked to defend the run. Antonio was able to generate penetration that was forcing the ball carriers to change direction. Most notably, Smith got great penetration, forcing the ball carrier back outside where the outside linebacker had set the edge perfectly. Smith didn’t get the stop, the linebacker did, but a lot of credit goes to Smith who kept the running back from cutting back upfield.
Shaquil Barrett, OLB
Snaps: 31 Stats: 2 hurries, 2 tackles.
With Ware back as the starter, Barrett went back to subbing into the game. There were some good plays from him, especially against the run, but not many. When rushing the passer, he struggled to generate decent push. He managed to notch a couple of hurries with a couple of excellent pass rush moves.
Shane Ray, OLB
Snaps: 38 Stats: 1 sack, 2 hurries, 1 stop, 2 tackles.
The rookie pass rusher played the best game of the outside linebackers. He was generating consistent push that collapsed the pocket, and picked up a couple pressures and a sack himself. If he wasn’t getting the pressure, his play helped out a teammate to get the pressure. He was also outstanding defending the run. He is the linebacker who paired up with Antonio Smith on an excellent run stop that I talked about under Smith’s summary.
Bradley Roby, CB
Snaps: 58 Stats: 5 tackles, 5 missed tackles, targeted 15 times, allowing 9 catches for 84 yards and 1 touchdown.
Roby finalizes the “No Fly Zone” — being the “Fly all over us zone” for this Steelers game. All three top corners had an awful game, and Roby was the worst of the bunch. Playing a favorable matchup, Roby just couldn’t handle it. He just seemed to lose all kinds of discipline, and forgot the fundamentals in making a tackle. While he was the worst, grades cannot go below 0.0
Shiloh Keo, S
Snaps: 37 Stats: 2 tackles.
The two starting safeties played excellent games, but the backup was average. He did some things very well, and other things badly. Keo is a solid special teams player, but hopefully Denver gets healthy soon to keep Keo off the field.
Three players saw less than ten snaps. Linebacker Corey Nelson saw nine snaps, and all at the end of the game. With Talib and Harris coming in and out, this opened up opportunity for Kayvon Webster who saw seven snaps. He looked really good in his limited action. The final player was Todd Davis, who only saw the field for a single snap on defense.
With the grades done, I want to wish all of you a Happy Holidays.
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