Denver Broncos: Week 12 Position Grades
The Denver Broncos displayed the offensive identity for the first time since week one, while the defense and special teams let them down against Kansas City.
In an interesting twist of fate, the Denver Broncos defense let them down for the first time all season. The special teams unit added insult to injury from miscues by Jordan Norwood. An argument may be made he cost the team all nine points for the Kansas City Chiefs in the first half.
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The first half offense played pedestrian, but Gary Kubiak unleashed his entire offensive playbook in the second half. Trevor Siemian and the rest of the offense scored 24 points in the second, which is a win for any team with our defense. However, defense struggled for the final three minutes of the fourth quarter and overtime.
Last year, the Broncos’ defense prided itself in playing a full 60 minutes. Yesterday, the No Fly Zone and Orange Rush could not stop the Chiefs when it mattered the most. It is a tall order to put pressure on our defensive unit for that long, but there were numerous chances for the Broncos defense to put the Chiefs away.
Siemian on the other hand, put forth a valiant effort to carry the team to a victory. He performed like a champ according to Kubiak and deserves plenty of credit for competing like he had nothing to lose.
Yet, through it all this is still a difficult loss to take and maybe the worst one of the season.
Quarterbacks Grade: A
The Denver Broncos quarterback situation is sparatic all season, but last night may be a sign of the future. If anything, Trevor Siemian’s performance proved our youth movement at the quarterback position is the best option going forward. Siemian’s play in this pivotal Chiefs game could be a game changer in his confidence. We will see what he does for an encore at Jacksonville.
Siemian on the season has not played well at home statistically. But, if this is a sign of what to expect, sign me up. Head coach Gary Kubiak and the rest of the coaches stated during the week Siemian needed to use his legs and extend plays. The touchdown pass to Jordan Taylor brought plenty of memories of Jake Plummer and yes, John Elway, as well. It truly was a valiant effort for a quarterback who continues to be scrutinized every game.
Therefore, Siemian earned a “A’ grade for the first time on the season. I understand that may alarm a lot of people, but that performance became incredible when seeing the chances he took in the second half. Siemian made Bob Sutton, Chiefs defensive coordinator, pay all game long. This is a game changer for the ex-Northwestern quarterback if it continues; however, do not hold your breath.
Running Backs Grade: B-
The Denver Broncos drafted Devontae Booker to be the possible future running back of the franchise. Yesterday, the fans caught a glimpse of why the team is bullish for his future. According to some reports after the 2016 NFL Draft, the Broncos rated Booker the highest on their board. Against the Chiefs, we saw why some scouts said Broncos/Booker is a perfect marriage.
It was tough sledding in the first half, but the second half Broncos made a concerted effort to get Booker started. Booker finished the game with a hard earned 76 yards rushing; yet, he flashed the potential as a three-down back catching a key third and long in the second half. It was only one catch, but that reception proved instrumental late in the game.
Kapri Bibbs’ carries are continuing to grow in the offense. He finished with 9 on the night, but paid the price for every yard he tried to earn. Eric Berry and Derrick Johnson hammered the ex-CSU Ram sending him to the sidelines for a possible concussion. Bibbs would later return. Bibbs’ improved workload is nothing new. Gary Kubiak said a couple weeks back he would like to feed Bibbs more.
Overall, the running game earned a B- because of the ability to stick to the run and make it pay off later in the game. Also, the holes became larger due to fullback Andy Janovich not supporting a club on his hand and the offensive line opened lanes in second half.
Wide Receivers Grade: B+
Tight Ends Grade: B
Similarly, Trevor Siemian’s momentum continued after the bye week against a top-5 defense in the Kansas City Chiefs. The Denver Broncos quarterback took chances down the field and chose not to challenge Marcus Peters much in the loss. This allowed Emmanuel Sanders to take center stage on Sunday Night Football. Ed McCaffrey is forever remembered in Broncos history as a “tough as nails” wide receiver and one the team might never find again.
Fast-forward twenty years later, the team found his equal. Sanders got up quickly after a bruising hit by Eric Berry. This hit alone fueled the Pro-Bowl wide receiver to gain big plays consistently. Sanders finished with 162 yards and a touchdown. There may not be a debate anymore who the number one receiver is in the Broncos offense. However, Demaryius Thomas made a case sparingly to him being the first target also. Despite Peters’ coverage, Thomas still ended the game with five catches and 60 yards.
By the way, Bennie Fowler and Jordan Taylor are competing for the fourth and third wide receiver position on the roster. Both Fowler and Taylor came back to the ball and trusted Siemian to make the throw necessary in its respective spots. Jordan Norwood’s spot not as returner may not be the only thing in limbo. Norwood is the slot receiver in the Broncos offense, but his reliability is now questioned after miscues on special teams. Wide Receiver position gets a B+ grade.
The Broncos were searching for an answer at tight end for the past few years. John Elway drafted Jeff Heuerman hoping he would answer the call, but the team traded for AJ Derby and the franchise’s famous quarterback, now executive looks like a genius.
Furthermore, Derby made numerous, clutch catches on third down to extend drives. A reliable tight end is vital to a Gary Kubiak offense and especially for a young quarterback. The Broncos were backed up near their end zone, but Siemian eluded the pressure sliding to his left and found Derby on 3rd and 11. Derby is the talent the Broncos need on offense to stretch the field and become a focal point along with Virgil Green.
Although Green did not catch a single pass, he made an impact in the running game. Derby added a key block to spring the running game. If the Broncos have a semblance of a rushing attack with two blocking tight ends it helps seal both edges for Devontae Booker and Kapri Bibbs. Tight ends tally a B grade, but can easily be better.
Offensive Line Grade: C-
It goes without saying, the biggest need and liability is the offensive line. The Denver Broncos did the right thing replacing Ty Sambrailo for Donald Stephenson; however it ended badly for Sambrailo. Justin Houston bulldozed a path to Trevor Siemian. Therefore, the Broncos made the right call switching back to Stephenson.
Despite Stephenson’s few bad moments should not take away from a decent game against his former club. Houston is relentless and hard to keep away from a quarterback, but overall Stephenson performed admirably in substituting for Sambrailo. The tackle position might be rounding into form if the Broncos offensive line can play like they did in the second half. Unfortunately, consistency is not there for the young offensive line. In what would be another “F” grade, the unit managed to work its way back to “C-” rating.
This is more than likely not the only time Broncos will shuffle the offensive line; however, this may be the last time Sambrailo plays right tackle. Sambrailo best position is guard. It is up to the Broncos to choose what is best for the team in that department. We are in week 12 of the season; therefore, changes must be fixed now. Hopefully, the Broncos carry the second half performance against the Chiefs to the Jacksonville game next weekend.
Defensive Line Grade: B
There are no worries for a defense, which continues to play to the end of the whistle and game. Somehow all that changed for three minutes of the Kansas City Chiefs Sunday Night Football matchup. The Denver Broncos were back to their 2015 ways for 57 minutes, but when it mattered the most the unit let the team down.
Derek Wolfe returned from his injury supporting a brace on his right arm and performed admirably. Jared Crick continued his momentum from the Saints adding pressure in run defense. However, as the Chiefs are used to doing, they wear teams down with a rushing attack keeping the defense honest. This alone helps the passing assault of Alex Smith and his respective targets.
For the majority of the game the Broncos did a tremendous keeping their gap integrity strong and not limit Spencer Ware to monster gains. In the fourth quarter, the running game saw some daylight. Ware’s impressive run came in the final minutes and overtime. Darian Stewart attempted to break up the run to the left side, but Ware broke the tackle for a loss and stumbled forward for five yards. A “B” grade for Wolfe, Crick and the rest of the defensive seems appropriate given the team’s lack of focus late in the fourth quarter and overtime.
Linebackers Grade: B+
Brandon Marshall deserves a gold medal for playing on a hurt hamstring and doing it quite well. Marshall’s presence in filling now-Chicago Bears linebacker Danny Trevathan’s old role is tremendous. It is nothing short of amazing to see him play every down and cover the league’s best tight end. Todd Davis competed in maybe his better game of the year. His run defense was better, but is suspect overall on the season. Do I think Davis is the long-term answer at linebacker? No. However, he played decent Sunday.
In case you are wondering or living under a rock for the better part of five years, Von Miller is the best pure pass rushing linebacker in the NFL. Since DeMarcus Ware’s presence a couple years back, Miller is adding another feature to his disruptive game: pass coverage. This moves Miller in a category all by himself as the best defensive player in football. He made plays against the Chiefs in the open field in coverage, which no pass rush linebacker can do. He would total 3.0 sacks in the game matching Justin Houston’s total, but the Chiefs came out on top.
Generally, the Broncos played well at the linebacker position to earn “B+” grade, but Miller spoke after the game placing the blame on the defense as a whole that let them down. This is what to expect from a leader.
Secondary Grade: C+
Much like Derek Wolfe, the Broncos received a boost to their position group in the secondary in Aqib Talib. Talib’s presence back to the “No Fly Zone” is enough to put them over the top and maybe the difference in games. Against the Chiefs, the Denver Broncos lost assignment to one person they could ill afford to not cover: Tyreek Hill.
During college, Hill played a couple years at Oklahoma State and proved to be one of the more electrifying players. Due a significant lack in judgment, he was kicked off the team. Now, Hill doing the same in the NFL.
Unfortunately, the secondary made critical errors in key moments of the game with penalties and mental mistakes. Bradley Roby cannot play soft coverage against a speedy receiver like Hill and expect him to come to him. Roby needs to play press, man-to-man on the fourth down. If he closes quickly on Hill’s route game is over.
The Chiefs play on strength, as do the Broncos. Do not be concerned this is a long term problem for the Broncos heading into a possible playoff run. Trevor Siemian and the rest of the playmakers on offense must show the same confidence week after week. Defense will be fine.
Special Teams Grade: D-
In case you are wondering, special teams defense historically is a staple of a Joe DeCamilis unit. Kayvon Webster and the lack of filling in the lanes on punt returns cost the team field position. Tyreek Hill’s speed is a game changer and he made the Broncos pay on the safety return.
Equally, Hill’s safety return would not happen if it was not for Jordan Norwood’s play in the Broncos punt return. He fumbled a punt from Colquitt, picked it up at the five and did not move. Justin Houston sacked Trevor Siemian on that ensuing drive resulting in the safety. One could argue Norwood was responsible for all nine points in the second half. His performance is in large part why they received a D- grade.
Also, Brandon McManus attempted the game-winning field goal in overtime on a gutsy call from Gary Kubiak. Kubiak’s call was the right one at that moment of the game. 1:00 minute left from a tie on 4th and 10. Now the Broncos were caught in a tough spot. I expected Tyreek Hill to return the field goal bringing back memories of the Chris Davis return in the Auburn Tigers and Alabama Crimson Tide matchup a couple years back.