Denver Broncos: Week 5 Position Grades

The Denver Broncos suffered their first loss against the Atlanta Falcons. A difficult game to swallow, but there are position grades to evaluate.

Oct 9, 2016; Denver, CO, USA; Denver Broncos strong safety T.J. Ward (43) celebrates his fumble recovery with cornerback Chris Harris Jr. (25) in the third quarter against the Atlanta Falcons at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. The Falcons won 23-16. Mandatory Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

Oct 9, 2016; Denver, CO, USA; Denver Broncos strong safety T.J. Ward (43) celebrates his fumble recovery with cornerback Chris Harris Jr. (25) in the third quarter against the Atlanta Falcons at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. The Falcons won 23-16. Mandatory Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

The Denver Broncos suffered their first loss of the season against the Atlanta Falcons. It is a difficult game to swallow and there are plenty of positional grades to evaluate.

Trevor Siemian was inactive, leaving Paxton Lynch an opportunity for his first NFL start. Lynch would struggle to get rid of the ball or tuck it and scramble for positive yards. However, the offensive line did Lynch no favors with porous play allowing Vic Beasley to channel his inner Khalil Mack, sacking Lynch four times.

The struggles of the offensive line allowed no room for CJ Anderson and Devontae Booker because the Falcons man-handled Ty Sambrailo and Max Garcia for the whole game. Even the short yardage downs added another week of concern for the offense.

The secondary did fine against the wide receivers of the Falcons, but the linebackers did a horrendous job of covering Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman. The linebackers struggled to keep up with the speedy backs, which was another area of concern.

It is not often a coach out-smarts Gary Kubiak, but yesterday Dan Quinn did a better job of coaching than the Broncos’ head coach. Wade Phillips managed the game poorly from the defense not making the necessary adjustments to stop the running game or catches from their backfield.

Let’s take a look at the grades for every Broncos position group:

Quarterbacks Grade: C-

Oct 9, 2016; Denver, CO, USA; Denver Broncos quarterback Paxton Lynch (12) is sacked by Atlanta Falcons outside linebacker Vic Beasley (44) in the second half at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. The Falcons defeated the Broncos 23-16. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Paxton Lynch replaced the injured Trevor Siemian and did well at times, but failed to get rid of the ball quicker, unlike Siemian before him. Lynch’s problems in Training Camp haunted him on Sunday showing bad pocket presence and a fear to step up in the pocket at times to avoid the rush.

Lynch is a rookie and played like one yesterday, but the play of Siemian had this team at 4-0 with him as the starter. Siemian is expected to be back on Thursday Night according to a report from NFL Network. This is good news for a team who struggled to take chances downfield because of the lack of the running game.

Lynch will be fine in the future, but for his first NFL start, it was underwhelming to say the least. In the preseason, he gave glimpses of his growth with each game; however for the Broncos to succeed this season, Siemian needs to start for the team to have any success.

Siemian has better accuracy at this point due to games played and reps with the wide receivers. One area Lynch must get better is getting out of a huddle quicker to set up the offense for the play. Another concern for Lynch is hand placement to avoid strip sacks. Vic Beasley took advantage of that weakness when he was in the backfield.

Running Backs Grade: C

Oct 9, 2016; Denver, CO, USA; Denver Broncos running back Devontae Booker (23) is tackled by Atlanta Falcons cornerback Robert Alford (23) in the fourth quarter at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. The Falcons won 23-16. Mandatory Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

The running game failed to get going for the third straight week and the loss of Donald Stephenson/Virgil Green continues to loom large for the Denver Broncos. CJ Anderson had one great run in the read option, but that was all to show of another bad day from Anderson.

Devontae Booker played well to earn a C and might have well started a debate of who should be the bell cow at running back for the Broncos going forward. Booker is running with more intent right now, but as history has told us over the past couple seasons, Anderson is one of the best second half running backs in the NFL. This may explain why the Broncos drafted Booker in the fourth round of this year’s NFL Draft.

After his fumble on his first NFL carry, Booker has picked up nicely in the passing game and in the running game, but the short yardage gains are a cause for alarm. Anderson, as big as he is, has to be able to pick up the first down on third and short. In my opinion, the running game will get a head of steam once Stephenson and Green come back to the fold.

Wide Receivers Grade: B
Tight Ends Grade: D+

Oct 9, 2016; Denver, CO, USA; Denver Broncos wide receiver Demaryius Thomas (88) reaches the ball over the goal line for a touchdown against Atlanta Falcons cornerback Robert Alford (23) and nose tackle Jonathan Babineaux (95) and defensive back Brian Poole (34) in the fourth quarter at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. The Falcons won 23-16. Mandatory Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

Emmanuel Sanders and Demaryius Thomas totaled 129 yards receiving between the two of them. This is a bit of contrast to the past couple weeks with Trevor Siemian under center. Paxton Lynch found Sanders on a great bucket pass netting 26-yards, but easily could have resulted in more. Thomas caught five passes for 49 yards and a score, but his yard total is down from previous weeks.

All things considered, the wide receivers did a fairly decent job with a new quarterback on Sunday, but not enough to help him out. Bennie Fowler made up for his miss last week catching two passes from Lynch. The more reps these receivers get from Lynch and Siemian the higher the ceiling of the offense.

Thomas’ lone touchdown for the wide receiver group nets them a B. In fact, his touchdown now puts Thomas five touchdowns away from passing Shannon Sharpe (55) for the Broncos all-time. In this short week, there should be more intensity from the wide receivers and offense against the Chargers.

Tight end was an empty bag of targets and receptions. The loss of Virgil Green proves he is the unsung MVP on the Broncos offense. Everything the team has been wanting to do on offense, whether running the ball or throwing, proves Green’s worth.

Jeff Heuerman has gotten limited work in the pass game. Aside from the monster (lone) catch in the Bengals game two weeks ago, the tight end group is struggling to produce. John Phillips is also seeing the field, and is the better blocker on runs designed for his side. The Falcons defense eliminated about everything the Broncos could do on offense. Tight Ends get a D+.

Offensive Line Grade: F

Oct 2, 2016; Tampa, FL, USA; Denver Broncos offensive tackle Ty Sambrailo (74) blocks as Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive end Noah Spence (57) rushes during the first half at Raymond James Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

After a four-sack performance from Vic Beasley, the offensive line had the poorest performances of any group in the game Sunday. Beasley channeled Khalil Mack against Ty Sambrailo, who is clearly not 100 percent at week five. The offensive line misses Donald Stephenson badly.

The Broncos’ running backs with Stephenson at right tackle averaged five yards a carry, but since his calf injury, the backs are now averaging three and a half yards a pop. This is a stark contrast for a team who misses their starting right tackle.

Paxton Lynch tried showing confidence in the offensive line yesterday, but failed miserably. Sometimes Lynch was on the ground before he could even make a decision of where to go with the ball.

Much like the loss to Virgil Green, the Broncos’ offensive line should get better when Stephenson comes back to the lineup. Ty Sambrailo at right tackle is not the answer. A C+ grade last week drops to a pathetic F because of the play by Sambrailo.

Defensive Line Grade: D

Oct 9, 2016; Denver, CO, USA; Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan (2) is sacked by Denver Broncos defensive end Derek Wolfe (95) and outside linebacker Shane Ray (56) in the second quarter at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

The Denver Broncos defensive line had the best grade out of any position group last week against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, earning an A+. In the loss against the Atlanta Falcons, the defensive line failed to put pressure on the Falcons. Alex Mack is a Pro-Bowl caliber center that gave Sylvester Williams problems along with Derek Wolfe and Jared Crick.

Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman ran past the defensive line due to the manhandling going on in the trenches. Just about every play, the Broncos were pushed three-to-four steps back. The strength of the Falcons proved to be too much for Derek Wolfe, Sylvester Williams, Jared Crick, and the rest of the defensive line. They now have a short week to prepare for the San Diego Chargers Thursday night.

There is not a cause for concern necessarily for the Broncos defensive line, but they have struggled this season in stopping the run. Freeman and Coleman gave them all they could handle, but the Broncos will not face a running game that dynamic for the rest of the season. The defensive line needs to create pressure on opposing quarterbacks as well, to force those third and long situations to let their pass rushers eat.

Linebackers Grade: C+

Oct 9, 2016; Denver, CO, USA; Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan (2) looks to pass as tackle Ryan Schraeder (73) blocks against Denver Broncos outside linebacker Von Miller (58) in the third quarter at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. The Falcons won 23-16. Mandatory Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

It was not the tight ends that gave the Denver Broncos problems on defense; it was the running backs of the Atlanta Falcons. Tevin Coleman gave the linebackers nightmares as a receiver and runner out of the backfield. Coleman, coming out of college was an underrated athlete at the time, but now people understand why Indiana struck gold with him.

Coleman totaled 163 yards from scrimmage against a Broncos defense that prides itself on great linebacker play. Brandon Marshall did all he could to stay with Coleman and Freeman, but one man can only do so much as a linebacker. Todd Davis is one player on defense the Broncos may need to substitute out at some point. His coverage skills are not up to par with that of Marshall’s.

Zaire Anderson could take them to the next level, since he is hybrid player. He played safety, but mostly linebacker at Nebraska and performed exceptionally well in the preseason.

Overall though, Shane Ray and Von Miller did their thing defensively to stop Matt Ryan and create pressure to stall a drive. However, Davis’ lack of coverage became a liability throughout the game. A running back should never have 132 yards receiving against this defense, but it became a problem Marshall and Davis could not solve. Miller is an MVP candidate, but for the defense to rebound as a whole it starts with better defensive line and linebacker play on a short week.

Secondary Grade: B+

Oct 9, 2016; Denver, CO, USA; Denver Broncos strong safety T.J. Ward (43) celebrates his fumble recovery with cornerback Chris Harris Jr. (25) in the third quarter against the Atlanta Falcons at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. The Falcons won 23-16. Mandatory Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

The secondary outshined everyone on the defense against the Atlanta Falcons proving to be another nuisance. Yet, every time Tevin Coleman or Devonta Freeman reached the next level, there was no answer from Darian Stewart. Aqib Talib and Chris Harris did a great job covering the wide receivers of the Falcons. The Broncos travel to San Diego on Thursday for their Color Rush game. The Chargers do not have the weapons they once had with the loss of Keenan Allen.

Julio Jones came off a 300-yard receiving performance, but failed to get anything going offensively with Harris and Talib blanketing him all game. TJ Ward and Stewart played well, but Stewart would sometimes play soft covering Coleman on opportunities allowing Falcons’ running backs to sneak in for a touchdown. Ward forced a fumble that changed momentum at the time, but the Broncos offense added just a field goal.

Coming on Thursday, the Broncos we will be tested with the short week, but the defense prides themselves on raising their play. Look for them to respond as a group. The Broncos secondary prides itself on turning the ball over and sometimes having those plays be scores. They are still the best defense in the league. It is better to have these games early in the season versus in weeks 12-16.

Special Teams Grade: B-

Oct 2, 2016; Tampa, FL, USA; Denver Broncos wide receiver Cody Latimer (14) runs with the ball against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during the second half at Raymond James Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Special teams still lack that punch on kickoffs and punt returns, but Jordan Norwood does a good enough job to start a drive in good field position. However, Norwood made an unfortunate brain cramp costing the team a good start to a drive. The ball would be placed at the one-yard line and the first play was interception by Lynch. Norwood’s decision not to field a punt proved costly.

Cody Latimer at times is sucked into the big moment of a game and feels he can make a play on kickoffs; however, every time he advances deep in the end zone, the field position becomes compromised. If this continues, the team has to make a move for a different player or tell Latimer to never take it out and down the ball.

Kicking and punting were the positives in the group as Riley Dixon is starting to get more and more comfortable as punter for the Denver Broncos. Brandon McManus was 3/3 on field goals kicking one late off the cross bar. McManus can be an x-factor with his leg, but he needs to be accurate beyond fifty like last year and in the clutch. Overall, the special teams unit played well and graded at B-.

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