Denver Broncos: Week 8 Position Grades

After an embarrassing loss to the San Diego Chargers on Thursday night, the Denver Broncos responded in a stellar defensive game plan on Sunday.

The Denver Broncos defense transported back to 2015 putting pressure on Phillip Rivers the minute Bradley Roby intercepted Rivers for a pick-six. Von Miller, Shane Ray, DeMarcus Ware and the rest of the vaunted Broncos pass rush gave their squad incentive to continue to beat Rivers to a pulp. However, the defense did not hit its stride until Roby’s turnover.

Joe Thomas would be an instant addition to the offensive line, but since the NFL Trade Deadline passed the Broncos gave that unit confidence. In the Chargers’ Sunday matchup, the front line of the offense still faced issues controlling the nose tackle and ends. Kubiak’s identity to throw on first down at times may be the cause of the Broncos’ slow start on the offensive line.

A CJ Anderson-less running attack did it see struggles; however, once the offensive line had momentum, Devontae Booker run hard yet again. Booker’s did fumble for the first time since the Carolina game, which would have extended it to a three-score advantage. The fumble from Booker is a rookie mistake, but the young back is showing in the season ability to think about the next play.

The next play mantra is something the team uses during games and serves them well in dealing with adversity. It was the 2015 Denver Broncos who prided themselves in elite defense and middle-of-the-pack offense.

Let’s get these positional grades started.

Quarterbacks Grade: C

Oct 30, 2016; Denver, CO, USA; Denver Broncos quarterback Trevor Siemian (13) yells at the line of scrimmage in the third quarter against the San Diego Chargers at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. The Broncos won 27-19. Mandatory Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

The Denver Broncos quarterback, Trevor Siemian played decent at times; however, his intended throws to wide receivers may have changed the outcome completely. Siemian made better decisions later into the game and at times his targets would bail him out every now and then on throws. There is just an area he needs to learn as a passer in the NFL.

Fans tend to look back at the offense from last year as a possible template to repeat. Why not? Gary Kubiak’s offense relied on a pummeling ground attack in CJ Anderson and Ronnie Hillman last season. Now the coach appears to have more weapons at his disposal from the running backs. This allows a quarterback to limit the damage by not turning the ball over. In the Chargers game, there were times Siemian made the wrong throw to receivers that backfired only once in a pick-six.

Siemian played through an injury in the Thursday matchup with the Chargers. Fast forward to Sunday, he was crisp on his throws with plenty of zip. He still needs to extend drives by taking chances. Dink and dunk throws are successful in the NFL because the passers throw past the first down marker on third down. This is where Siemian has to play well. The offense needs to take more chances, but still limit the turnovers and he continued that trend. Siemian earns a C grade.

Running Backs Grade: B-

Oct 30, 2016; Denver, CO, USA; San Diego Chargers inside linebacker Korey Toomer (56) forces a fumble against Denver Broncos running back Devontae Booker (23) in the third quarter at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. The Broncos won 27-19. Mandatory Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

CJ Anderson played through a knee injury after sustaining it in the first quarter of the Houston Texans game. The Broncos are now without their bowling ball running back, but they plugged Devontae Booker in his spot as the next man up. Booker ran with purpose and flashed his talent in the receiving area on Sunday.

The offensive line woes continue to stall what happens in the ground-and-pound attack. Some say Kubiak needs to start the game with a run. That may be the case. One thing is for sure, confidence has to be in Booker’s head no matter the play call. If it is not a run finish the play like it is a run and continue to help in pass protection.

Booker did not fumble since his first carry against the Carolina Panthers, but it came back to haunt them on Sunday. The rookie running back needs the show better awareness in carrying the football when he is close to the red zone. If Booker scored when the lead was 17-7, then the game changes momentum yet again. In his first half season of the NFL, Booker’s mental toughness is spectacular to play to the next possession. Look for Booker to bounce back after the turn over, but he played well earning a B- grade.

Wide Receivers Grade: B+
Tight Ends Grade: B-

Oct 30, 2016; Denver, CO, USA; Denver Broncos wide receiver Demaryius Thomas (88) makes a catch while defended by San Diego Chargers cornerback Casey Hayward (26) in the fourth quarter at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. The Broncos won 27-19. Mandatory Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

The wide receiver corps in Denver is incredibly deep. For that, it can be difficult to determine the true number one. Demaryius Thomas on paper is the bonafide number one, but after the season Emmanuel Sanders had last year he took over that role. Another problem in Thomas is a possible the effort in finishing routes and runs after catch. Once Thomas fixes his drops, he will become a great target for Trevor Siemian or Paxton Lynch. At home against the Chargers, Thomas made the highlight reel, yet again.

Thomas is a Jekyll and Hyde wide receiver. There is the good and bad, but then a wow. In a critical moment of the game, Thomas made a spectacular catch over a defender stealing a near interception. The Broncos would put up points on the drive, but for fans that is the DT, some are waiting to see.

Sanders dove for a spectacular catch of his own, laying his body out for the grab. Both Sanders and Thomas made Siemian look better than he appeared, but the quarterback deserves credit for the throw. Jordan “Sunshine” Taylor added a big catch on third down versus the Chargers leading to a score. No Cody Latimer, meant more Jordan Norwood who lacks the ideal size to fit for every yard. Norwood is a small receiver, but Latimer if healthy would present better size to extend drives on third down.

The Broncos wide receivers performed better than any group on offense deserving a B+ grade.

The Broncos made a trade for AJ Derby from the New England Patriots. Yes, the Broncos completed a deal with the enemy. Based on Derby’s measurable and upside, the Broncos may thank the Patriots for making the transaction. Derby is acquired due to lack of usage and production from the tight ends. However, the position saw plenty of targets against the Chargers.

Virgil Green is one of many unsung MVPs on the team’s offense and player not used to his strengths. He is a Pro Bowl blocker deserving of the contract extension, but it is the threat in the passing game that makes him a nightmare to defend. Siemian found Green on a seam route and short, intermediate throws to convert third down.

There should be credit given to Gary Kubiak and Rick Dennison to involve Green in the passing game. It is the run protection that still needs to be better in protecting Donald Stephenson and Russell Okung on possible double teams. Tight ends receive a B- from Sunday.

Offensive Line Grade: C

Oct 30, 2016; Denver, CO, USA; Denver Broncos offensive guard Michael Schofield (79) and defensive end Joey Bosa (99) go after a fumble by Denver Broncos quarterback Trevor Siemian (13) (bottom right) in the second quarter against the San Diego Chargers at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

In Thursday’s game against the San Diego Chargers, the offensive line received good news as Donald Stephenson returned back to the lineup. Stephenson played poorly facing Joey Bosa most of the night. A young quarterback makes any defender lick its chops. It is up to the “hog mollies” upfront to not let any pressure hit the quarterback.

Problems continued on Sunday as Stephenson, Garcia and Schofield failed to maintain any sort of good hand placement in blocking. This allowed Bosa and Melvin Ingram clean Siemian’s clock every chance they were given. Russell Okung became a hot target in the penalty department, but the Broncos’ best offensive linemen played well all told.

The identity crisis of the offensive line needs to be figured out, since we are now in the mid-season of the NFL. When the Broncos face the Oakland Raiders on Sunday Night Football, they must do what all linemen love and run the ball at the teeth of the Raiders. This gives the offensive more time to gel during the game in both passing and running. John Elway and the rest of the front office gave the group a boost by not acquiring Joe Thomas or Joe Staley from the Browns and 49ers, respectively.

Defensive Line Grade: C+

Oct 9, 2016; Denver, CO, USA; Denver Broncos defensive end Jared Crick (93) and defensive tackle Adam Gotsis (99) and nose tackle Sylvester Williams (92) before the game against the Atlanta Falcons at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

During Sunday’s game with the San Diego Chargers the Denver Broncos’ defensive unit found its 2015 identity, punching San Diego in the mouth. Despite all the punches thrown, Sylvester Williams and the rest of the line upfront struggled did a good job limiting a big run from Melvin Gordon. That was until late in the second half.

The rush defense is a continued problem for the Broncos that need to be corrected quickly with week nine coming this weekend. For the defensive line to allow its first 100-yard rusher since last year speaks to the depth Denver has as a whole unit. The depth is lacking without Malik Jackson, but the defense is still leading the team in sacks. As sack leaders in the NFL, that is more to do with Von Miller, Shane and the rest of the pass-rushing linebackers. However, the push from the inside cannot be understated.

A change in rush defense starts upfront by Williams. He needs to perform better than previous weeks in gap integrity. Williams is struggling to get consistent pressure in the backfield on the quarterback and the runner. There is a positive to glean from the Chargers game. Phillip Rivers’ quirky delivery allows linemen to time the throw blocking it at the line of scrimmage.

Linebackers Grade: B

Oct 30, 2016; Denver, CO, USA; San Diego Chargers tackle Joe Barksdale (72) pass blocks on Denver Broncos outside linebacker DeMarcus Ware (94) as quarterback Philip Rivers (17) scrambles away in the fourth quarter at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. The Broncos defeated the Chargers 27-19. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Another blow to the Broncos team is the loss of Brandon Marshall. The extent of time missed is unknown, but his presence was felt on the field. Yet, the linebackers Corey Nelson and Todd Davis played well enough for fans to forget Marshall for a game. Davis still loses contain every now and then in clogging the holes, but he played better.

Nelson is the run stuffer of the two of them. He also has better coverage skills than Davis helping shut Hunter Henry down for most of the game. Because of the absence of Marshall, TJ Ward played a hybrid role again on the defense in covering Antonio Gates on passing plays. Both Nelson and Davis still gave up decent yardage from Melvin Gordon at times, but Gordon earned every yard.

The pass-rushing linebackers Von Miller and Shane Ray saw a familiar face on the sideline as DeMarcus Ware returned. Ware’s sight on defense gives the unit leadership and production to stop the run more consistently. Phillip Rivers’ saw pressure from Ware on a possible forced fumble that would later be overturned to a pass. It was still a sight to behold with him on the sideline. His snaps will rise and this last game was a great measuring stick to the Oakland Raiders game this Sunday.

Secondary Grade: B+

Oct 30, 2016; Denver, CO, USA; Denver Broncos cornerback Bradley Roby (29) returns a interception for a touchdown in the second quarter against the San Diego Chargers at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

The last biggest piece of the Denver Broncos’ secondary was missing from Sunday against the San Diego Chargers: Aqib Talib. Talib is a shutdown corner that is on a possible track to a Hall of Fame career. The team did not miss his step as Bradley Roby assumed the role of replacement.

Roby turned a Phillip Rivers’ deflection into a pick-six making his presence felt for the first interception of the season. Chris Harris played the entire game eliminating the threat of a big play. A lucky play by Travis Benjamin drew the Chargers closer, but the defense never felt threatened once they had the lead. The Broncos secondary stole three throws from Rivers, who flirted with trouble all game on deflection after deflection.

This could become an important performance for the secondary, but despite the success in coverage, the position group is graded a B for allowing over 250 passing yards. The pass defense still averages less than 200-yards a game. Teams still fear the secondary, since the depth of the team is unmatched.

The next opponent for the Denver Broncos is the Oakland Raiders. Derek Carr threw for 500-yards against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, but he will have a hard time duplicate such task against the Broncos secondary.

Special Teams Grade: A

Oct 13, 2016; San Diego, CA, USA; Denver Broncos kicker Brandon McManus (8) kicks a field goal as punter Riley Dixon (9) holds for him against the San Diego Chargers during the second quarter at Qualcomm Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

Special team is an incredible weapon as a field kicker, punter and returner. The Denver Broncos on Sunday showed two facets from Brandon McManus and Riley Dixon. McManus was perfect on the afternoon, but did not attempt a field goal over 50-yards, but still performed well.

Dixon made the underrated play of the game, when the offense was backed up on the two-yard line. He boomed a 68-yard punt with a little over two minutes remaining. Dixon proved the strong leg is worthy to be drafted after his performance earning a game ball from the coaches after the game. If the Broncos are not succeeding in the return game, then there needs to be game changers from their kickers instead.

Jordan Norwood ran well, but the lack of momentum changes on their side is a bit disturbing. He is a better returner than people give him credit for; however, he there does not seem to be the incentive to perform like it. The Broncos showed interest in Michael Campanaro in previous weeks and it is safe to say, if it continues the team needs to change this area. Omar Bolden appears to still be a free agent if the Broncos chose to look in his direction, but right now that appears to be unlikely. Overall, the special teams earns an A grade.

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