Throughout the entire 2017-18 season, BSN Denver will be giving you game grades from every Denver Broncos contest. Evaluating all of the starters and beyond to give you a better look at the team's strengths and weaknesses on a game-to-game basis.
So, here we go with our first grades of the regular season from the Broncos nail-biting 24-21 win over the Los Angeles Chargers.
Domata Peko: B
It was hard to miss Peko impacting the run and clogging up interior gaps. The big man in the middle was stuck on the field in one of the final drives as the Chargers were running their hurry up and looked very much out of place having to create pressure. Aside from that, he did what he’s here for, clogging gaps and improving the run defense. Melvin Gordon’s worst rushing game against the Orange & Blue since he was a rookie was in large part thanks to the Broncos newest nose guard.
Derek Wolfe: C-
Wolfe didn’t look like himself in this one and seemed to clearly still be slowed down by his injury. He was washed downhill on a few too many runs where he struggled to keep his balance and hold his ground. He was sidelined for a period, and his impact against the pass wasn’t much better as he contributed little pressure. Expect improvement as his health takes the next step and he works back into shape.
Adam Gotsis: A
Gotsis had his NFL breakout game and finally looked healthy, playing to his full potential on Monday night. The former second-round pick was a monster against the run, creating tackles for a loss and generally stuffing runs left and right. When the Chargers didn’t run his way, Gotsis was running-down plays with a relentless tenacity.
He was used predominantly against the run, while Shelby Harris did his thing against the pass. But his impact was certainly felt, and it’ll be nice to see him used as an interior rusher in the future.
Von Miller: A-
Miller didn't have one of his greatest performances as far as impacting and finishing lots of plays, but he took lots of attention away from the Chargers line. At times Von was even triple teamed but was mostly facing double blocks and constant chips. As the game progressed, he was able to create more pressure and became a factor rushing the passer. He also impacted the run when LA dared run his way. Simply Von being Von.
Todd Davis: B-
Davis factored in as a run stopper as he usually does. He did have one negative play in coverage where he was beaten by Gordon on his touchdown reception.
Davis made up for it with a clutch tackle for a loss on 4th-and-short as he broke through the line and blew up Gordon in the process coming up with the stop.
Brandon Marshall: B-
Marshall made his presence felt throughout the night both defending the run and in underneath coverage —an underrated part of his performance. His biggest tackle came in space on Travis Benjamin when a busted screen nearly broke open on 3rd-and-10, but Marshall saved the day. He did have a few missed tackles against the run but a solid outing aside from that.
Shaquil Barrett: A-
Barrett didn’t show much rust in his first taste of in-game action this season and was Denver’s most consistent source of pressure on Phillip Rivers. He was a factor all day, creating pressure opposite Miller and taking advantage of the one-on-one matchups he was facing.
He caused a crucial pressure on 3rd-and-2 right after the two-minute drill in the second quarter that could have been disastrous if he didn’t get through and force a rushed throw. He then really put the Chargers on their heels when already down 21-7 and sacking Rivers after blowing by Okung on 1st-and-10.
Darian Stewart: B+
Stewart made two outstanding tackles in space on Gordon to turn potential big gainers into plays for no gain or a loss of yards. The Broncos veteran safety was a presence over the middle all day, coming downhill with a purpose and closing on plays with a violent mastery.
He is a guilty party on the Benjamin 38-yard score, but it looks like it was busted coverage in which he didn’t get corner help. Overall, his presence was felt and crucial for Denver to pull off the win.
Justin Simmons: B-
Simmons was very active, especially early on in cleaning up the garbage as the run game was getting through to the second level. As the game wore on, he played a few more snaps close to the line and made an impact against the run and on a few blitz opportunities.
He didn’t look good on two touchdown plays. First, as Gordon jumped over him to score the Chargers' first TD of the game, and then when Chris Harris seemed upset that he didn’t get help on Keenan Allen’s score.
Overall a solid game in which he was a reliable last line of defense and allowed very few plays to LA's receivers.
Chris Harris Jr.: B
In the early going, it seemed as if the few times the ball was thrown to Harris’ side it was only on short routes and the receiver never held onto the ball. He did allow the Allen touchdown with eight minutes left, but that looked like it wasn’t all his fault. He seemed to get lots of respect from Rivers who didn't target his side much and deservedly so.
Aqib Talib: A-
Talib allowed a couple of short passes early on, but his biggest play came when he tackled and stopped Allen short of the sticks, forcing a 4th-and-1 in the fourth quarter that resulted in a punt. He battled and didn’t allow anything other than a few throws underneath that he quickly closed down on.
Other noteworthy defensive performances
Shelby Harris was outstanding, playing a lot of snaps against the pass and creating some pressure. He had a nice quarterback hit early on and then had the game-winning blocked kick which speaks for itself. He’s continued his preseason form and is looking like he'll be an important factor in creating interior pass rush.
Bradley Roby was in some ways responsible for every big pass play the Chargers created in this game as he was flagged for two pass interferences and was guilty of biting on the route that led to Benjamin's late touchdown.
Rivers tried to pick on Roby a lot, and he moslty responded with a great pass deflection in the later stages of the game and the interception. No. 29 was just too handsy at times when he didn’t need to be while in perfect coverage. His performance could have cost the Broncos even though he made some big plays.
Garett Bolles: C+
Bolles allowed a pressure from Joey Bosa early, but he settled in some and did a nice job from there on. He battled his butt off and often held his own against two of the league's best edge rushers in lots of one-on-one situations.
He was far from perfect, allowing another pressure on the Broncos final drive and getting called for a hold on Melvin Ingram—who was an absolute terror. His relentless effort in finishing a block in space during Emmanuel Sanders' zig zagging run is emblematic of his talent and attitude.
Facing a really tough test, he had his obvious struggles but a good debut all things considered which gives him a slight grade bump.
Mark Garcia: B
It was a solid night for Garcia who split time evenly with Allen Barbre. He did his thing as a run blocker, opening up a few holes and looking strong in the red zone when Denver ran his way. He didn’t have any major hiccups in pass protection either. Not a bad outing.
Matt Paradis: A-
Paradis' impact was particularly felt in the run game once the Broncos got in a rhythm and he was able to get out in space and finish some blocks. He shined when asked to pull or when he was able to block at the second level. A sound outing from one of the more reliable starters on the offense.
Ronald Leary: A-
Leary was good in pass protection early on. He started setting the tone against the run and finished a block on a defensive back right into the ground on a C.J. Anderson run while pulling. Sadly he suffered a concussion and was held out of the game after playing only the first 36 snaps.
Menelik Watson: D
Watson had a really hard time early on, and Ingram was a terror for him, while Bosa wasn’t much better.
To his credit, he picked things up and did a fine job against Bosa on the TD drive that opened the game up in the third quarter.
He was thrown off balance and onto his back far too often by the Bolts dynamic duo, and he truly struggled in the fourth quarter. His performance as a run blocker was better but far from perfect.
C.J. Anderson: B
Anderson looked more explosive hitting the corner then he has in a while and was elusive in the open field. He had some very impressive runs and looked quick making defenders miss at the second level. A very encouraging first outing.
Andy Janovich: C
Janovich wasn’t used all that much as a conventional fullback, and when he was, he didn’t necessarily open up many holes through the middle. He missed a block while lined up inline in a jumbo package with eight men stacked up on the line. Nothing concerning, just not his day.
Demaryius Thomas: A
Thomas made some very tough catches throughout this game, and some were also pretty clutch. There were times where he took it to Chargers cornerback Casey Hayward and imposed himself. DT dominated cornerbacks physically in a way that we haven’t seen for a while and seemed to only be scratching the surface. His potential in this new offense seems pretty limitless.
Emmanuel Sanders: B-
Sanders missed a few plays that could have made his night more memorable as he was just inches away from hauling in two touchdowns. He did have the run of the game, turning a three-yard catch into a 19-yard run, zig-zagging his way through the field.
His presence was always felt, but he could have done much more than just three receptions if things had gone just a little differently.
Virgil Green: B
Green was a big part of the game plan and was featured in tons of multiple-tight-end sets, doing a fine job blocking. He also came up with a huge catch, getting open down the seam while isolated in coverage on a linebacker and making a tough contested grab in the process. A performance that’s worth building off of.
Trevor Siemian: A-
Siemian started the game a little shaky and really should have had a pick-six on a bad read down the sideline that was lucky dropped by Hayward. He was far from perfect, but he also showed great command of an offense he’s still learning.
He was at his best over the seam to the tight ends where he made clutch throws in tight windows throughout the game. A good sign considering how heavily featured the TEs were, and likely will continue to be, in Mike McCoy’s offense.
He had success scrambling, particularly in the red zone where he was able to create the first two scores; first on the run where he broke Bosa's ankles and then on the scramble and throw to Fowler.
He might have missed some throws, but he did well under pressure, in third-down opportunities, and in the red zone. All in all, it was an incredibly promising performance by No. 13.
Other noteworthy offensive performances
Jamaal Charles was a good compliment to Anderson in the run game. He didn't find many lanes to break through but showed good quickness and deceptive power down in the red zone. His one negative play was the costly fumble he allowed while going to the ground.
A.J. Derby caught the ball on a tight window throw to set up Broncos second touchdown run from the 2-yard line. He also allowed pressure while blocking on the Broncos final offensive drive. A mixed performance.
Jeff Heuerman had a really great catch on a tipped pass to extend the Broncos opening touchdown drive. He was featured on other multiple-TE sets but didn't do much else.
Bennie Fowler was crucial in the Broncos first touchdown drive, getting open on a mismatch with Ingram in coverage on him and then on the touchdown. Both were tough catches that came at a crucial moment.
Allen Barbre Struggled some early in pass protection as Ingram got him on an inside blitz allowing a pressure. Barbre did get out in space in the run game on pulls and did well after that.
Special Teams: A-
Special teams were crucial in this game and came up huge with the game winning field goal block by Shelby Harris.
In the first test of the year, the coverage team—which had become a bit of a concern after the preseason—did a splendid job on Riley Dixon’s three punts, with Cody Latimer’s tackle forcing Benjamin into a negative loss on the only attempted return being the highlight.
The punt return game found a great run from Isaiah McKenzie for 31 yards.
The one bad note is that Brandon McManus, who just minted a fresh new contract, missed a potentially devastating kick that Harris and the rest of the special teams made up for later. All in all, a very positive output form the special teams units.
Coaching Staff: A
The offensive play calling was great, with lots of diverse formations going from five-wide to three-tight-end sets. The offensive tempo was also very impressive, and it's hard to say Mike McCoy’s presence wasn't felt. McCoy seemed to be a factor for both teams as the Broncos benefited from his play calling with a much-improved running game and more diverse formations to keep the defense on their toes. The Bolts offense instead struggled to run and saw their tight ends have little impact. You can call that the McCoy effect.
Defensively, Joe Woods and his staff did a great job manufacturing pass rush up the middle with creative blitzes and effective pressure being created by linebackers and safeties on A-gap blitzes. Obviously, there’re still things to clean up, but the defense didn’t really lose a beat from last year and looked improved against the run.
Vance Joseph made a great call with the timeout to freeze the kicker and give his kick coverage team another chance. All in all, very few game-management decisions that could even be argued. The coaching staff was a smashing success in their debut.
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