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.
In another blowout, this time forced on by horrendous special teams play and a pretty disappointing defensive effort, the Broncos lost 41-16 to the New England Patriots, at home nonetheless. Here's what went down:
Domata Peko: C
The Patriots ran it out of the shotgun and while going up-tempo, which really affected Peko’s impact. He couldn’t create pressure up the middle and struggled to move side-to-side against the run. Peko still took up multiple blockers clogging gaps at times. Peko just hasn’t been a presence up front the way he was in the first seven games when he constantly received high grades.
Derek Wolfe: C
The defensive line looked ineffective, weak, and tired. The lack of depth has shown itself, and Wolfe’s impact hasn’t been much. He managed four tackles but wasn’t in the backfield much at all. While he’s not the main issue, Wolfe isn’t creating pressure or push against the run. The boys up front in the trenches have been bullied the last two weeks.
Adam Gotsis: N/A
Gotsis’ play has fallen off a cliff in the last month, and his impact has been lessened significantly, in all phases. This week he was basically nonexistent and only appeared in 28 snaps. Shelby Harris was actually featured in 44 snaps and flashed a bit more getting a pass deflection, and creating a bit more resistance against the run. Neither played great and haven’t for a stretch now. For two of the young bright spots on the ‘D’ early on it’s been a disappointing month.
Von Miller: D+
Von was kept silent, possibly because few teams have more respect for him than the Patriots. Still, Miller was going against the Pats' backup right tackle and wasn’t able to do anything beyond creating a few pressures.
He was also dropped in coverage a few times too many and got beat by tight end Dwayne Allen for a touchdown in the red zone.
Todd Davis: C
Credit to Davis for playing despite still being less than 100-percent after missing the last two games due to an ankle injury, which he appeared to re-aggravate in the second quarter, but returned from playing in 44 snaps.
He was flagged for a pass interference on Rex Burkhead in the red zone early on, gifting the Patriots a first down but then had a great run stuff up on the goal line on the very next play. He ended the day with six tackles, three solo. He did his job, for the most part, filling in against the run.
Brandon Marshall: D-
We kind of knew this was going to be a game with lots of pressure on Marshall, especially in coverage, and he didn’t exactly pass the test.
To start the game, he was beaten by Burkhead for New England's initial first down of the game. He lost Martellus Bennet in the open field for a big first gain on the Pats' second offensive drive. Then, Marshall couldn’t close down on Rob Gronkowski, setting the Patriots up in the red zone (in fairness, Darian Stewart didn’t close down quickly enough helping over the top). To end it all, he was called for holding on Danny Amendola.
Marshall's played big in games like this before, or at least held his own in coverage. This game he just looked a step slow in his processing, more than foot speed. In the end, he was just another Broncos leader who fell short.
Shane Ray: B
Ray bounced back after playing quite poorly Week 9, as he was baited into several penalties. He especially stood out against the run, where he set a strong edge and was able to get several stops, two of which were tackles for a loss. He didn’t create much pressure which is why his grade is lowered a bit, but that was in large part from Brady’s quick release and the up-tempo Patriots offense that limited the impact of the pass rush quite a bit.
Darian Stewart: D-
Stewart’s downfall continues, as he struggled in coverage once again and continues to be put in positions that don’t seem ideal for him to succeed.
No. 26’s game actually started off well as he burst through the line for a nice second-down disruption against the run on the second play of the game.
Things went sour once he was left out on an island in the red zone on Burkhead, as he was beaten for the touchdown with the rest of the secondary triple-covering Gronk on the play. He later missed a tackle on Gronkowski in the open field and was blocked out the picture on Dion Lewis’ touchdown run. To finish things off, he couldn’t tackle Brandin Cooks in the open field on a screen run. He’s been unrecognizable.
Justin Simmons: B+
Simmons was tested in coverage a fair amount and didn’t always play perfectly or defuse all plays, but he battled, played with an edge, and was a factor all over the field. It’s hard not to be encouraged by his game this Sunday.
He started things off by making a spectacular open-field tackle on Burkhead pulling him down by one foot, a constant throughout the game. He made another great tackle coming up to close on the run and popping the ball carrier on his back.
Simmons also came up with a clutch blitz through the A-gap, closing down on Tom Brady for an important 3rd-and-goal stop, shaking James White in the backfield to get to the quarterback. He also made a huge tackle on Amendola over the middle in the red zone, delivering a devastating hit. To close the game out, he blanketed Gronk downfield.
As mentioned it wasn’t all good; playing tight coverage on Gronk and Amendola, he wasn’t able to make a play on the ball. He also couldn’t stand up Lewis in the hole who gained the first down before the safety could take him down.
A tenacious game, though he too wasn’t always up to the task of stopping the Patriots offense.
Chris Harris Jr.: B-
Harris, like the rest of the cornerbacks, wasn’t tested all that much but he did make some plays in this one. The one negative play was his first, when he was called for holding on Phillip Dorsett. He played physical coverage on Cooks downfield on a go route and was lucky not to get called for grabbing the receiver later on.
He did make a great play in the end zone while in coverage on Cooks on a perfect pass that he managed to tip out from under his hands, a phenomenal play. The flashes of greatness are always there; his impact was just limited.
Aqib Talib: B
Talib picked himself back up after his worst outing of the year a week ago, though he started things off by not sticking with Cooks for a big gain on an out-route to the sideline. After that, he made a great play on the ball, almost getting a pick on a high throw by Brady (that wouldn’t have mattered due to a Harris’s hold). He then played some great coverage downfield into the end zone on Cooks to prevent anything close to a score.
The corners are there; it just didn’t matter with how the Patriots schemed things.
Other noteworthy defensive performances:
Bradley Roby had a really nice game as well playing fine coverage and making some big tackles out on the boundary.
Will Parks struggled in coverage where he was tested against Gronkowski and the Patriots go-to receiving back, James White. Parks played way off and couldn't close down the gaps on either while covering the slot.
Garett Bolles: C+
In a good game for the offensive line, playing by far the weakest defensive group they’ve faced, Bolles was the worst of the group, continuing to make costly rookie mistakes.
He allowed Trey Flowers to get around him, creating pressure on the backside to tip Brock Osweiler’s pass that amazing ended up in a third down conversion to Demaryius Thomas. He was then called on a hold on what was a C.J. Anderson touchdown run.
He played well overall in stretches but keeps costing Denver in big spots.
Max Garcia: B-
Garcia did a nice job, was efficient in pass protection and did a decent job against the run. One play in particular really stood out, as he got out to block on a pull to open up a huge gap for Anderson. By far his best outing of the year, though he still wasn’t exactly at a pro-bowl level creating push up front.
Matt Paradis: B
Paradis got his game back on track creating great movement on a C.J. run for a big gain on first down and was on top of his pass protection assignments.
Ronald Leary: B-
Leary didn’t maul like he was in the early part of the season but he played effectively in pass protection. Asked to pull and get out on the move against the run he looked maybe a step slow as he’s been banged up some this season. Leary got hit pretty hard by middle linebacker Elandon Roberts on one particular pull where he got to his spot a second too slow. Still, he battled and got his job done.
Allen Barbre: B+
Credit to Barbre, who was again thrown into a really tough spot starting at right tackle and did much better than the last time around. He did allow a tackle for a loss against the run where he couldn’t stand his ground but was really efficient in pass protection, giving Brock plenty of time in the pocket to operate.
C.J. Anderson: B-
C.J. wasn’t utilized too much, as the Broncos seem to have adopted a full-blown three-back committee, as everyone got an equal split of the load. Anderson ran hard up the middle and was able to break a few runs to the outside as well. His best play of the night was sadly a cutback run for a touchdown that was called back.
Demaryius Thomas: C+
Thomas was locked down in coverage by Patriots cornerback Stephon Gilmore, who gave him a tough time, but DT got him too. His best play was his touchdown grab on a catch that was a little behind. He also drew a holding, came down with a crazy tipped ball and had a nice little screen run.
Gilmore gave him issues on plays where the Broncos particularly tried to get him the ball; he didn’t look like he was 100-percent and couldn’t come down with another tough contested grab.
Emmanuel Sanders: A
The one truly great performance of the game came from Sanders, who put on a show matched up against Malcolm Butler and won outright. He just got open on the regular, running crisp routes, setting up Butler with fakes, dekes, and quick twitch moves that they’ll show in route-running schools some day.
No. 10 was also explosive after the catch, gaining extra yardage with regularity. A truly great game, it’s a shame it didn’t matter more.
Virgil Green: C-
Green just hasn’t been the same guy for the last month, if not more. His usage as a receiver’s completely fallen off a cliff - he’s had zero targets in the last two games - and he hasn’t been nearly as effective as a run blocker. He’s still a nice help as an added pass protector, but that’s not enough to warrant 30 snaps.
Brock Osweiler: B-
Brock keeps looking acceptable under center, especially in the first scripted 15 snaps where his timing is on point, and his accuracy’s been good.
He did a good job of embracing his role, picking his spots and letting his playmakers do the heavy lifting. His composure in the pocket was good, and he showed that, with protection, he can play pretty well. He’s simply taking what the defense gives him, which at times means settling for throws short of the sticks on third down.
Osweiler’s one pick came on a forced pass in double coverage to the flats in a window that was just too tight to fit. It wasn’t anything spectacular, and the struggles in the red zone contributed to the game getting out of hand as quickly as it did, but Brock did his job.
Other noteworthy offensive performances:
Bennie Fowler was flagged for a poorly executed pick play and had zero impact otherwise.
Special Teams: F
It’s not exactly news to say that no phase of the game let the Broncos down more than special teams, which were an absolute disaster. Look, it’s not like the Broncos' special teams units of the past were lights-out, but you’d be hard-pressed to remember a more dreadful and embarrassing showing than this one.
From the very beginning, things went south, as Isaiah McKenzie fumbled his first punt return, gifting the Patriots a touchdown two plays later.
Right after the Broncos' offense got the score to 7-3, the kickoff cover unit allowed a 103 yard TD return by Dion Lewis, who was barely touched. Just a poor play full of bad tackling angles. By that point, the Broncos were in a 14-3 hole with both scores being primarily the fault of Brock Olivo’s group.
Only two offensive series later, Riley Dixon’s punt was blocked, gifting the Patriots yet again great field position that they turned into a field goal. Those were just the main muffs, but then a penalty on the punt return unit for 12-men on the field gave New England an automatic first down, prolonging the drive and leading to another touchdown by the Patriots.
An embarrassing showing.
Finally, we got to see a disciplined football team that played mistake-free with close to no penalties. Problem is, that team wasn’t the Broncos. The Patriots only had one measly flag for five yards.
The matchups the Patriots exploited, especially in the Broncos' defense, were too predictable, and Joe Woods’ game plan seemed to have little solutions in countering the tight end and running back-heavy offensive plan by New England. There was also no pass rush created, and part of that ultimately comes down to scheme.
At the end of the day, the players on defense need to make more one-on-one plays, but the scheme needs to help more as well.
Vance Joseph didn’t seem up to the task in countering the NFL’s best in Bill Belichick.
Credit to Mike McCoy, who strung together a game plan that was mildly successful, giving some of the injuries he’s dealing with especially up front. Though some kind of change has to be made in the red zone for the team to have more success.
Olivo and the poor play of the special teams have to be included in this grade as well.
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