The Denver Broncos are on the verge of yet another losing season and are all but eliminated from the playoffs. The Broncos got swept by the Las Vegas Raiders and sit 0-3 in divisional games this season with three more chances left.
While the Broncos did make some changes on the offense, with a change of play-caller, it didn't make enough of a difference. To start the game, it was huge as Klint Kubiak called quick and simple route concepts, with quick reads for the quarterback that led to an efficient half with 10 points on three drives. A blocked field goal was the third drive.
The second half, however, saw Denver score six total points on seven drives while netting two three-and-outs. What was the difference? Denver returned to the long-developing route concepts, with the quarterback holding the ball and looking for the big play that he loves to run.
Changing the play-caller didn't change the playbook and didn't do enough to mask the issues of execution from the quarterback position. The Broncos' offense was slightly more effective overall, but it's because of the performance in the first half when they were on the script. More on this later.
While the offense has struggled all season, the Broncos' defense fell off a cliff against the Raiders. Denver had a solid start to the second half but couldn't sustain it. The difference between a great defense and a very good one is the ability to finish, something the Broncos have struggled with most of the season.
Let's jump into the grades, but first, for a quick rundown of how my grading system works, click here.
Offense: Eric Saubert | TE | Grade: 66.1
Saubert had a really good game, and his blocking was a huge reason for it. He was the best player on the Broncos' offense and held his own consistently.
Defense: Baron Browning | OLB | Grade: 70.2
Getting Browning back was huge for the Broncos' defense, and he did a great job getting after Derek Carr. However, Browning does need to do a better job against the run, as there were a few times he got too far upfield instead of staying disciplined to the run.
Russell Wilson | QB | Grade: 58.1
While statistically, there was an improvement, it was carried by his first half. There was a significant difference in Wilson's average time to throw between the two halves, as Denver was a simple offense in the first half. It was simply one-read or dump-off plays with routes that didn't go beyond the first-down marker. That's fine, as that's what this offense needs to be.
The Broncos didn't stick with it, and in the second half, Wilson held the ball longer and took sacks that he didn't need to take. It was the same showing from Wilson that Denver has seen all season during the second half of the game. His grades reflect that, as his first half grade was in the mid-70s, while his second half showing was low-40s.
The Broncos and Wilson have to stick with what works, which was shown in the first half. Work that dink-and-dunk style offense with a heavy run game influence, and wait for the big play to open up. Unfortunately, Wilson doesn't go through his progressions fast enough to the type of route concepts he wants to run.
Jonathon Cooper | OLB | Grade: 67.8
Cooper had a great game and showed off his progress as a run defender. He also stepped up as a pass rusher, though he only picked up two total pressures. Those two pressures came when rushing the passer nine times. Nevertheless, his run defense, pass rush, and even his drops into coverage saw Cooper look solid at worst.
Quinn Meinerz | IOL | Grade: 65.9
Meinerz had a massive game for the Broncos and did a great job getting push consistently in the run game. He also held his own in pass protection, though he wasn't facing a tough interior defensive line in that regard. However, how well he did in the run forced the Raiders to switch up their line a little bit to open up their best-run defender because Meinerz locked him up.
Alex Singleton | ILB | Grade: 63.7
Singleton had a solid game but did get exploited in an unfavorable matchup in coverage. His play as a run defender was solid, but he did miss one tackle in a matchup where you can't afford to miss any.
Greg Dulcich | TE | Grade: 61.3
With a more straightforward offense in the first half and the lack of receivers, Dulcich was used slightly differently. He was targeted five times, catching four of them, but he also did quite well as a blocker.
Courtland Sutton | WR | Grade: 60.7
This was a great game for Sutton, which was badly needed. He had been struggling recently, which could've been affecting his confidence. However, not only did he make plays as a receiver, his play as a blocker was back to the level that he is accustomed to.
Nik Bonitto | OLB | Grade: 57.9
Nik Bonitto didn't get a single pressure, despite having 21 pass rush snaps. However, the good news is, this was the best he has ever looked as a run defender. It's a good sign for the overall development of that aspect of his game.
Patrick Surtain II | CB | Grade: 31.5
On the final play, the Broncos ran cover-3 and Surtain was on Davante Adams. Surtain got toasted by a great route for the game-winner. The issue was, Surtain was toasted a few other times in the game.
One was on another touchdown, where he was playing trail technique but got too far behind in his trail. Then on a play in the second half, Surtain was toasted by Mack Hollins, but the ball was out before Carr looked at Hollins. It wasn't a great game, but it is a good opportunity for Surtain to learn from.
Calvin Anderson | OT | Grade: 34.8
Pro Football Focus didn't credit Anderson for giving up any pressures, but there were multiple plays he got beat around the corner. Some came from Wilson holding the ball too long, while others happened quickly. Again, raising a question about how he wasn't credited with any. Anderson also struggled as a run blocker reasonably consistently.
Melvin Gordon | RB | Grade: 38.6
The talk is about the fumble, but the worst play was on a sack Gordon gave up. As a result, Gordon was cut, and rightfully so. This tweet highlights that play.
Kareem Jackson | S | Grade: 40.2
On the first touchdown, Jackson has even more blame than Surtain. He has clearly lost a step and was late with his rotation. However, Jackson happened to make a couple of plays against the run to give his grade a slight boost.
Cameron Fleming | OT | Grade: 41.7
Fleming had some great blocks in the run game, but he struggled against Maxx Crosby in pass protection. Shocker, right? It isn't a favorable matchup for Fleming, but he didn't let Crosby completely take over the game.
DeShawn Williams | IDL | Grade: 42.8
Williams has been blasted for his run defense all season, and it should continue. The Raiders targeted him on the ground whenever he was out there. Unfortunately, that has become the trend throughout the season, and rarely has Williams made the opposing offense pay.
Other Noteworthy Grades
Graham Glasgow | IOL | Grade: 60.6
Glasgow was solid at center. It wasn't great, as there were a few run plays he got blown up, but he wasn't in the quarterback's lap consistently in the passing game.
Essang Bassey | CB | Grade: 56.5
It was a surprising game for Bassey, who had a couple of great plays on the ball. However, his run defense was lacking, and he did get exploited with a couple of unfavorable matchups.
D.J. Jones | IDL | Grade: 54.4
Jones wasn't the run stalwart the Broncos have grown accustomed to. It led to issues defending the run. However, there were enough good plays from Jones to keep his grade positive.
Latavius Murray | RB | Grade: 53.4
Murray was solid, but he isn't great. He has some good power to him but has to be a north/south runner. He has shown some effectiveness as an inside zone runner, but Denver had him run a couple of outside zone, but he doesn't have the speed or burst for it. The pressure is on Murray now, with Gordon being cut.
Brandon Johnson | WR | Grade: 53.4
Johnson, in his first action, was the Broncos' third receiver. His routes were solid, and he did well as a blocker. It was a promising showing worth getting him on the field more.
Justin Simmons | S | Grade: 48.2
While there are many people pointing at Simmons on the final play, it was cover-3 with him as the single high. He was doing his job with the play that was called. Simmons had other issues in the game, against the run, and in coverage, but that play wasn't one of them.
Nathaniel Hackett | HC | Grade: 49.4
It took a while for Hackett to give up play-calling duties, and the offense looked a little better overall. That allowed him to focus elsewhere, but poor decisions were still made with managing the game clock. While it is doubtful he will get fired in-season, this loss, after handing over play-calling duties, does make it significantly more likely.
Klint Kubiak | QB Coach/Play-caller | 57.4
This is his first appearance on the grades, as he got the play-calling duties. Kubiak's script was good, which he was praised for during his time as the offensive coordinator in Minnesota.
However, Kubiak was questioned once he got off the script, which was again the case in Denver. After scripting what the offense could do, Kubiak started calling the same kind of plays that Wilson can't run but wants to run (the longer-developing routes with deeper drops). If Kubiak remains the play-caller, he has to stick to his guns and have the offense do what it can.
Also, after the two-minute warning, call a run or make it clear to the quarterback not to throw an incompletion. This is also on Wilson, who should have the game sense to know not to stop the clock in that situation.
Ejiro Evero | DC | Grade: 39.8
This was, by far, the worst showing from the Broncos' defense, including their first game against the Raiders. The Broncos allowed multiple big plays, failed to close out the game, and after shutting down Derrick Henry, allowed Josh Jacobs to run wild. So naturally, this falls at Evero's feet.
Dwayne Stukes | STC | Grade: 42.1
The Corliss Waitman experiment has failed, and Montrell Washington is broken as a returner and has consistently gotten worse. Making any changes there is on Stukes, and the changes are needed. Both decisions to go that route are also on Stukes. This doesn't mean giving up on Washington, but you can't use brute force development as a returner.
Stukes got outcoached on special teams by Tom McMahon.
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