The Broncos are back in the win column.
Denver took down the Jacksonville Jaguars 21-17 in London this week, ending a four-game losing streak. At 3-5, the Broncos are still a long shot to make the playoffs, but any win is a good win.
I expected the defensive front to grade out lower, considering Travis Etienne ran for 158 yards. His 49-yard run did a bunch of that damage though, and one player in particular takes the hit for that one. His 4.7 yards per carry on the rest of his carries is still an issue, but it isn’t horrible.
I worked through these grades a little bit more slowly this week, because of the bye. Sorry for the delay. We’ll be back on the normal schedule after the Titans game.
Here’s how everybody graded out…
QB Russell Wilson – C
Russell Wilson started off cold. His first pass was a slant to Courtland Sutton that should have been intercepted. His second pass was a back-shoulder ball to Sutton up the sideline that was intercepted.
Wilson didn’t turn into a star for the rest of the day, but he held his own and wound up with a slightly disappointing outing. He completed 18 of his 30 passes for 252 yards with a touchdown and an interception. He hit a couple of receivers sitting in holes in the zone underneath. He connected on a slant to Sutton. He hit KJ Hamler on a 47-yard bomb, but that could have been his second of the day. Greg Dulcich and Hamler were being covered by one defender and instead of leading either into space, Wilson threw the ball where all three players could get to it.
All in all, it was a forgettable day.
RB Melvin Gordon – C
Melvin Gordon was the Broncos’ starter and he played more than half of the game but he still wound up with three fewer touches than Latavius Murray. The gap grew late in the game.
Gordon picked up 29 yards on nine attempts with a touchdown. He added three catches for 23 yards. Those numbers aren’t great but he doesn’t deserve much of the blame. The holes weren’t there for him. Still, there was a little more out there.
RB Latavius Murray – C+
Latavius Murray did just about all that he was capable of. He kept his legs churning and pounded his way through tackles. But the 32-year-old isn’t a big play threat and that caps what he can do.
Murray carried the ball 14 times for 46 yards and a touchdown. He caught a 13 yard pass that didn’t move the sticks on a third-and-long, too.
WR Courtland Sutton – D+
Is it time to panic about Courtland Sutton? Maybe.
Sutton caught one ball for 13 yards on Sunday. That gives him 50 yards on five catches in the past three games. He’s been targeted 16 times in that span. Sutton’s early-season success makes the past three weeks baffling.
You can’t blame Sutton for Wilson’s first two throws, which both should have been interceptions when targeting Sutton, but there isn’t much to bolster Sutton’s grade. He missed a block on a screen, which has happened often over the past month. He dropped a drag route late in the game.
WR Jerry Jeudy – B+
Jeudy made a couple of good plays on out routes. He was willing to put his shoulder down and fight for more yards. He scored on a jet sweep. He finished with six catches on seven targets for 63 yards and a touchdown.
KJ Hamler – B+
The bulk of KJ Hamler’s production came on a deep ball when he blew past the corner on a fly route and pulled in a tough catch. Hamler has been money tracking and holding onto bombs this season. He could have had another big play on the previous drive. He and Greg Dulcich were splitting a defender up the left sideline and Hamler pointed inside, telling Wilson to throw a deep crosser that could have been a touchdown. Instead, Wilson through it right between his receivers, where neither could make the play. Hamler is creating more opportunities than the Broncos are capitalizing on, and the failures haven’t been his fault.
On a similar play earlier in the game, Hamler occupied two defenders with a post route, opening up space for Dulcich to catch a 38-yard bomb on a wheel route behind him. Hamler helped out on Jerry Jeudy’s jet sweep touchdown with a dominant lead block into the end zone.
Regardless of the rest, Hamler needs to produce just a little bit more. He’s hit on a deep ball in every other outing over the past five weeks. The shortest of the three deep balls was a 47-yard gain. Two of the three were underthrown and should have been easy touchdowns. Still, his 33 yards per game over that five-week stretch leave a little to be desired. He’s close, though.
TE Greg Dulcich – A-
The Greg Dulcich Drive was a game-changer.
The Broncos got the ball on their own 2-yard line in the third quarter facing a 10-7 deficit. Dulcich sat in the shallow hole in the zone and ran for an 18-yard gain to get the Broncos out of the shadow of their own end zone. Then he caught a seam that carried the Broncos close to midfield. A few plays later, Dulcich caught a 38-yard wheel route and set his team up at the 1. The Broncos went 98 yards for a touchdown and Dulcich provided 78 of those.
The rookie tight end finished with four catches for 87 yards. He was solid as a blocker, too. He helped open up a running lane on a screen. On one play, his man made the tackle on a run, but Dulcich was able to hold his ground and the back picked up a short gain. It wasn’t spectacular, but it’s solid enough for the 22-year-old at this point.
Greg Dulcich keeps getting better.
LT Calvin Anderson – B+
Travon Walker and Josh Allen combine for one of the most talented pass-rushing duos in the league. For an AFC West team, they might seem like a bit of a break. That’s what it looked like for Calvin Anderson.
The Broncos’ left tackle gave up a couple of pressures, including one right before the half, and he wasn’t all that notable in the running game, but overall it was a clean day of pass protection. He worked on an island for most of the day and did good work.
LG Dalton Risner – C+
The fourth-year guard started off cold by giving up sack to end the Broncos’ first drive. He put up a few highlight plays later on though, like when he pancaked a defender in space on a screen right before half or when he helped to open up the hole for Latavius Murray’s touchdown. His false start bumps his grade down.
C Lloyd Cushenberry – C
The Broncos’ third-year center played a little less than half of the game before he went down with a groin injury that will likely sideline him for at least a couple more weeks.
The best play: a great block in space on a screen.
The worst play: a run stuff that Cushenberry allowed by not getting upfield to the linebacker quickly enough.
C Graham Glasgow – B
Graham Glasgow played a little more than half of the game in place of Cushenberry. He got off to a rough start when he didn’t snap the ball when he was supposed to, but bounced back with an overall solid performance, which included the key block on Latavius Murray’s touchdown.
Glasgow is likely to get at least a couple more starts before Cushenberry comes back from his groin injury, but he’ll face an uphill battle holding onto the starting job when Cushenberry is healthy. The Broncos can clear $11 million in cap space this offseason by moving on from Glasgow, while Cushenberry will return for one more season on his rookie contract. The Broncos will give Cushenberry every chance to improve and show he can be the longterm starter. If Denver makes a run into playoff contention and Glasgow is playing at a high level, he may be able to keep the job for the rest of the season. He’s off to a good start.
RG Quinn Meinerz – C-
A couple of mistakes is enough to tank an offensive lineman’s grade, and that’s exactly what happened to Meinerz. He gave up a sack right before halftime, and then another when a defensive tackle got outside of him in the third quarter. (That one was a half-sack, but Meinerz deserves most of the blame.)
For the other 59 plays, Meinerz was mostly great. He sealed off holes inside. He showed great technique double-teaming then moving to the next level. He got the most push of any lineman by a wide margin.
Meinerz’s weakness last season was his pass protection ability. He gave up a pressure on just over 10% of his pass-blocking reps. Before the Jaguars game, he’d allowed one pressure on 45 pass-blocking snaps this year. Against Jacksonville he gave up his first two sacks of the season and two more pressures. He’s now given up a pressure on 7.5% of his pass-blocking snaps.
A matchup with Jeffery Simmons looms next week. Losing that battle could knock Meinerz back toward last year’s numbers. If he can rebound (and perform as well as he did against Quinnen Williams) there’s reason to believe the Jags game was a fluke.
RT Billy Turner – C
Billy Turner made was beaten cleanly for a run stuff on a wide zone run. He gave up a half-sack in the second half but Meinerz was bears more responsibility for that one. Still, Turner struggled to open up the edge on running plays.
DL Dre’Mont Jones – A
Another week, another great performance from Dre’Mont Jones.
Jones broke through cleanly for a stuff at the goal line early in the game. He pulled off a textbook swim move to get past a lineman and grabbed the running back’s shirt and pulled him down for a tackle for loss. He picked up a pressure on an inside spin. He mauled a guard for a sack. He was everywhere.
Jones notched three tackles for loss and a sack. He earned AFC Defensive Player of the Week honors for his performance. The offsides call keeps him from an A+.
DL DJ Jones – B
I’m tempted to give Jones a better grade, but he didn’t have any splash plays. He shed blocks and made tackles. He chased down the outside runs. His side-to-side speed is still impressive even after watching him for two months. He continued to be an anchor. But without a tackle for loss, he can’t get a better grade than a B.
DL Mike Purcell – B-
Like Jones, Mike Purcell didn’t provide any splash plays. He still held down the middle of the defense well. He slipped off a blocker for an early stuff. He didn’t always command a double-team on inside zone runs, which allowed a blocker to get to the second level quickly.
OLB Bradley Chubb – B
Bradley Chubb hardly showed up in the stat sheet in his final game as a Bronco (he provided two tackles) but don’t mistake his lack of stats with poor performance. Chubb did everything Broncos fans had come to expect. He set the edge consistently. At one point he made a tackle by swallowing up a tackle on the edge and dragging down the back while he was still being blocked. He provided a couple of pressures, including one that forced an incompletion. He hustled to the ball more than any other player on the defense. That’s what a “bad game” from Bradley Chubb looks like.
OLB Nik Bonitto – A-
The rookie’s strip-sack was the highlight. He dipped inside then spun back around the outside of the offensive lineman on his way to the quarterback. It was a great play. Probably the best we’ve seen from Bonitto this season.
There was more to like, too. Bonitto got around a pulling blocker and turned the corner quickly enough to bring down a running back for a stuff. He sniffed out a screen and forced a throw away. He bottled up a toss by setting the edge. (He also gave up a third-and-short conversion by biting on a fake inside handoff, letting the tailback around the edge after receiving the toss.)
OLB Jonathan Cooper – C+
Tying for the third-most tackles while splitting snaps is solid work, but the lack of impact plays keeps his grade down. Jonathan Cooper’s highlight was probably fighting through a blocker and mirroring Trevor Lawrence to the sideline on Justin Simmons’ interception. He didn’t cause the pick, but he showed his speed. A solid play, but the only play that stands out. Cooper didn’t show great senses in underneath coverage either.
LB Josey Jewell – B+
Josey Jewell regained his role as the Broncos’ everydown inside linebacker in his return from injury. He led the team in tackles with nine, he added a couple of tackles for loss. He may have given up a little too much ground to running backs underneath, but he always made the tackle.
LB Jonas Griffith – C+
Jonas Griffith was the Broncos’ No. 2 inside linebacker against the Jaguars, but he still rotated with Alex Singleton. Griffith played half of the Broncos’ defensive snaps, twice as many as Singleton.
The 25-year-old didn’t come away with much to show for it though. He picked up three tackles (plus a couple more on special teams). He penetrated on an early blitz and flushed the quarterback out of the pocket for a short run.
LB Alex Singleton – C+
The veteran linebacker served as a run-stopping specialist in a reduced role, and he put together a solid performance. He flowed well with the run, as always. He never missed his assignment. A couple of missed tackles tank his grade, though. On one third-and-short, Singleton hit the running back at the sticks but let him fall forward for the first. I’m not sure any linebackers but Brian Urlacher or Ray Lewis could have made that play.
CB Pat Surtain II – A-
Pat Surtain’s pass interference in the end zone was a weak call. Those happen sometimes. If not for that play, Surtain may have had his best performance of the season. Pro Football Focus credited Surtain with one target, which was caught. It was a swing pass that Surtain read all the way and allowed to develop, before crashing upfield as the ball was thrown and picking up a four-yard tackle for loss. For what it’s worth, he missed a tackle later in the game.
CB Damarri Mathis – B-
The Broncos’ rookie cornerback was a key part in holding the Jags to 133 passing yards. He gave up a few catches underneath, and he missed the tackle on one of them, but he played a fairly clean game in coverage while providing some help in the running game as well. He’s trending in the right direction.
CB K’Waun Williams – A
The fourth-quarter interception was easily the play of the game. Justin Simmons said after the game that K’Waun Williams had told him that if the Jags threw that out route to Christian Kirk again he’d intercept it. He was right.
Williams force a couple more incompletions too, including a pass breakup on the sideline downfield.
Williams made a couple of mistakes. He missed a tackle because he didn’t wrap up. He was called for an illegal block below the waist when he barreled through a lineman to make a tackle for loss. I’m not holding that one against him though.
FS Justin Simmons – B-
The veteran safety’s goal line interception may have been the play of the game for the Broncos but his grade remains low. Here’s why: that play is a net neutral when combined with his taunting penalty earlier in the series that extended the drive after a failed third down attempt, and his pass interference call that reset the downs near the goal line. The pick was a great play, but those two mistakes set it up and cancel out the benefit to his grade.
Simmons missed another tackle this week. His missed tackle rate of 20.7% ranks behind only Bradley Chubb among Broncos with extensive work this season. And Chubb just got traded…
SS Kareem Jackson – D+
The 34-year-old safety struggled against the Jaguars. He was in average against Evan Engram when the tight end opened the scoring with a 22-yard touchdown. He hit Kareem Jackson with a hesitation move at the goal line and broke out for an easy score. Jackson also whiffed on the Jaguars biggest play of the day, a 49-yard run from Travis Etienne. Jackson tried to chop the back down near the sideline but air-balled.
Jackson still looked good taking on runs, screens and reverses for the most part, but a couple of big mistakes tank his grade.
K Brandon McManus – B
He hit all three extra point attempts.
P Corliss Waitman – A
Plenty of room to work with helped Corliss Waitman post a 51-yard average. Regardless, a number that big over six punts with no touchbacks is worth of an A.
Montrell Washington – C+
Nothing all that notable from the rookie returner on Sunday. He brought his average down with four punt returns for 22 yards. There wasn’t anything else out there for him, though.