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Broncos Game Grades: Ja'Quan McMillian, Pat Surtain II and the Denver secondary shine in a 24-22 win over the Bills

Henry Chisholm Avatar
November 16, 2023

The win streak continues.

The Broncos knocked off the Buffalo Bills on Monday Night Football thanks to a stellar effort from the defense. The Broncos forced four turnovers on their way to a 24-22 win, extending their win streak to three games and improving their record to 4-5. The Bills fell to 5-5.

Here’s how the Broncos graded out…

Offense

Quarterbacks

Russell Wilson: A — When the Broncos needed Wilson to march them down the field, Wilson did exactly that. 

On the Broncos’ final touchdown drive, Wilson ripped a third-down ball to Jerry Jeudy to keep the series alive. Then he found a way to get a shovel pass to Samaje Perine to convert a 3rd & 7. The he let Courtland Sutton use his size to box out a defender and covert a 3rd & 4. Then, near the goal line, Wilson pulled the ball on play-action and dropped it over an oncoming defender and into Javonte Williams hands for a touchdown, while taking a massive hit head-on.

When the Broncos needed a game-winning field goal on the next series, Wilson delivered again. He threw another shovel pass to Perine, this time for 18 yards. He scrambled to shorten a third down and then found Perine out of the backfield quickly to convert it and move across midfield. He took a quick out to Adam Trautman against off coverage to get into field goal range. With his back against the wall on 3rd & 10 after a sack, he dropped an underthrown ball toward Jerry Jeudy and drew a pass interference. Say what you want about the throw, but it was effective.

The Broncos’ passing attack lacked big plays, but it was efficient from start to finish. Wilson finished with 193 yards on 24-of-29 passing with two touchdowns. He added 30 yards on the ground. 

A couple of balls weren’t placed properly. The pass to Courtland Sutton that he fumbled could have been an easy first down. But the big plays in the big moments counteract a couple of misses. It looked like he was more involved at the line of scrimmage on Monday, too, but I might be seeing things.

Oh, and that touchdown ball to Sutton might be the best throw you see this season.

Russell Wilson flips the ball to Samaje Perine to convert a fourth-quarter 3rd & 7.

Running Backs

Javonte Williams: B — How much do we reward Williams for his volume?

The third-year back carried the ball 21 times for 79 yards, but he probably lost about a dozen yards because of hiccups in his vision throughout the game.

His 31 receiving yards (plus a touchdown) help his grade, but a holding penalty knocks it down slightly.

Javonte Williams scores a touchdown in the fourth quarter. Credit: Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

Samaje Perine: A- — Perine finished with an eight-yard carry to go with three catches for 35 yards. The catches were crucial though. 

One was a shovel pass that converted a 3rd & 7 on the final touchdown drive. One was an 18-yard catch and run on a shovel pass on the final drive of the game. And the third came just after, when Perine converted a 3rd & 6 and carried the Broncos across midfield.

Perine had a whiff in pass protection just before Courtland Sutton’s touchdown, but Russell Wilson bailed him out. He also split a pancake with Quinn Meinerz. 

Jaleel McLaughlin: D+ — The rookie had his first tough outing. He picked up eight yards on six rush attempts and four yards on two passes. A little patience would have gone a long way on his screen catch before halftime.

Jaleel McLaughlin runs with the ball during the second half. Credit: Gregory Fisher-USA TODAY Sports

Michael Burton: D — A rare off night for one of the Broncos’ highest-graded performers to this point in the season. The false start is the biggest killer, but not fulfilling a couple of tough assignments also stings.

Tight Ends

Adam Trautman: B — Trautman caught a pair of balls for 15 yards, including the final catch of the game that set the Broncos up in field position. He had a solid day as a blocker. His most notable block was when he led the way for Russell Wilson around the edge. 

Adam Trautman is tackled by Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamlin (3) in the fourth quarter. Credit: Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

Chris Manhertz: B+ — Manhertz only caught one pass (a six-yarder) but he had one of his cleanest blocking days in a Broncos uniform.

Lucas Krull: C- — Krull’s only target was a low ball that he wasn’t able to bring in. He didn’t make any noticeable mistakes but he didn’t make any notable blocks, either. We’ll call that a success for the second-year tight end’s Broncos debut, even if it doesn’t equate to an ideal grade.

Wide Receivers

Courtland Sutton: A- — This is the toughest grade of the day.

The touchdown catch was incredible. If he hadn’t made the play, the Broncos would have ended the possession without points, which makes it an even bigger play.

But Sutton also had a costly fumble, a false start and a drop. How much of that does the touchdown grab counteract? 

I’m going with the A-.

Sutton also had a third-down conversion on a slant, a 30-yard gain on a crosser against man coverage and a 3rd & 4 conversion on the final drive. He finished with eight catches for 53 yards and the touchdown.

Courtland Sutton taps his toes for a touchdown.

Marvin Mims Jr.: A — Another tough grade. 

Mims played 52 offensive snaps, significantly more than his previous high of 28. But he didn’t get a target. His only offensive touch was a jet sweep that lost three yards. 

But Mims earned AFC Special Teams Player of the Week honors for his work in the return game. His punt returns went for 17 and 27 yards. He bounced a kick return outside after being hit at the 16 and found another 23 yards.

His work as an effective decoy—for example, he and Courtland Sutton ran crossers and the safety chose to run with Mims, leaving Sutton open for a 30-yard gain—is enough to hold onto his A. 

Marvin Mims Jr. returns a kickoff against the Buffalo Bills in the third quarter. Credit: Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

Jerry Jeudy: A- — The volume wasn’t there for Jeudy—he only caught three passes for 35 yards—but he was productive in the game’s biggest moments. He beat his man off the line and drew the game-winning pass interference on 3rd & 10. On the previous series, he sat down in a gap in the zone to convert a 3rd & 10 with a 19-yard gain. 

Jerry Jeudy draws a pass interference during the fourth quarter. Credit: Gregory Fisher-USA TODAY Sports

Lil’Jordan Humphrey: B — Humphrey saw his lightest workload in the past four games, as the Broncos coaching staff allocated more reps to Marvin Mims Jr. Humphrey made his presence felt with a one-handed grab worth 14 yards on the first pass of the game for the Broncos and a trio of sharp blocks.

Offensive Linemen

Garett Bolles: C+ — Von Miller beat Bolles with a swim move and forced a throw away early in the second quarter. Then Greg Rousseau separated from Bolles to bottle up a run soon after. Bolles’ false start could have killed the Broncos’ final touchdown drive in the red zone.

The bulk of the Broncos’ rushing success was up the middle or to the right, but Bolles was largely stout in pass protection despite being left on an island.

Ben Powers: D — Ed Oliver won the battle with Ben Powers on Monday. Oliver beat him clean for a sack on the Broncos’ second drive, and then beat him again to the other side and flushed Russell Wilson from the pocket. On the final drive of the game, Powers was pushed backward on top of Wilson for a sack that set up a 3rd & 10.

Lloyd Cushenberry III: C- — For the most part, Cushenberry had a very solid outing. A couple of mistakes knock him down to a below-average grade.

On the Broncos’ second offensive play of the game, Cushenberry was moved backward, which bottled up a run. A holding penalty and a false start stung too.

Cushenberry made a couple of nice blocks, like an ovetake that helped spark an 11-yard, red-zone run in the final minutes of the game. His pancake looked nice, but came on the back side of a run and was inconsequential.

Quinn Meinerz: A+ — This might be the first time I’ve ever given an offensive lineman the top grade. And Meinerz absolutely deserves it.

Meinerz, who turned 25 on Wednesday, threw defenders around all night. I counted four total pancakes from Meinerz, two solo blocks and two on double-teams. My favorite block came on a four-yard run toward the end of the Broncos’ final touchdown drive, when a lineman stood in the running lane to Meinerz’s right. Somehow, without holding him, Meinerz reached out and shoved the defender back to his left, freeing space for the back. On the previous play, Meinerz had extended to the second level to clear a lane for an 11-yard gain on 1st & 15.

The only negative mark—only one mistake in 53 plays is ridiculous—was when Meinerz was supposed to double-team and then extend to the second level, but the linebacker blitzed and threw off the timing of the play and stuffed the run.

Meinerz still hasn’t allowed a sack this season. He’s on a Pro Bowl pace and even that might be selling him short. Don’t be surprised if he finishes the season with an All-Pro nod.

Mike McGlinchey: B- — McGlinchey put together a better-than-usual effort in the passing game but a worse-than-usual effort in the running game negates much of his impact. McGlinchey had his moments, like when he teamed with Quinn Meinerz for a pancake, but a false start penalty stung.

Defense

Defensive Linemen

Zach Allen: B+ — Allen had a good series when he batted a first-down ball, hit Josh Allen on a short third-down completion and then hit him again on the fourth-down incompletion.

For the most part Allen was pretty quiet but stout. He only had one other hurry.

Zach Allen forces Josh Allen to throw the ball away.

DJ Jones: B+ — The big man’s tackle for loss in space against Latavius Murray was his highlight of the night and the only tackle for loss for the Broncos. He flowed well to stuff a toss and held his ground more often than not. 

Mike Purcell: C- — Purcell was solid for the most part but didn’t enter the stat sheet… unless you count the offsides penalty that set up the Bills’ two-point conversion. 

Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen looks downfield from the pocket.

Outside Linebackers

Baron Browning: D+ — Browning made two plays. One was when he took away both options on a read option in the first quarter and bottled the play up for a one-yard gain. The other was when he flowed well with a run and shed a block to make a red-zone tackle two yards downfield.

But Browning was absent the rest of the day. He played 35 snaps but didn’t register a pressure. He also lost contain on Josh Allen’s touchdown run, which hurts his grade.

Jonathon Cooper: C- — Cooper was a step away from a strip sack late in the first quarter and registered another pressure later on in the game. He finished with one tackle in a quiet outing.

Nik Bonitto: C- — The Broncos gave Nik Bonitto a few reps on the inside, testing whether his speed could be more useful against heavy-footed interior linemen. The results were disappointing. The best reps came when he dropped in coverage from the middle and disrupted passing lanes, like on a failed 3rd & 5 pass attempt in the second quarter.

Bonitto registered one hit on the quarterback, but it was an otherwise lackluster day. He overpursued the back side of a run and lost contain for a 21-yard gain. He finished with a pair of tackles. He also wore a stiff arm from James Cook.

James Cook breaks a tackle attempt by Nik Bonitto in the fourth quarter. Credit: Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

Ronnie Perkins: D+ — Perkins almost made a great play against a power run. He collapsed in from the outside and lined up the pulling lineman in his sights. He wanted to hit the puller and bottle up the run for an easy tackle for loss. But he whiffed and a 14-yard running lane opened up behind him.  

Inside Linebackers

Josey Jewell: B- — Two missed tackles in one game is a rarity for The Outlaw, but both were quirky plays. One was when the running back blew up the first would-be tackler so quickly that he was on Jewell before the linebacker was prepared. The other came in a hole so big it was tough to plug up.

Jewell was at his best on power runs, when he took on pullers and stuffed them in their tracks. He also had a pressure that set up a third down in the fourth quarter and helped the Broncos’ defense get off the field.

Alex Singleton: A — The fumble recovery is doing the heavy lifting here. If Singleton had managed to tap his toes and pick off Josh Allen on the second play of the game, he’d have an easy A+.

Despite not getting his feet down, Singleton still made a great play. The Broncos were in Cover 3 and Denver’s linebackers were responsible for the middle of the field. Singleton read the play and flowed all the way to the sideline and nearly picked the pass off. It’s tough to fault the quarterback on the play, because Singleton had no business being near his intended target. That’s a heads-up moment from a veteran linebacker. 

Alex Singleton makes a tackle during the second half. Credit: Gregory Fisher-USA TODAY Sports

Cornerbacks

Pat Surtain: A+ — I don’t give out many A+’s for defenders without turnovers, but Surtain deserves top marks. He put Stefon Diggs in jail.

On the second pass of the game (the first was the fumble), Alex Singleton undercut a deep out and was a toe-tap away from an interception. On the back side of the play, Diggs tried to run a slant. But Surtain cut him off at the break and Diggs couldn’t take another step. He was frozen at the top of his route.

This was a common occurrence on Monday. 

On a second-quarter 4th & 5, Diggs tried to run a hitch or an out or something along those lines, but you can’t tell what exactly he tried to do because Surtain locked him up at the break, and Diggs spent the last couple of seconds of the play unable to take a step.

Surtain’s low points were hardly his fault. The only catch he allowed to Diggs was an 11-yard slant, but Surtain waited to see whether the slot cornerback would carry the slot receiver downfield or pass him off and take Diggs to the middle of the field.

Another catch came on a similar play. The Broncos were in a three-deep zone, with Surtain on the boundary. Two receivers ran upfield on his side, Diggs up the seam and the tight end up the sideline. Surtain had Diggs initially, but the deep middle safety was late rotating over, so Surtain couldn’t pass Diggs off and the tight end scored a touchdown behind him. He had to pick his poison, and sticking with one of the league’s top receivers is the right decision.

The third catch was a slant for nine yards… on 3rd & 10.

Surtain played a near-perfect game and he did it against one of the NFL’s biggest names.

Fabian Moreau: A — The 29-year-old is finding his stride as the Broncos’ starter opposite Pat Surtain II.

This week, his interception is the headliner. He was responsible for the deep boundary in a Cover 3 zone, and he broke on a deep out route and picked off the pass. He was patient, even against a faster receiver, and he didn’t open his hips early, which allowed him to make the play. 

He almost made the exact same play in the exact same coverage against the exact same route when the quarterback made the exact same mistake in the fourth quarter, but he’d opened his hips slightly and only made it back in time to tip the ball away. The Bills were forced to punt.

Moreau made a couple of mistakes. He missed a tackle that turned a short catch against him into a 14-yard gain. He backed off his run fit inside the five and allowed a walk-in touchdown to Latavius Murray. (Even if he’d been in position, Murray probably would have carried him into the end zone.)

Moreau was also on the boundary in Cover 4 after Courtland Sutton’s fumble and allowed a 24-yard pass up the sideline behind him. But the nickel cornerback was hesitant deciding whether to take the inside man or the boundary receiver, which tied Moreau up.

Those mistakes may sound like a lot, but Moreau was sharp enough in the vast majority of the game to earn top marks.

Fabian Moreau lines up a tackle against Dalton Kincaid. Credit: Gregory Fisher-USA TODAY Sports

Ja’Quan McMillian: A+ — If it wasn’t official already, it is now: The Broncos have their nickelback of the future. The 23-year-old opened the game by stripping the ball from a receiver and falling on it, stealing a possession on the game’s first play. 

The rest of the game was quieter for McMillian, but that isn’t a bad thing. On one third-quarter third down, McMillian lined up in man coverage against Stefon Diggs in the slot and ran stride-for-stride with him across the field. The ball was thrown to the other side of the field.

McMillian made a couple of minor mistakes—like on a fourth down when he should have passed his man off to Pat Surtain II and returned to his zone—but the only one that hurt his team was a missed tackle that cost seven yards. McMillian continued to stand out in the running game, especially when he dodged a lineman in space on a toss and helped stuff the running back during the second series.

Safeties

Justin Simmons: A+ — Simmons picked off an overthrow and almost turned a big run into a turnover when he knocked the ball out of the running back’s arms. 

Sometimes Simmons is best appreciated by watching other safeties. On the Broncos’ first pass of the game, Lil’Jordan Humphrey ran a drag route. Jordan Poyer, a Pro Bowler last season, was late recognizing the play and stumbled in transition, allowing Humphrey to get outside him for a 14-yard gain. It’s the kind of mistake you never see from the league’s most consistent safety.

Don’t take Simmons for granted just because you only hear his name when he’s forcing a turnover. I didn’t see a mistake from him in the game. 

Justin Simmons celebrates his interception. Credit: Gregory Fisher-USA TODAY Sports

PJ Locke: B — Locke’s night ended early with an injury, but he played solid ball up to that point. Both of his tackles were deep downfield, but he wasn’t beaten in coverage when he was on the field. 

Delarrin Turner-Yell: D — Turner-Yell had a tough day in sub duty. On his first play of the game, he plugged up a running lane… but couldn’t make a clean tackle and cost about five yards.

The low point came when he was late rotating over to the seam in center-field coverage, which forced Pat Surtain II to stick inside too long and leave a receiver open for a touchdown behind him.

I’m putting the blame on the second-year safety for another big play, a 38-yarder to Gabe Davis. It looked like Fabian Moreau was trying to pass the receiver off to Turner-Yell, but the safety was too deep and left a gap in the coverage. 

Hiccups are to be expected for young players.

Special Teams

Riley Dixon: F — This might be too harsh, but the bobbled hold on the Broncos’ final extra point could have cost them the game.

Dixon’s first two punts were touchbacks, including an unnecessary bomb from the plus side of the field that landed about five yards out of the back of the end zone.

Dixon fared better the rest of the game. He hit a 63-yarder—his long of the season—but dropped it in the center of the field. He also had back-to-back punts that pinned the Bills at their own 11-yard line, two of his best this season.

Wil Lutz: D+ — Kicker grades are hard and this one is particularly difficult. The game-winner was great. The missed extra point was not. And do you even grade the missed game-winner at all since it didn’t count?

Let’s just call it a D+ day and move on.

Wil Lutz is hoisted on his teammates shoulders after kicking the game winning field goal for a 24-22 win over the Bills.

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