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Broncos Game Grades: Kareem Jackson seals the Broncos' 31-28 comeback win against the Chicago Bears

Henry Chisholm Avatar
October 4, 2023

The Denver Broncos are finally back in the win column.

The Broncos scored 24 consecutive points in a 31-28 comeback win over the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field on Sunday. The win improves their record to 1-3 entering a home contest against the Jets this Sunday. The Bears extended their losing streak to 14 games.

After a one-week hiatus, Game Grades are back. If you’re wondering how the grades shook out against the Dolphins, it went something like this:

Marvin Mims: A+
Russell Wilson: B+
Everybody Else: F

So now we’re all caught up.

Here’s how the Broncos graded out in Chicago:

Offense

Quarterbacks

Russell Wilson: A — Wilson played another clean game on Sunday. He completed 21 of his 28 pass attempts for 223 yards with three touchdowns and no turnovers. His 133.5 passer rating ranked fourth among quarterbacks this week, and his 106.7 rating for the season ties for third.

Wilson operated as a game manager early. The first couple of passes came off of misdirection, with Wilson hitting Javonte Williams and Chris Manhertz underneath. Then he hit Jerry Jeudy on a quick slot slant. That first drive was capped off with a touchdown to Jaleel McLaughlin off of a screen.

As the game wore on, Wilson was asked to make more difficult plays. He dropped a floater in to Brandon Johnson for a touchdown in the back of the end zone. He pulled the Broncos within one score of the Bears with an absolute rocket to Courtland Sutton on 3rd & 10. He set up the game-winning field goal by driving a ball in to Marvin Mims in the “Turkey Hole” on the sideline for a 48-yard gain. My personal favorite was when a defender was caught between Wilson and McLaughlin, who was a few yards upfield. Wilson waited for the defender to charge him and floated a ball over the defender’s head to his running back, knowing he would have to wear a blast to the chest to make the play. He took the beating in exchange for a 15-yard gain.

Wilson had his mistakes—like when he sailed a ball over Adam Trautman’s head—but he was sharp for the most part.

Russell Wilson and Brandon Johnson celebrate after their third-quarter touchdown. Credit: Jamie Sabau-USA TODAY Sports

Running Backs

Samaje Perine: C- — Perine only mustered 12 yards on his six rush attempts, but his offensive line didn’t give him much to work with. If he’d gotten the blocking that Jaleel McLaughlin did, the numbers would probably look different.

In the passing game, Perine was effective. He picked up 23 yards on two catches, including 12 on a slant when the Broncos split him out wide.

Jaleel McLaughlin: A- — The Broncos have a stud on their hands. He ran the ball seven times for 72 yards. He caught the ball three times for 32 yards and a touchdown. The efficiency speaks for itself.

McLaughlin’s lone mistake—and the reason he doesn’t get an A+—is a missed block in pass protection that resulted in a sack. After the game, Sean Payton said that it was the coach’s fault for asking him to do something he isn’t meant for.

Still, the rookie responded exactly how you’d hope after Javonte Williams left the game with a hip injury. His 16 snaps were the most of his career, and that number should grow in Week 5.

Jaleel McLaughlin a touchdown. Credit: Jamie Sabau-USA TODAY Sports

Michael Burton: B+ — When the Broncos turned to Burton (which wasn’t often), the veteran did his job. His best block came on Jaleel McLaughlin’s 14-yard run.

Tight Ends

Adam Trautman: B+ — Trautman shined as a blocker on Sunday. He had a great kickout on Jaleel McLaughlin’s first run go the day. He collapsed the edge of the defense on McLaughlin’s 14-yard run. He had another great block on McLaughlin’s 31-yard run. A holding penalty knocks his grade down, but not by much since it was declined.

Chris Manhertz: B- — We have our first Manhertz catch of the season. On the second play of the game, he leaked across the formation off of play action and hauled in a ball for a 10-yard gain. Five more catches and he’ll match his career high.

As always, the bulk of Manhertz’s work came in the ground game. He had a hiccup when he missed a block on the final drive and gave up a tackle for loss. The play was a mess from the whole offensive line, but Manhertz was the first domino to fall. For the most part, Manhertz played a clean game. His highlight came when he bodied a linebacker on Jaleel McLaughlin’s first run.

Nate Adkins: A- — Adkins was only on the field for three pass plays and he came away with two catches for eight yards. His three snaps as a blocker didn’t provide anything notable. The Broncos lined him up at fullback twice. While Michael Burton is still doubling Adkins up in snaps, that balance is worth keeping an eye on over the next few weeks.

Wide Receivers

Courtland Sutton: B- — Sutton’s touchdown grab made Sunday a good day, but his volume was disappointing when considering the Broncos continued to play him as their No. 1 receiver. Three catches for 27 yards just isn’t inspiring. The Broncos targeted Sutton just in front of the sticks on the final 3rd & 10 but he couldn’t bring in the contested grab. He probably wouldn’t have picked up the first down, but he would have taken nine yards off the game-winning field goal. Outside of the touchdown, his highlight was a great block on Jaleel McLaughlin’s touchdown.

Jerry Jeudy: C — Jeudy was key on the Broncos’ third touchdown drive. He made a good catch on a shallow post to get the Broncos across midfield and then hauled in a deep corner for 26 yards. He only had one other catch, a tricky contested grab on a slant from the slot on the first drive. His three catches for 52 yards might be disappointing, but he was only on the field for 63% of the Broncos’ offensive plays, which is a number that is worth monitoring going forward, especially since he didn’t start the game. His drop at the start of the second half impacts his grade significantly.

Marvin Mims picks up 48 yards in the fourth quarter. Credit: Jamie Sabau-USA TODAY Sports

Marvin Mims Jr.: B- — This is a tough grade. Let’s start with the good:

Mims’ 48-yard catch on the Broncos’ final drive set them up to kick a game-winning field goal. His two catches for 47 yards are a great return on investment for a player who was only on the field for 35% of snaps. He also had a 25-yard punt return that set up a fourth-quarter touchdown drive.

But there’s some bad, too: Mims dropped a kickoff and left the Broncos with a 96-yard field. As you’d expect, that drive was dead before it even started. He also missed a block on a third-quarter toss that could have gone for a decent gain if he’d done his job.

So where does that leave us? One drive essentially killed. Two big plays on touchdown drives. I’m calling it a slightly above average performance but would listen to arguments to move it in either direction.

Brandon Johnson: A — Johnson only had one catch, but it was a good one: the second-year receiver came free in the back of the end zone for his third touchdown of the season. More production would have been great, but a touchdown in a limited role is enough for an A.

Brandon Johnson catches a touchdown. Credit: Mike Dinovo-USA TODAY Sports

Lil’Jordan Humphrey: A — Humphrey’s role has consistently decreased, falling from 45 snaps in Week 1 to 10 snaps on Sunday. He made his presence felt by catching a ball halfway to the sticks on 3rd & 11 and battling defenders on his way to a first down. A few plays later, the Broncos scored to make it a one-score game.

Lil’Jordan Humphrey fights for a touchdown. Credit: Jamie Sabau-USA TODAY Sports

Offensive Linemen

Garett Bolles: A- — If not for the false start, Bolles’ grade would have been much better. He’d be in the conversation to be the Broncos’ MVP on Sunday. But a third-down penalty in the fourth quarter stings. Bolles spent much of his day lined up against Yannick Ngakoue, the only Bear with a sack coming into the game, and shut him and everybody else down. He was a force on the left side of the Broncos’ line.

Ben Powers: B- — Powers was solid in pass protection, a clean pass off of a twist with Garett Bolles was the highlight, but he didn’t factor into any of the Broncos’ big runs. Denver was zone-heavy with their running attack on Sunday, but backs never chose the hole to Powers’ right and only hit the hole off his left shoulder once. The run went for one yard. Powers didn’t have any highlights in the running game, but he wasn’t a notable issue.

Ben Powers takes the field before the game. Credit: Mike Dinovo-USA TODAY Sports

Lloyd Cushenberry: C+ — Cushenberry’s had a tough stretch late in the second quarter, when he could have sparked a big play with a better block on a Jaleel McLaughlin run, and then was called for a false start on the next play. He was clean in pass protection, but centers typically have the easiest job on passing downs.

Quinn Meinerz: B — Meinerz was in on a bunch of the Broncos’ best runs. He had the key block on an 11-yard run from Jaleel McLaughlin in the third quarter and had the lead block on McLaughlin’s touchdown. He made a few mistakes—most notably a false start that contributed to the failure of the Broncos’ first drive of the second half—but did more good than harm over the course of the game.

Quinn Meinerz leads the way for Jaleel McLaughlin’s touchdown. Credit: Jamie Sabau-USA TODAY Sports

Mike McGlinchey: B- — Two false starts bomb McGlinchey’s grade, which otherwise would have been in the B+ range. His four penalties this season are tied for the fifth-most in the NFL after four weeks.

McGlinchey had his moments, though. He had a great block on Jaleel McLaughlin’s first run. He had a great sustained block in space on McLaughlin’s 31-yard catch and run.

Defense

Defensive Linemen

Zach Allen: B — Allen split a sack with Nik Bonitto in the third quarter. He stuffed a run right before halftime and bottled up a short run right after halftime. He hit Justin Fields on the final drive, but the pass was still complete. It was a solid outing from the defensive lineman.

DJ Jones: A — The Broncos’ veteran defensive tackle bullied Chicago’s interior linemen. He clogged up a number of runs and was the key reason the Bears only gained 24 yards on their 10 runs in the A gaps. He didn’t record a tackle for loss, but he had his chance when he got into the backfield in the fourth quarter but couldn’t quite reach the back. He didn’t record a sack, but he got to the quarterback’s ankles on the final drive and forced an intentional grounding.

Jonathan Harris: C- — Harris was quiet on Sunday. He had a few tackles, including one on the first drive when he helped bottle up a run. He didn’t leave much of a mark despite playing the majority of the game.

Matt Henningsen: C+ — The second-year defensive tackle was quiet in his 12 snaps, except for when he stuffed a 3rd & Goal run. 

Outside Linebackers

Jonathon Cooper: A+ — Cooper’s scoop and score is doing the heavy lifting with his grade, but there’s more to like. He beat the left tackle with speed right before halftime, putting the Bears behind schedule and contributing to forcing a punt. He drew a fourth-quarter holding penalty. He also forced a throw away on the final drive.

There were some mistakes, too. He missed contain on a couple of jet sweeps, which hurt the Broncos but those are also tough plays to make. He also over pursued a tackle on a pass to a running back in the flat. But the mistakes are easily outweighed by the highlights.

Jonathon Cooper outruns Justin Fields to the end zone. Credit: Jamie Sabau-USA TODAY Sports

Nik Bonitto: A+ — Bonitto’s 2-1/2 sacks and forced fumble earn him the top grade possible. He is now 10th in the NFL in sacks and second in tackles for loss. Two of Bonitto’s sacks came when blockers pulled across the formation to take him out, but Bonitto was fast enough to get to the quarterback before they made it across the formation. The third was when he was the unblocked defender on a naked bootleg and he charged the quarterback instead of biting on play action. He also had a clean win on a more traditional pass rush and chased the quarterback out of the pocket on the end-of-half Hail Mary.

Randy Gregory: C+ — Gregory didn’t start for the Broncos on Sunday and didn’t see the field until the second series. He played less than half of Denver’s defensive snaps.

Gregory made his way into the backfield a couple of times. He hit Justin Fields once, forcing an incompletion. He also lost contain on a jet sweep in the first quarter, but that was a tough play to make.

Inside Linebackers

Alex Singleton: A — Singleton’s fourth-down stop gave his offense a chance to take the lead with less than three minutes on the clock. It was one of the crucial plays in the game. He provided a steady presence in the run game, even making a clean open-space tackle on Justin Fields. Singleton’s 12 tackles were the most in the game.

Alex Singleton celebrates his fourth-down stop late in the fourth quarter. Credit: Jamie Sabau-USA TODAY Sports

Drew Sanders: C+ — The rookie took a big step forward in his second game of extended action. He was much more comfortable, especially in the running game. He was patient, watching the blocking develop in front of him and meeting the back in the gap. There were a couple of examples on the Bears’ second drive. The game clearly slowed down for him. On some the Bears’ runs, Sanders looked like a veteran allowing the play to develop.

But some of the mistakes persisted, which is to be expected from a 21-year-old in a mentally-intensive role. The Bears leaked Darnell Mooney through the backfield on a play-action pass. Sanders was supposed to hold down the backside flat but was late catching the receiver heading toward his zone. Chicago gained a first down. Later on, he didn’t drop deep enough on a crossing route. Since he was in no man’s land, his only option was to charge the quarterback, who dropped the ball over his head for a 22-yard gain. Both of these plays were play-action, which is worth noting going forward. He might have been a step late getting to the flat with a running back in the fourth quarter.

Overall, Sanders played a solid game. His strength is in the running game, where his next step will be improving at slipping off of blocks. Not biting on play action should help him in coverage. He missed multiple tackles again, which makes sense for a 21-year-old rookie, but needs to be cleaned up if he’s going to be a consistent net positive player for the Broncos going forward.

Cornerbacks

Pat Surtain II: C+ — A couple of early completions against Surtain are tough to grade. One was a 3rd & 14 catch from DJ Moore that set up a 4th & 1. The Bears decided to punt. Another was a 3rd & 5 completion that set up a 4th & 1. This time the Bears decided to try to convert the 4th down and were successful. On both plays, Surtain held his man short on third down, but maybe that isn’t enough to earn full marks.

Later on, he took a perfect angle to cut off a crosser to Moore but couldn’t quite make the play. He was inches from breaking the pass up, but instead the Bears picked up 24 yards. He was called for holding later on.

Surtain had his moments, like a good cover on Moore on the Bear’s final drive, and when Justin Fields rolled to his side of the field but had to slide for a short gain because Surtain had clamped Moore down. But Surtain didn’t play up to his standards on Sunday.

DJ Moore makes a catch in front of Pat Surtain II in the first quarter. Credit: Jamie Sabau-USA TODAY Sports

Damarri Mathis: D — Mathis wasn’t terrible on Sunday, but he didn’t make any plays either. He played a little too far off on a hitch and gave up an early first down. He reacted a step late to a flea-flicker and gave up 21 yards. In the third quarter, Mathis was in decent position but couldn’t break up a 3rd & 10 slant that moved the sticks. A few plays later, the Bears scored their final touchdown of the game. Mathis’ mistakes weren’t egregious, but he didn’t do anything to balance them out.

Ja’Quan McMillian: D — This grade might be too harsh. I came away from the game more encouraged than discouraged about the second-year cornerback. But I think it’s the right grade.

McMillian gave up a 29-yard touchdown on a slot fade. He stumbled and fell, which is why the receiver came open. The play isn’t concerning for the future—sometimes players slip and fall—but he was ultimately responsible for the play. McMillian also gave up a conversion on a 3rd & 2 return route on the Bears’ final touchdown drive. And he overran his contain responsibilities and gave up a 24-yard run.

McMillian took over the slot responsibilities this week, which meant he was important on running downs. Outside of the one blown contain, he was great. He had his nose in the first run of the game and was a presence in the trenches the rest of the day. He flew in to blow up a short pass the next after one of his run stuffs. 

Safeties

Kareem Jackson celebrates his game-winning interception. Credit: Jamie Sabau-USA TODAY Sports

Kareem Jackson: A — The 34-year-old vet won the game for the Broncos with an interception as the Bears reached midfield. He almost had the game-sealing interception a few plays earlier.

Outside of that play, Jackson was at his best in the running game. He was always in the right place, including when he plugged up a hole to force a third down in the second half.

In the passing game, Jackson drew some tough assignments. He ran stride-for-stride with Darnell Mooney across the middle of the field on the Bears’ second drive, but Mooney stopped on a dime, which opened a window. Jackson made an immediate tackle, but it was a 16-yard gain. A 10-yard pass interference penalty gave the Bears a 1st & Goal opportunity, but it was a tough call since Jackson was going for the ball. 

Without the interception, Jackson would have had a solid-to-good game. With the interception, it was a great game.

Delarrin Turner-Yell: B+ — The second-year safety had an up-and-down day, but he was clutch in the fourth quarter and his two key plays are weighted heavily. First, he broke up a third-down pass to get the Bears off the field. Then a couple of minutes later he made a tackle in the hole to set up the Broncos’ fourth-down stop. The rest of the day came with some mistakes—it might have been his responsibility to cover the seam on Cole Kmet’s wide open touchdown, and he didn’t get to the sideline quickly enough to stop a 24-yard pass in the Cover 2 gap—but he was consistent in the run game, either flying up to plug holes or serving as the last line of defense.

Delarrin Turner-Yell plugs a running lane in the second half. Credit: Mike Dinovo-USA TODAY Sports

Special Teams

Wil Lutz celebrates with Riley Dixon after nailing a 51-yard game-winning field goal. Credit: Jamie Sabau-USA TODAY Sports

Wil Lutz: A — A 51-yard game-winner is worthy of an A. He also hit all four of his extra-point attempts.

Riley Dixon: D+ — You have to give Dixon slack since he was punting from his own end zone, but a 38-yard kick to your own 44-yard line stinks. His next two kicks were both 40 yards, with one landing at the 15-yard line and the other at the 16. Those are fine results, but a little closer to the 10 would go a long way. His 45-yard kick to the 26-yard line leaves plenty more to be desired. Maybe he deserves some credit for his hold on the game-winning field goal.

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