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Broncos Game Grades: Lock overshadows a phenomenal defensive performance

Andre Simone Avatar
December 9, 2019

Throughout the entire 2019-20 season, DNVR will be giving you game grades from every Denver Broncos’ contest. Evaluating all the starters and beyond to give you a better look at the team’s strengths and weaknesses on a game-by-game basis.

Just like that, in a stunning 38-23 upset in Houston, the Denver Broncos were back to playing winning football on both sides of the ball. Not to mention, they might have just found their true franchise quarterback.

With all of that in mind, here are our grades from a pretty special afternoon in Texas. 

Standouts from the game

Drew Lock: A++

Lock was otherworldly, flashing rare ability in squeezing vertical, tight-window throws off of awkward platforms. Once he did that consistently on the first two drives, the rest of the field opened up and the rookie was clinical, staying poised under pressure, making quick decisions and accurate throws.

Once again, he did some of his best work on third down where he scored two touchdowns converted four-of-five attempts in the air and another with his feet.

He reminded us he’s still a rookie with his forced interception into double coverage, otherwise, he was a true joy to watch.

Kareem Jackson: A++

Jackson was a game wrecker against his former team, flattening receivers that outweigh him by at least 20 pounds, all while playing with his hair on fire against the run. He was also the catalyst for Denver’s opportunistic defense, scoring a touchdown and coming down with an interception—he almost had a second one that would have been a second touchdown.

Jackson simply made the big plays at the key moments of the game. Easily one of the best performances we’ve seen all year.

Noah Fant: A+

Fant imposed himself early and broke the game open, coming down with contested grabs and running wild all over the Texans defense. His run ability after the catch, at his size, was frightening for his opponents. He’s still so raw, the sky is the limit.

Will Parks: A-

Parks was on the field for 81 percent of the defensive snaps, most coming from the nickel where he was chasing slot receivers on motions pre-snap and crossers over the middle all game long. The do-it-all safety was up to the test, allowing only two grabs for 19 yards on six targets, all while closing the game out with an interception. 


Mike Purcell: B+

Playing a season-high 44 snaps (55 percent) as the defensive-line rotation dwindled down to four early, Purcell started off by playing disciplined gap stuffing run defense. With a lead, the Highlands Ranch product pinned his ears back and broke into the backfield for 1.5 run stuffs and two QB hurries. His effort was tremendous.

Shelby Harris: B+

Harris was a pest rushing the passer, first using his bull rush with a massive third-down pass deflection and a hurry, tossing his blocker into the quarterback. He had another hurry late penetrating inside. His motor was outstanding, constantly moving and bothering Deshaun Watson in the pocket.

Von Miller: B+

Despite not having a sack, Von affected the pass with timely pressures—three hurries and two QB hits—and scared left tackle Laremy Tunsil into two false-start penalties. His presence was felt in a glorious return. 

Alexander Johnson: A-

Johnson wasn’t swarming to the ball or thumping against the run but his impact was felt with a massive forced fumble that set the tone for the entire game. No. 45’s greatest impact came on the blitz where he created three hurries.

Todd Davis: D

Davis had a tough, unrewarding job. He was exploited early in coverage by more athletic receivers and wasn’t great defending the run. However, his job was to limit big plays and he did that, as the biggest gain he allowed was of 22 yards. While he looked slow in space he accomplished his job despite being targeted 12 times for nine receptions and 101 receiving yards.

Jeremiah Attaochu: B+

Attaochu’s impact was felt with three quarterback hurries, as he was relentless off the edge. He was also mindful enough on his fumble recovery to hand the ball off to Jackson. His growth has been noticeable.

Chris Harris Jr.: B+

DeAndre Hopkins was mostly quiet as Harris allowed four grabs for 44 yards on six targets, all while mixing it up against the run.

Justin Simmons: B

Simmons was his usual reliable self when in deep coverage. When called upon to make plays over the middle in single coverage he was swatting balls out the air like the ballhawk that he is. He did get run over by Carlos Hyde but was excellent outside of that. 

Isaac Yiadom: B

Yiadom locked down his side of the field as Harris battled Hopkins and Parks chased Keke Coutee across the formation. No. 26 ended up only getting targeted four times for 44 yards (the same as Harris) while playing every snap.

Other noteworthy defensive performances

Justin Hollins created pressure in flashes with a fine hurry early and then a few key pressures late.  He had a pass deflection as well and was a key factor in 57.5 percent of the snaps.

Adam Gotsis played a lot once Dre’Mont Jones went out and showed good effort against both the run and pass. 


Garett Bolles: C+

It was a tough start for Bolles who nullified a touchdown with an illegal block in the back. He allowed some pressure and struggled run blocking with some of the bigger defensive linemen Houston threw his way but kept the QB clean, earning a passing grade.

Dalton Risner: C+

Risner allowed some pressure and was beat on two occasions for run stops. As Denver tried to run behind the left side more often, he held up pretty well, especially in short-yardage situations.

Connor McGovern: C

McGovern was slow picking up a blitz leading to pressure up the middle and didn’t get to the second level in time resulting in a run stop—he would allow two more on the day. 

Austin Schlottman: C

Schlottman mixed it up and was physical from the jump all while playing a penalty-free game. He did allow two big pressures on key downs and did get outmuscled on two-run stops. It wasn’t perfect but given the circumstances, he played admirably.

Ja’Wuan James: B+

Playing in the first half, James was under control and played almost flawlessly in pass protection. Elijah Wilkinson (D) filled in in the second half and struggled in protecting the passer, allowing a sack, getting flagged for holding and allowing at least another pressure. He was better as a run blocker but struggled to keep Lock clean.

Courtland Sutton: C+

Sutton had a quiet day, catching throws to the sideline and drawing a couple of penalties in the secondary. Just having him on the field was key as he was a valuable decoy opening up space for his teammates. 

Tim Patrick: C+

Patrick had a great grab on a 37-yard throw that was right in the bucket but little else. He also drew his fair share of penalties.

Royce Freeman: C

Freeman only had eight carries, few were memorable, though he did catch a wide-open TD on a nice design. 

Phillip Lindsay: C

Phil had a score taken back but was still able to get his touchdown with an RPO run up the middle. He ran tough but just lacked any game-breaking plays on his 18 touches.

Other noteworthy offensive performances

DaeSean Hamilton saw the field on 75 percent of the snaps and got open more consistently than we’re used to, an encouraging performance. 

Jeff Heuerman helped as an added blocker, despite a run stop allowed, and caught a nice short TD.  

Special Teams: C

Just one field goal and only two punts, with the offense on fire, special teams were quiet and that was just fine—minus an onside kick that didn’t go the Broncos way. 

Coaching: A

Vic Fangio outcoached the Texans through and through with a disciplined performance. The defensive plan was excellent as the Broncos got after Watson with a season-high 17 quarterback hurries, taking away any potential big plays.

Rich Scangarello showed how adaptable he can be running RPOs and shotgun heavy spread looks. He schemed guys open underneath once Houston realized they had to respect Lock’s deep ball and everything opened up from there. 


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