DENVER, Colo. — Broncos season is finally here, but it didn’t start the way fans had hoped.
Denver fell 17-16 to the Las Vegas Raiders in their season-opener despite carrying a lead in the fourth quarter. The Raiders extended their winning streak over the Broncos to seven games and own sole control of the AFC West.
Here’s how the Broncos graded out…
Russell Wilson: B+ — Wilson was clinical on Sunday. He completed nearly 80% of his passes. He didn’t turn the ball over. He punched the ball into the end zone when he got his chance with a pair of touchdown passes.
He used his checkdowns when nothing else was available. He rolled out and hit receivers on play-action. He evaded pressure and found space to throw. He should’ve had a chuck gain up the sideline, but Phillip Dorsett couldn’t get his feet down in bounds.
Wilson wasn’t perfect, though. He missed Javonte Williams on an easy throw early in the game. He threw a slant behind Courtland Sutton but was bailed out by pass interference. He threw another ball short of Courtland on 2nd & 11 on the final drive.
Completing 27 of 34 passes for 177 yards for two touchdowns and no picks is solid at worst. Given the pace of the game, it looks even better. A big-gainer would go a long way in improving his grade.
Javonte Williams: A- — Williams bounced a few runs outside and turned next to nothing into gains. One went for double-digits, one went for eight and one went for three. My favorite play was a pancake in pass protection. His 13 carries for 52 yards may not sound like “A” material, but Williams played well.
Samaje Perine: B- — One play holds Perine back from a much higher grade. On 3rd & 1, Perine tried to juke outside of a rookie cornerback to create a big gain. Instead, he was tackled behind the sticks to force a fourth down. Perine was great the rest of the day, including when he made a man miss at the line of scrimmage and kept running for a 20-yard catch. That’s why he led the Broncos in receiving. He was extremely efficient, with 41 yards on 8 carries.
Michael Burton: B+ — Burton made a clean block to set the edge for a run, and he also caught a ball on the sideline to convert a 3rd & 1. He only played six snaps, and he benefits from a small sample size.
Courtland Sutton: B- — Sutton was crucial to the Broncos two-minute drill at the end of the first half. That’s when he caught three of his four passes. Sutton finished the game with four catches for 32 yards and a touchdown. He also drew a long pass interference. He made a great down block on 3rd & 1 that should have moved the chains, but the running back tried to bounce outside instead of pushing straight ahead.
Lil’Jordan Humphrey: B+ — Humphrey played the second-most snaps of any receiver, but he only caught two passes for 11 yards. One of those catches was a touchdown, which helped his grade. It’s worth noting that a larger share of his snaps came on run plays than any other Broncos wideout. His blocking was disappointing, considering his skill set. He didn’t have any dominant plays, and he missed a couple of blocks over the course of the game.
Brandon Johnson: C — The 21-yard grab on the first drive was the highlight for Johnson. It was a great play, but he only had one more catch the rest of the day. If he’d had a better block on the opening kickoff of the second half, Marvin Mims might have been gone.
Marvin Mims Jr.: C — Mims played the fourth-most snaps among Broncos receivers and didn’t come away with much to show for them. He made a good grab on the sideline. He totaled nine yards on two catches. He was solid returning kicks, starting the Broncos off at the 27- and 26-yard line.
Phillip Dorsett: F — Dorsett came so close to making a massive play. He was 21 yards downfield and wide open when Russell Wilson hit him with the ball, but he stepped out of bounds before he gained control. If he’d kept his footing, he would have run for another 20 yards. Since he only played six snaps, that one misstep is the difference between an A+ and an F.
Adam Trautman: C — Trautman almost made a massive play when he caught a ball short of the sticks on 3rd & 11 on the Broncos’ final drive, but he couldn’t break a tackle, and the Broncos were forced to kick the ball away. Trautman’s best play was when he beat a safety in man coverage on a dig and hauled in a pass to covert a third down. He also mauled Max Crosby on a double-team, but I expected more from Trautman as a blocker. He missed a block on a run late in the third quarter and wasn’t quite as sharp as I expected in general.
Greg Dulcich: B- — Greg Dulcich had two catches for 22 yards over the course of his 21 snaps in the game. One of them was on a deep out route when he made a great cut and converted a 3rd & 10. On the next play, he lined up in the Broncos backfield but missed a block on a linebacker that ended a run play.
Chris Manhertz: D+ — A holding call dooms Manhertz’s grade. Maxx Crosby beat him inside for a run stuff and Manhertz had no choice but to grab him.
Garett Bolles: A — Bolles took on Maxx Crosby a couple of times early in the game, and he held his own. Crosby made an inside move to get by him on an early pass, but Bolles recovered and ran Crosby by the quarterback. Only nine of Crosby’s 63 snaps came on Bolles’ side, and most of them came early. Maybe that was the gameplan, or maybe the Raiders realized Crosby wasn’t getting anything done against Bolles. When Crosby lined up against McGlinchey, the Broncos sent help to the right side, which left Bolles one-on-one. He held his own from start to finish and was strong at the point of attack in the run game.
Ben Powers: C+ — Powers had a big push and pancake to open up a long run in the third quarter. He had a good pull to seal a hole later on. But he started slowly, including when he couldn’t get to his man on a screen pass, turning a potential big gain into a loss.
Lloyd Cushenberry III: C+ — On the first run of the game, Cushenberry helped Ben Powers with a double-team and then cut back to take out a linebacker to seal the running lane for an eight-yard gain. He was also pancaked for an immediate tackle for loss on a first & goal.
Quinn Meinerz: B — One bad play tanks Meinerz’s grade. He missed a linebacker when pulling on a power run. He turned around in the hole because he thought the linebacker had tackled the running back, inadvertently filling the lane. A cleaner play and Samaje Perine might have run for a touchdown.
Other than that play, Meinerz was great. He worked a double-team with Mike McGlinchey on the first run of the game and then pulled to open up a hole for a first down on the next play. He was generally great as a puller. He had a third-down pancake in pass protection. I’m tempted to raise his grade.
Mike McGlinchey: C- — This is one of the toughest grades of the game. McGlinchey drew a remarkably tough assignment, taking on Maxx Crosby for most of the night. He didn’t get much help in the first couple of drives, and he held his own. He didn’t give up the edge, and when Crosby beat him with an inside move, he recovered well to give the quarterback time to escape the pocket.
The tide turned in the second quarter when Crosby strung together a couple of nice plays. He beat McGlinchey with a swim move for a sack. But it was his second move, and it took 2.8 seconds for him to get to the quarterback. On the next play, Crosby pressured the quarterback again. For the rest of the game, the Broncos gave McGlinchey help with chips and double-teams. The poor sequence and a play later in the game, when McGlinchey didn’t pick up a late twist, hurt his grade. He might deserve much better.
Zach Allen: B — Allen was in on five tackles, including when he broke into the backfield for a tackle for loss to set up a 3rd & 7 on the final drive. He could have had another TFL in the fourth quarter when he beat an offensive lineman cleanly but couldn’t get Josh Jacobs down initially. Allen separated from linemen easily and was key in limiting Jacobs. His low point was when he missed a tackle on a screen.
DJ Jones: B+ — Jones spent about half the game playing as a nose tackle, which is a tough spot to make splash plays from. He stood up the middle of the line to help stuff a QB sneak. He was in on a couple of run stuffs. He had a good rush on the Pat Surtain pass interference. He also made a great play on the final drive to chase down Jimmy Garoppolo and set up a third down.
Jonathan Harris: C — Harris held his own in the A and B gaps, which was crucial to stopping Josh Jacobs. He made a clean run stuff in the fourth quarter as one of his four tackles. He may deserve a higher grade.
Mike Purcell: B- — The big man provided one of the Broncos’ three hits on Jimmy Garoppolo, which isn’t really what you expect from him. He was solid in the run game, but never provided a splash play.
Matt Henningsen: B- — A run stop near the end of the first half was the highlight of a short outing.
Randy Gregory: C — Gregory’s only mark in the stat sheet was a tackle assist, but he did more than you might have realized. He collapsed a third-quarter run on 2nd & 10. He also drew a holding shortly thereafter. Still, the Broncos need more from their top edge rusher.
Jonathon Cooper: B — Cooper started over Frank Clark and played about two-thirds of the game. The Broncos used him more often in run situations than on passing downs. He was generally successful setting the edge and was strong at the point of attack. He missed contain on one play but recovered to make the tackle for a seven-yard gain. On the first pass of the game, Cooper read the quarterback’s eyes and nearly got his hand on a slant but just missed.
Frank Clark: D+ — He jumped offside on 3rd & 3. He didn’t provide a pressure despite rushing the passer 16 times over the course of his 25 snaps. There were highlights—like when he helped to corral a receiver screen—but the lowlights are what stand out.
Nik Bonitto: C+ — Bonitto had one of the Broncos’ six pressures, but he was also pancaked on an inside move on a 3rd & Goal pass. He pursued a toss to his side well to help set up the 3rd & Goal. Bonitto only played 15 snaps, and he dropped into coverage on six of them.
Alex Singleton: A+ — Singleton played with his hair on fire on Sunday. He was always around the ball. He slipped past blockers easily. He bottled up the edge on tosses. He had one of the Broncos’ three hits on Jimmy Garoppolo right before halftime. His highlight was when he tipped a ball up in the red zone, and Kareem Jackson intercepted it. A missed tackle on the sideline almost drops his grade from an A+ to an A, but the key cog in holding Josh Jacobs to 2.5 yards per carry deserves the A+.
Josey Jewell: B- — Jewell played a great game. He helped stuff a run on the first play of the game. He helped with a third-down tackle in front of the sticks. He did all of the things we expect from him and was a key piece of stopping Josh Jacobs. But on the final real play of the game, Jewell blitzed. He thought he saw Jimmy Garoppolo throw the ball and left to pursue the receiver, but Garoppolo still had it and had room to run for a game-ending first down through the space that Jewell vacated. It’s a simple mistake, but it drops his grade from the A range.
Pat Surtain II: A — What a game. Surtain spent most of the game lined up across from Davante Adams, one of the toughest assignments in the league. And Surtain won the battle easily.
He broke up a pair of slants, one of which came at the goal line. He also broke up a jump ball off of a flea-flicker. On a third down from five yards outside the end zone, Surtain played outside leverage, and when Adams tried to break out, he hit a brick wall. He had no choice but to stand and watch the rest of the play. Only one player in the NFL has more pass breakups than Surtain after Week 1.
Surtain gave Adams an eight-yard slant on the second play of the game and a three-yard hitch on a 2nd & 6. His third-down pass interference penalty on the sideline takes his grade from an A+ to an A, which might be too harsh.
Damarri Mathis: F — The second-year cornerback had a rough night. With Pat Surtain locking down Davante Adams on the other side, Mathis’ primary assignment was Jakobi Meyers. Meyers caught a handful of passes against Mathis, including touchdowns at the goal line on a fade and a slant. Mathis also stumbled into Meyers in the end zone and was called for a pass interference. Mathis had his moments, like a great tackle to stuff a run on the first drive of the game and a really good cover in the back of the end zone later on, but he had a rough 2023 debut.
Essay Bassey: C — Bassey recovered the game-opening onside kick, but a penalty negated the play. His play of the game was when he passed off a slant to Justin Simmons in the end zone, then broke back to contest a throw to Jakobi Meyers. He also allowed a slant to Meyers on 3rd & 7 on the final drive but had help from Kareem Jackson to prevent the first down. (Jackson’s penalty gave up the first down, though.) Bassey made a clean solo tackle on Josh Jacobs to set up a 3rd & long. His grade takes a major hit for his late hit on Jimmy Garoppolo that cost the Broncos 15 yards. He slowed up on his final few steps of a corner blitz, but if he had continued full speed, he wouldn’t have drawn the flag.
Justin Simmons: D+ — Simmons had a rough night, but he was so close to having a really good one. He just about broke up a 20-yard pass to Austin Hooper, but the quarterback placed it perfectly on his back shoulder, and Simmons wasn’t able to get the ball away. Simmons missed three tackles, his most since the 2020 finale. One of them came after a great play to get into the backfield and have a chance at a tackle for loss. He was also called for a late hit that turned a 4th & short into a first down.
Simmons was generally good, as you’d expect. He made a good read on a crosser and made a quick tackle. The Raiders generally didn’t have success in the deep middle of the field. But the bad outweighs the good. There’s no need to worry about Simmons. He just had a couple of tough breaks and an off night overall.
Kareem Jackson: B+ — Two plays define Jackson’s night. The first came when he picked off a tipped pass in the end zone, which took somewhere between three and seven points off the board. The second play was an unnecessary roughness penalty that ended the game. But that was a tough play since the receiver had caught the ball on a 3rd & 7 slant and was nearing the sticks. Jackson was able to prevent him from gaining the first down and was somewhat unlucky with the penalty. He was in a tough spot. It was a bang-bang play.
The rest of the night, the 34-year-old Jackson was the same player we’ve known for half a decade in Denver. He was a missile flying around the field and was crucial to the run defense. He may have sat too low on the boundary in Cover 3, allowing Davante Adams space behind him.
Wil Lutz: F — Lutz was one-for-two on extra points. He made a 24-yard kick and missed a 55-yarder. This grade may be too low, but in a one-point game, the Broncos needed more from their kicker.
Riley Dixon: C- — One punt was incredible; Dixon pinned the Raiders at the 5-yard line. The other was terrible; the ball flew out of bounds 37 yards downfield.
Tremon Smith: D- — Smith didn’t take a defensive snap, but he made plenty of noise on special teams. The illegal touching penalty on the game-opening onside kick outweighs solid play the rest of the day.
Fabian Moreau: A — This is more of a shoutout than anything, but despite not playing a defensive snap, Fabian Moreau made his presence felt on special teams by downing a punt at the five.