POSTGAME GRADES

Broncos-Ravens grades: Defense gets high marks across the board

Dec 6, 2022, 9:15 PM | Updated: Dec 7, 2022, 1:04 am
Jonathon Cooper...
(Photo by Greg Fiume/Getty Images)
(Photo by Greg Fiume/Getty Images)

Recency bias can be a thing when it comes to looking at a football game.

For example, if the Broncos had lost 10-9 with the only touchdown coming in the second quarter, would the perception exist in some circles that the defense lost the game? Of course not. So, fundamentally, why would it be different when the touchdown happens in the game’s final moments?

And how can a defense be primarily culpable for a defeat when it allows just one touchdown and gifts three points for its offense? After all, one of Brandon McManus’ field goals followed a Justin Simmons interception — and saw the offense fail to muster even a single first down before the kick.

Rant over.

Moving on …

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OFFENSE

QUARTERBACK: B-minus

There were no giveaways. He showed flashes of his brilliance on a pair of deep passes to Greg Dulcich and Jerry Jeudy. And he largely executed the game plan well. He had success throwing down the middle at intermediate and deep ranges. It was the stay-within-the-lines-type of game plan crafted for Drew Lock at times during his three years with the Broncos. That has merit, but even with all the offensive injuries, the fact that it was utilized for Wilson was telling.

RUNNING BACKS: C-minus

They protected the football; the Broncos had no lost fumbles from the group. But holes were few and far between, and even when they existed, none of the runners proved capable of ripping off an explosive run. A sub-3.0-yards-per-carry average for the entire running-back group — 68 yards on 25 carries — isn’t going to cut it.

WIDE RECEIVERS: C-minus

Jeudy’s 40-yard catch kept the day from being a near-washout for the receivers. Courtland Sutton missed the entire second half with a hamstring injury; he didn’t have a catch before he departed. The receivers combined for 76 yards on five receptions, with seven total targets. On the positive side, there were no dropped passes. But the receivers didn’t generate consistent separation.

TIGHT ENDS: B

Much was asked of Dulcich, Eric Saubert and Eric Tomlinson, and by and large, they delivered. Dulcich was the only member of the group targeted, but Saubert and Tomlinson were both solid as blockers. Baltimore adjusted to Dulcich’s prominence and began bracketing him in the second half. That sort of attention will open up horizons for others.

OFFENSIVE LINE: C

One of the unit’s best days in pass protection also saw a frustrating day creating crease for the running backs. Wilson had the time he needed to operate far more often than not. Cam Fleming didn’t allow a pressure on the right flank, and Calvin Anderson had a nearly clean game at left tackle as he continues to look settled on that side.

***
DEFENSE

DEFENSIVE LINE: B

DeShawn Williams had his most productive game of the seaosn, with two sacks. Enyi Uwazurike had flashed against the run, as did D.J. Jones, who delivered consistent push into the backfield.

EDGE RUSHERS: A-minus

It basically became a three-player rotation among Jonathan Cooper, Baron Browning and Jacob Martin. All consistently generated pressure, with Cooper’s pursuit of Huntley leading directly to Justin Simmons’ first interception. The Broncos de-emphasized rookie Nik Bonitto; he played just one snap. Against a Ravens attack that rarely pushed the ball downfield, this was a wise move. Cooper, Martin and Browning all showed discipline in attacking Jackson and Huntley. But Browning lost his balance after being deked on a pump-fake by Huntley on the final series, creating space for a catch-and-run.

INSIDE LINEBACKERS: A-minus

The combination of Alex Singleton and Josey Jewell is the most effective the Broncos have had in quite some time. Their lapses are few. Both seemed to be a step ahead against the run throughout the day. Only Singleton’s final-drive penalty sullied the day for the duo.

CORNERBACKS: B

It was a relatively quiet day for Damarri Mathis and Pat Surtain, who found themselves tested infrequently as the Ravens rarely pushed downfield in the passing game. But Surtain’s pass-interference penalty in his matchup with Mark Andrews proved costly, jump-starting what proved to be Baltimore’s game-winning drive.

SAFETIES: A-minus

Justin Simmons’ ball-tracking abilities remain among the league’s best, although the fourth-quarter end-zone interception was as easy a theft as he will find. Both were solid against the run when asked.

***
SPECIAL TEAMS

PLACEKICKING: B-plus

Despite an injured quadriceps muscle, Brandon McManus was perfect from inside of 60 yards. The operation was crisp.

PUNTING: C-minus

Although just one of Corliss Waitman’s seven punts was returned, his hang times weren’t great; three were clocked at below 3.60 seconds. He got a pair of punts inside the 20-yard line, but didn’t flip the field when given the opportunity.

KICKOFF/PUNT RETURNS: C-minus

A few weeks ago, special-teams coordinator Dwayne Stukes discussed a disrespect for his team’s kickoff-return unit that led to short kickoffs, forcing returns. That continued, and with good reason — the Broncos averaged just 10.7 yards per kickoff return, including one 6-yard Saubert runback on a pooch kickoff.

KICKOFF/PUNT COVERAGE: B

The work has improved in this area, and Baltimore started inside its 25-yard line on each of the three kickoffs that Devin Duvernay returned.

***

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