Broncos-Chiefs grades: Headed in the right direction
DENVER — Maybe you call it a “moral victory.” Perhaps you don’t believe in such a thing. But by plenty of measurements, the Broncos’ 34-28 loss to Kansas City was their best performance of the season, given the opposition and the resilience in rallying from a 27-0 deficit.
Broncos coach Nathaniel Hackett noted the “aggressive” play-calling and up-tempo pace after the team fell behind 27-0, and the truth is, such tactics might be worth repeating in other game situations. Russell Wilson was confident as the tempo accelerated, adept at working beyond the structure of the play. Brett Rypien struggled under duress late.
RUNNING BACKS: B
Obviously, Marlon Mack’s catch-run-and-maintain-balance 66-yard touchdown stole the show. But in general, the backs did well with limited opportunities — a combined 21 touches among Mack, Latavius Murray and Mike Boone.
WIDE RECEIVERS: B-plus
Jerry Jeudy finding a new home at the “X” spot with a career-high 3 touchdown catches. Jeudy’s production is notable for plenty of reasons, not the least of which is the fact that he matched Courtland Sutton’s touchdown tally in 29 games over the last two seasons. Jeudy brought an explosive quality to that position, and it will be fascinating to see what the Broncos do once Sutton returns to health. Kendall Hinton had the unit’s only drop.
TIGHT ENDS: C
Both Eric Saubert and Greg Dulcich dropped a single pass each, but Dulcich generally had a strong day in the passing game, and for the second consecutive week, he drew extra attention in coverage, opening up space for Denver’s other receiving targets. Albert Okwuegbunam played two snaps and was a non-factor.
OFFENSIVE LINE: B-minus
Chris Jones was a problem for the interior offensive line, particularly in the first half, and Dalton Risner was missed early as Luke Wattenberg struggled. “Dalton has been our rock,” Hackett said. “He’s been the one guy that’s been here throughout the season. Losing him, both as a leader and as a player, was definitely something we were a little nervous about.” Netane Muti and Quinn Bailey did well at left guard when alternating possessions from the late second quarter through the rest of the game. With Muti now in Las Vegas, Bailey demonstrated that he could hold his own if asked to fill in for Risner again next week. Cam Fleming and Quinn Meinerz delivered particularly solid work.
DEFENSIVE LINE: B
Mike Purcell had perhaps his best day of the season. He was a consistent force on the interior, and his penetration own third-and-1 with 9:24 left in the game directly caused a Kansas City three-and-out. Dre’Mont Jones and Jonathan Harris also had significant plays, with Jones logging his first sack since before the bye.
EDGE RUSHERS: B-plus
Since his playing time increased in Week 6 against the Cardinals, Jonathon Cooper has been good for multiple pressures each game more often than not, and now has sacks in back-to-back weeks. Cooper, Baron Browning, Nik Bonitto and Jacob Martin all had multiple pressures. Bonitto was particularly effective as his repetitions increased after Martin succumbed to a minor injury. While the Broncos miss Bradley Chubb against the run, their remaining edge rushers have done well at filling in the void in the pass rush.
INSIDE LINEBACKERS: B-plus
Josey Jewell had an excellent read on the Patrick Mahomes-to-Travis Kelce collaboration and was a step ahead for most of the day, leading to both interceptions. Alex Singleton missed a pair of potential tackles, but he also delivered on special teams.
Most of Kansas City’s passing yards were not at the expense of Denver’s cornerbacks. The Chiefs mostly avoided Patrick Surtain II, throwing at him just three times — including his interception. Damarri Mathis had a missed tackle, but also broke up a pass and limited yardage after the catch. Mathis appears to be working his way into a long-term CB2 role. K’Waun Williams also broke up a pass in his return to action.
The coverage was generally solid, although Mahomes did well at finding gaps in the Broncos’ zone looks, and Kelce had too much space, particularly early. But both Justin Simmons and Kareem Jackson missed tackles.
It was only extra points, as the Broncos’ red-zone offense was far more effective than in the season’s first 12 games.
Corliss Waitman’s average hang time wasn’t at its early-season level, but he helped prevent explosive returns, and he had a solid 41.6-yard net average. But the difference in punters became apparent with an exchange of punts in the fourth quarter. Kansas City’s Tommy Townsend blasted a 61-yarder that forced Denver to start at its own 5-yard line. A three-and-out later, Waitman had a 43-yard punt with a sub-4.00-second hang time.
DKICKOFF/PUNT RETURNS: B-plus
This time, the Broncos were up to the “challenge” that special-teams coordinator Dwayne Stukes referenced. That challenge came once, and Montrell Washington worked his way up the left sideline for a 29-yard return. Harrison Butker’s subsequent kickoffs were all touchbacks.
KICKOFF/PUNT COVERAGE: B-plus
Kansas City did not have any explosive returns; their longest was just 7 yards, as Denver’s punt coverage did well to get downfield. All of McManus’ kickoffs were good for touchbacks.