Broncos-Cardinals grades: DeShawn Williams is acing the tests
DENVER —Offensively, this is a game in which one ought to give out two sets of grades. The contrast between the first and second halves was profound. But on balance, the positives outweighed the negatives.
Brett Rypien took a sensible approach. He wasn’t trying to reach the green on a par-5 in two strokes, so to speak. He operated well within the structure of the scheme. His only major miscue was understandable mistake — and also one that must be avoided, when he thought J.J. Watt was offside, leading to a deep attempt that Budda Baker picked off. If you’re going to take the low-percentage downfield shot into heavy traffic on first down, you’d better know that the official threw the flag.
RUNNING BACKS: B
Both Latavius Murray and Marlon Mack found their stride in the last two weeks. Both also had success on toss sweeps, something not seen terribly often earlier in the season. They read holes as they develop well, and the Broncos could be wise to bring both back for 2023, ensuring that in an offseason that could see plenty of change, they can have at least one position about which they shouldn’t worry.
WIDE RECEIVERS: C-plus
Jerry Jeudy had a drop, but also did well at gaining separation underneath, giving Rypien a reliable safety valve early that he came back to in the second half. But in general, it was a day on which the Broncos’ massive injury woes at the position had an effect, with Brandon Johnson and Freddie Swain forced into extensive duty.
TIGHT ENDS: B-minus
The blocking could have been better in the first half, but on the whole improved after halftime. Eric Tomlinson had his most effective day as a pass-catcher — even before his fourth-quarter TD catch off of a play-fake.
OFFENSIVE LINE: C
Luke Wattenberg’s improvement was massive. Certainly, the emphasis on the ground game after he returned to the lineup in the second half helped his cause, but his assertiveness, quickness and increased confidence were obvious. But across the board, the unit had significant trouble containing the Cardinals’ pass rush, particularly J.J. Watt. Dalton Risner gamely battled through injuries and held up well. Tom Compton struggled before back issues felled him. Billy Turner delivered solid work in pass protection despite the absence of Quinn Meinerz after the first series.
DEFENSIVE LINE: B-plus
DeShawn Williams isn’t simply a johnny-on-the-spot D-lineman capitalizing on plays flowing to his direction; he’s causing disruption on his own. Jonathan Harris, D.J. Jones and Miek Purcell all had pressures, while Enyi Uwazurike fared well against the run. The unit missed Dre’Mont Jones, but Uwazurike’s improvement in recent weeks could bode well for the future.
EDGE RUSHERS: B
Randy Gregory entering the rotation didn’t change things much for Jonathon Cooper, who did his usual thing, recording multiple pressures. Sunday, he logged three pressures of Cardinals quarterbacks. Baron Browning had a half-sack, splitting the honors with Williams. Bonitto had a pressure, but is still finding his depth. In the offseason, the competition with him and Cooper will be fascinating. Cooper has an advantage in experience, but at the same time, the 2021 seventh-round pick has growth potential, too. This area remains a strength.
INSIDE LINEBACKERS: B
Alex Singleton was so ubiquitous he even took out Bonitto at one point. Singleton and Josey Jewell found themselves in the area of a slew of short passes from Colt McCoy and Trace McSorley, as they rarely tested the Broncos downfield.
The coverage work from Pat Surtain II and Damarri Mathis was exceptional. Just five passes were thrown in the direction of the Broncos’ top two healthy cornerbacks combined. Surtain’s interception capped a strong day of work.
Justin Simmons was in the right place at the right time, but he had a solid day in coverage responsibilities even if you remove the two interceptions from the equation. Both he and Kareem Jackson missed a potential tackle apiece.
A missed 38-yard field goal drags down the day. Brandon McManus sliced that kick wide right. It was his third missed field goal from inside of 40 yards; the other two failed attempts were blocked. His 75-percent success rate from inside of 40 yards is the lowest for a single season in his career; his previous low was 85 percent, in 2017.
Corliss Waitman’s ups and downs — particularly in hang time — have been well-documented. But he capped his Sunday with one of his finest punts — a 44-yarder downed at the Arizona 3-yard line with 1:48 remaining. Dwayne Stukes exulted and hugged Waitman as he came off the field — an embrace that was well-deserved.
DKICKOFF/PUNT RETURNS: C
It was a non-descript day. Montrell Washington avoided big mistakes, but didn’t have any explosive returns of Andy Lee’s punts. Lee got a favorable bounce up the left sideline on one punt, preventing any return from happening.
KICKOFF/PUNT COVERAGE: B-plus
There was little room for Arizona’s Greg Dortch to operate on his punts, and coverage was generally sound throughout the day.