Broncos-Chiefs grades: Sane planning, sensible results
The NFL is week-to-week and play-to-play. So, in keeping with those cliches that exist for good reason, it stood to reason that the Broncos would look scarcely like the team that the Los Angeles Rams throttled seven days earlier.
Some of that was due to a prideful performance that saw the players summon up the best from within themselves. And some of it was Jerry Rosburg and the reshuffled coaching staff putting those players in better positions to maximize their strengths.
In football, it’s rarely one or the other. But both combined for an effort in which the Broncos could take pride.
It is impossible to deny the impact of Russell Wilson’s running on his form in recent games. Two of his best three performances of the season to date came in the losses to Kansas City, which featured him dusting off the sprinter’s shoes to dash toward the goal line in the red zone. Wilson was controlled and — aside from a crucial interception — as accurate as he has been since joining the Broncos. He took the short and underneath routes when present. He delivered the type of disciplined performance that will be good enough to win plenty of games.
RUNNING BACKS: B
By keeping the passing game mostly within 10 yards of the line of scrimmage, the Broncos opened up horizons for Chase Edmonds, who racked up most of his 39 receiving yards after receptions. Latavius Murray ran forcefully. He and Edmonds combined to average 4.73 yards per attempt and generally maximized the holes in front of them.
WIDE RECEIVERS: C-plus
It’s unfortunate that Courtland Sutton’s day is remembered for the controversial — and questionable — third-quarter offensive-pass-interference penalty, because the day represented a glimpse of what he can do well, with intermediate routes that moved the chains. Kansas City kept Jerry Jeudy under wraps. Kendall Hinton had the only drop from this position group. The game plan wasn’t tailored to the wideouts, and it showed.
TIGHT ENDS: B
Albert Okwuegbunam took advantage of the opportunity afforded him by Rosburg’s desire to see him work. He played 37 snaps and even delivered a solid block in space to spring Jerry Jeudy on a swing pass. A drop marred Okweugbunam’s day, but he seemed to gain confidence as the game progressed. Eric Saubert had a key block on Wilson’s second-quarter touchdown run, and Justin Outten used Andrew Beck effectively, mostly as a fullback or H-back in I-formation variants.
OFFENSIVE LINE: B-minus
Dalton Risner had a solid day in pass protection before succumbing to a season-ending elbow injury. Cam Fleming also fared well on the left flank, conceding just one pressure. Quinn Meinerz was far stronger in run blocking than pass-protection; it was one of his shakier days of the season in the latter department.
DEFENSIVE LINE: B
The Broncos struggled to get much of a pass rush up front, but DeShawn Williams and Mike Purcell were particularly strong against the run. The injuries to Dre’Mont Jones and D.J. Jones took a toll.
EDGE RUSHERS: C-minus
The injuries caught up to the Broncos’ edge rushers in a huge way. Only Jonathon Cooper managed to get to Mahomes, with Nik Bonitto mustering a pair of pressures without contact. Their work against the run was better, but without Baron Browning and Randy Gregory and with both Joneses missing up front, the edges struggled.
INSIDE LINEBACKERS: C
Alex Singleton and Josey Jewell were good in pursuit and run support, but found themselves on the wrong end of matters in coverage, as Mahomes frequently targeted their area of the field. Two of Mahomes’ three touchdown passes came in their coverage areas.
Lamar Jackson broke up a pair of passes in relief of the injured Damarri Mathis, and although Mahomes threw in his direction 10 times, he held his own in extended action. Mahomes didn’t bother to test Pat Surtain at all.
Justin Simmons saved a touchdown in the second quarter, and his anticipation of quarterbacks’ intent has never been better than in the last month. In a grim season, Simmons has been a bright spot.
McManus didn’t have any particularly difficult kicks, as the game took place in ideal conditions, but he hit them all.
Corliss Waitman’s hang times have improved in the last three weeks, and his rolling three-game net average is his best of the season. The only problem? A 57-yard punt that bounded into the end zone for a touchback. But the rest of Waitman’s work was excellent.
KICKOFF/PUNT RETURNS: B
The game-opening kickoff-return decision — to bring out the football from nearly halfway into the end zone — brings down the grade. But Hinton made decisions on punt returns that earned Rosburg’s praise; he probably should have had the gig all along.
KICKOFF/PUNT COVERAGE: A-minus
Kickoff coverage wasn’t an issue, as Brandon McManus drilled touchbacks on every kickoff. The punt coverage saw improvement, as Kadarius Toney had little room to roam, mustering just 7 yards on each of his returns.