Against the Bears, the Broncos flunked the midterm and aced the final
Oct 3, 2023, 10:09 PM | Updated: Oct 4, 2023, 2:43 am
(Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
For the better part of three quarters in Chicago last Sunday, it looked as if the Broncos were headed for another poor day.
Oh, maybe not to the degree of last week, which resulted in a desperate long-time chronicler of the team’s travails seeking out a new grading scale that went down to “Z” to describe a defensive performance that was, by multiple standards, the worst for any NFL team since the Johnson administration. (Fortunately, it was Lyndon — not Andrew.)
But the Broncos might have ended up with Fs across the board if matters had worsened after falling behind 28-7. Instead, the Broncos had their biggest comeback win in nearly 11 years.
The Broncos ultimately put out the fire. But how much credit do they deserve — when in many ways, they lit the match themselves with self-inflicted wounds?
OVERALL GRADE: B
After three weeks of describing second-half fades, this time the Broncos surged after halftime — although once again, they did roar to a first-quarter touchdown, showing that their touch on openers remains magical.
The offense also averaged 3.0 points per non-kneeldown possession. It’s the third time in four games that the Broncos have reached at least 3 PPP. That will put you where you want to be more often than not.
But five false starts in a game? That is unsustainable and shows that plenty of little things need to be fixed.
Russell Wilson is on point. The protection was improved from previous weeks, and it looks as if the offensive line is finding its form — after the snap, of course.
The Broncos need to find more opportunities for Marvin Mims Jr. The 17 snaps he played Sunday were a season- and career-high for the rookie. But that still represents just 35 percent of the possible repetitions. Brandon Johnson also checked in at that percentage, and he caught his second touchdown pass of the season.
Cecil Lammey and I have been telling y’all about Jaleel McLaughlin for months. Shoot, I asked Payton about the Youngstown State product early in camp, before the true picture began to emerge. He processes preternaturally; his vision becomes reaction in a split-second. But he’s also learning how to be patient when the moment requires it.
Javonte Williams and Samaje Perine were minimal factors; they combined for 12 yards on 8 carries, with Williams limited because of a hip pointer.
OVERALL GRADE: C-minus
So here is the conundrum of such an exercise: Does one solid quarter of work outweigh the previous three substandard ones? And, specifically, do a handful of plays in the final 15 minutes make up for the failures that preceded them — and even some stretches in the fourth quarter where the Bears knifed through the Broncos?
Not entirely, but enough to earn a passing grade here. First of all, the Broncos’ success equation on defense might rely upon explosive plays to compensate for what appears to a problematic situation developing at the line of scrimmage, where the Broncos have been dominated in recent weeks.
PASSING DEFENSE: C-minus
Two plays redeemed the day, of course — Nik Bonitto’s sack-fumble of Justin Fields that resulted in Jonathon Cooper’s scoop-and-score, and then Kareem Jackson’s game-sealing interception. In between, D.J. Jones forced an intentional-grounding penalty which short-circuited the Bears final drive.
Ja’Quan McMillian didn’t represent a clear upgrade on Essang Bassey as he moved up to the nickel corner position, although his tackling was better. Meanwhile, teams continue to pick at Damarri Mathis. Four receptions came in his direction — the only four times he was targeted.
But there were too many open pass catchers throughout the game. Coverage busts were too frequent, including on Cole Kmet’s 22-yard touchdown catch in the second quarter, when he basically had an area the size of Millennium Park in which to catch Fields’ pass.
RUSHING DEFENSE: D
Here is where a justifiable concern remains. Denver’s front seven continues to struggle in this phase, while missed tackles are present at all three levels. Chicago’s running backs averaged over 5 yards per carry, and too many times were untouched racing through wide holes.
OVERALL GRADE: B-minus
The muffed kickoff return by Marvin Mims Jr. marred the day and kept the grade down. Riley Dixon was just OK; his hang times were decent and he dropped two punts inside the 20-yard line, but the placement and distance could have been better.
Wil Lutz was perfect, however. He hasn’t missed a placekick in the last three games. He appears to be back to his pre-injury form.