Broncos: Grading the Linebackers from their win

Sep 8, 2016; Denver, CO, USA; Denver Broncos outside linebacker DeMarcus Ware (94) sacks Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton (1) in the third quarter at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 8, 2016; Denver, CO, USA; Denver Broncos outside linebacker DeMarcus Ware (94) sacks Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton (1) in the third quarter at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports /

The Denver Broncos players have been receiving grades from the teams win over the Carolina Panthers. The offensive and defensive line have been done. Next up? The linebackers.

The defensive line for the Denver Broncos didn’t always do their job, which made life harder for the linebackers. In Wade Phillips scheme, gap discipline is vital, and the defensive line didn’t stay disciplined. That is how the linebackers had a harder time than they should’ve.

Normally, the linebackers are supposed to shoot the gaps to make the play. If the defensive line did their job, the linebackers are able to make the play for a a little to no gain in the run game. When the job isn’t done up front, the linebackers are then tasked to taking on blockers and trying to disengage to make the play.

With the Broncos linebackers, they are smaller, faster and athletic making them perfect for the scheme, when executed properly. If they have to take on blocks and shed them to make the play, they are limited. They make mistakes, which was made obvious when taking on the Panthers. It was also obvious they missed all of what Danny Trevathan brought to the defense.

The star of the defense, and recent member of the $100 million dollar club Von Miller was quiet all game. That didn’t keep him from having a fantastic game. After how he dominated the Superbowl on his way to the MVP of that game, the Panthers had no plans to let him dominate like that again. They did everything they could to keep that from happening.

On just about every play the Panthers were double teaming Miller, or chipping him. This opened up others to play a great game. In essence, Miller was controlling the game before the ball was ever kicked. He was in the Panthers heads, and rightfully so, forcing them to plan specifically for him.

Every game players get planned for, but it really looked like the Panthers planned for Miller and not the defense as a whole, especially towards the end of the game. Their planning for Miller worked for a short time, and then fell apart when Phillips started moving Miller around.

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Miller made his presence felt, despite a quiet game. He was consistently setting the edge in the run game, and wreaking havoc in the backfield. In the passing game, he only got one sack, but got a lot of pressure onto Newton, and Newton felt it. A 95.5 grade for Miller speaks to how effective and how great of a player he really is.

Brandon Marshall is the Broncos top inside linebacker, and he very clearly played like it. There was a wide margin between his play and the play of their #2 inside linebacker. Now, Marshall didn’t play the best game and there were many mistakes made by him when all said and done.

The mistakes he made in the run game are also on the defensive line. There were a few instances of Marshall shooting the wrong gap, or making the wrong read on the play. When he was tasked with taking on a blocker, Marshall disappeared on the field.

Where Marshall really made his mistakes came in coverage. Often he allowed too much space to his assignment, or was slow to react in his zone, allowing the Panthers to exploit his coverage. There is no doubt that Marshall, arguably the best cover linebacker from 2015 season, can’t rebound and claim that title again. A 68.2 grade is something to build on.

Next to Marshall was Todd Davis, who is just now stepping into a full-time starter role. He has started before, and played well. Now the job is his, and his alone. While his play wasn’t the best, he flashed potential that landed him the starting job.

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Like Marshall, not all of Davis’ mistakes int he run game were his own. That doesn’t mean none of them were, as he found himself reading the play wrong or shooting the wrong gap. Doing so opened up running lanes elsewhere, which the Panthers used.

Davis is stronger against the run than in coverage, and this was a noticeable fact against the Panthers. Slow reaction time and not the fastest movement were just part of his issues. With a grade of 46.8 overall, Davis had an awful 19.3 grade to end the first half. His play rebounded when adjustments were made.

Opposite Miller was a rotation of DeMarcus Ware, Shane Ray and Shaquil Barrett. Those four lead to the strongest grade for a position group with an average of 94.8 among them. Long-term veteran DeMarcus Ware looked like a 28-year-old in his prime with how he played. He showed a bend that shouldn’t be possible at his age.

Ray was fantastic and the best outside linebacker out there for the Broncos, but barely so. He graded out with a 95.7, just ahead of Miller and a full point ahead of Ware (94.7). That left Barrett as the low man of the group, but one who was still great. His grade of 93.3 rounded out the strongest group of the game.

Not only was it the strongest group for that game, it was the strongest group since these grades started. They didn’t fill a stat sheet, but all four of them were excellent and near perfect with their play. Few mistakes, that weren’t big enough to cause drastic harm to their grades.

The last linebacker to get graded is Corey Nelson, who played poorly all preseason. This game was a chance to show his value to the team. With only 15 snaps in the game on defense, he showed why he made the team. He is quick. Really quick.

Nelson is a good bit quicker than any other inside linebacker on the team, and it helps him in coverage. But, that is just about all he showed he brings to the team. From a technical standpoint, he is a raw linebacker lacking proper technique. With many mistakes on the game, Nelson walks away with a 15.7 grade. Worst of all the linebackers, but a big margin.

Next: Broncos: Grading the Defensive Line

That finishes up the linebacker grades, and leaves only one more group left to be graded. The secondary. Stay tuned to see how they grade out as individuals.