Jacksonville Jaguars 24 - Denver Broncos 17 - Making The Grade

So much hope after the Broncos beat the Buccaneers.  After a great start, the Broncos offense struggled and the defense gave up too many big plays in losing to the Jaguars.  The Broncos now face a tough road trip to New England and a prime time match up with the Patriots.  Before moving full steam ahead to the Pats, let's take one more painful look back at the loss to the Jags..

QUARTERBACK
 

C

Jay Cutler -- 21/37 - 192 yds, 2 TD, 1 INT

Yea, I know, this grade may be a bit higher than some of you think it should be.  Cutler is completely at fault for the fumble, especially at a time in the game when the Broncos had all the momentum.  The INT was a glorified punt that isn't that big a concern for me.  Turnovers aside, Cutler did struggle, but I am going to give him the benefit of the doubt based on injuries to many of his targets.  As was pointed out during the game, when the Broncos lost Brandon Stokley to his 10th concussion Cutler had lost the team's 2nd, 3rd and 4th leading receivers.  Eddie Royal and Tony Scheffler were already out of the lineup.  That left Cutler the bottom of the barrel when it came to his receiving targets.  Not good news for a quarterback that gets criticized for targeting Brandon Marshall when everyone is on the field.  I did ding Cutler for missing a WIDE OPEN Nate Jackson for a sure touchdown.  Cutler is still learning to throw a touch pass, and it should come as Jay gets more reps.  The numbers weren't good, but I am putting my faith in Cutler.  When everyone is healthy and on the field, Cutler's play, and production, will improve.

RUNNING BACK
 

B+

Michael Pittman - 20 carries, 120 yards

The Broncos finally got a physical running performance, and it was the old man that provided it.  Pittman ran hard all day and looked fresh at the end.  If anything, I wish the Broncos had given him the ball more often.  Questions about whether the Broncos lack of a consistent running game being about the line or the back was answered conclusively and Pittman will likely be more of the featured back moving forward.  While Pittman is over the hill in football standards, he really hasn't put a lot of miles, or yards, on his body, being primarily a backup at every stop of his career.   Pittman is also a threat in the passing game and is very physical as a pass blocker.  This should also allow the Broncos to bring Ryan Torain back slowly from the elbow injury.

WIDE RECEIVER
 

C-

 Brandon Marshall - 9 rec. / 98 yards / 10.9 avg

This one is hard for me.  As a coach, I have always preached that physical errors are better than mental errors.  Physical errors are usually a sign of effort, while mental mistakes are a sign of a lack of preparation.  I will take a player that gives 100% despite not being the most talented player over a highly talented player that doesn't prepare.  What does all this mean?  Brandon Marshall is obviously talented, and better yet, he gives maximum effort on every play.  But, even though his fumble is a physical mistake, it simply can't happen.  On the play, Marshall was on the sideline with three Jags in front of him.  He was deep in Jags territory, and the Broncos were driving to take the lead.  At that point, head out of bounds to avoid the wear and tear and see what you can do on 1st and 10.  It is hard to ding Marshall for trying to make something happen, for trying to be a play maker.  But part of being a playmaker is knowing when to push it and when to pull back a bit.  The 2nd quarter is the time to pull back.  Marshall is young, and he'll learn, but that was a huge play in the football game and cannot happen again..

TIGHT END
 

B

 With Tony Scheffler sidelined, the Broncos used their tight end in a more traditional sense, as more of a run blocker.  Daniel Graham did have a touchdown reception, and Nate Jackson should have had another.  The group has been steady all season long Sunday was no exception.

OFFENSIVE LINE
 

A-

I thought the "Big Uglies" had a great football game despite playing against their toughest opponent so far this season.  The Jags recorded no sacks, and the Broncos were able to run the ball rather effectively as well.  It looked to the naked eye that Cutler couldn't get comfortable in the pocket, but I thought that had more to do with pass coverage by the Jags then it did the pass rush.    Ryan Clady was flagged for his first holding penalty of the year, a phantom call, but goes to show just how good Clady has been as a roookie starting at Left Tackle.  A solid game by a solid group.
DEFENSIVE LINE
 

D

I keep giving this group a low grade, but I am starting to just accept the fact that the Broncos just don't have a lot of talent up front.  Marcus Thomas has been a bright spot and was reletively effective as was Kenny Peterson.  DeWayne Robertson can still move, but the Broncos have to avoid using him too much, that is, if they want him around for every game.  There is just nothing happening on the outside where Jarvis Moss had another disappointing game.  Elvis Dumervil continues to improve, but with no one to bring pressure on the opposite side, teams can take Dumervil out of the game.  I doubt there is much the Broncos will be able to do to "improve" the unit, these guys are going to have to look in the mirror and just want to do it.
LINEBACKER
 

C-

These guys continue to play hard, but sometimes that aggressiveness takes them right out of the play.  We have talked about the big plays the defense has given up, and of those plays that were made on the ground you'll find the culprit was a linebacker that missed his gap assignment.  When the Broncos are bringing 8 men into the box to stop the run, and one or more of the linebackers don't fill their gap responsibility, the result is a long run like the one MJD had last week, or Larry Johnson a few weeks ago.  Nate Webster made a big play, getting the turnover and giving the Broncos offense solid field position, but as a unit they have been on again, off again.  Until the linebacker play is consistent the Broncos will be a Jeckyll and Hyde on defense.
DEFENSIVE BACKS
 

C-

Dre Bly continues to be picked on, and teams continue to have success doing it.  This week it was Matt Jones who had success against Bly and again this goes back to what Champ Bailey does on the other side.  Jones is a big receiver, former quarterback big.  Bly is a smallish corner.  That is a bad combination.  The safety play was mixed as well, with Marquand Manuel stuck in coverage way too often.  All the struggles continue to go back to a lack of pressure on the quarterback.  Until the Broncos generate a pass rush there will be let-downs in the secondary.
SPECIAL TEAMS
 

B

A solid game overall for the special teams group who had a tall task going up against the Jags return teams.  Matt Prater had a solid game kicking the football and Brett Kern averaged 48 yards per punt.  Glenn Martinez, returning punts for the injured Eddie Royal, was extremely good averaging 15 yards per return.  He was a shirt-string away from tying the game on a punt return which could have changed the outcome.  I thought the group had it's best game as a complete unit and actually feel pretty good about where the ST unit is at this popint in the season.

COACHING
 

D

I still have a problem at times with the schemes the team is employing.  The play-calling seems scattered at times, which leads me to believe that there are times that Mike Shanahan over-rules Jeremy Bates and calles what he wants.  An example was a 3rd and 1 play from the Jags 30.  The Broncos had run the ball effectively all the way down the field and had a 3rd and short.  Instead of running the ball, the Broncos try a pass play, which goes incomplete.  Instead of kicking the field goal which would have tied the game, Shanny goes for it and the Broncos run the ball right into John Henderson.  That's just sloppy play-calling and game management.  Shanny said as much after the game.  That needs to improve as well, becuase the Broncos just aren't good enough as a team to make up for coaching blunders.
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