Denver Broncos 34 - New Orleans Saints 32 - Making the Grade

Another nail-biter for the Broncos came down to the final seconds, and again the Broncos survived.  Let's take one last look at the 34-32 win over the Saints before getting right back to the AFC West and the Kansas City Chiefs.   We'll talk much more about that, but it is time for this week's edition of  "Making The Grade" where I will grade the Broncos performance from the day before.  The most important "grade" is the one on the scoreboard, and for the Broncos this week it was another W.  What about the players performance?  Let's take a look....

QUARTERBACK
 

B-

Jay Cutler -- 21/34 - 264 yds, 2 TD, 1 INT

To be so young and so talented.  Jay Cutler had another solid football game, yet the Broncos signal caller still left me a bit wanting.  Perhaps because Cutler is so good so young I expect too much.  I'll except that reasoning and give you that I am the one with the problem.  Still, call me spoiled in what I am looking for from Cutler.  As was stated in the open threads yesterday, Cutler has the weight of the football team on his shoulder right now, which magnified every mistake he makes.  Yesterday it was the interception on the first play after the Saints had scored a touchdown to cut the Broncos lead to 21-10.  That is a big drive for the Broncos at that point because the defense had just spent a long time on the field and needed the break.  It was a bad decision to throw into double coverage, but I won't blame Cutler for having confidence in both his arm and his receivers.  There were also a couple of throws Cutler flat out missed, leaving yards and points on the field.  I know, I'm being overly critical, but Cutler plays quarterback in Denver, it comes with the territory.

The offense is still scoring at an impressive clip.  They scored points on 5/10 possessions yesterday, including 3/5 for Touchdowns.  For the season, the Broncos have scored on 18/29 possessions(62%), with 13/18 resulting in 6 points(72%).  Those numbers will win you alot of football games.

 

RUNNING BACK
 

B-

Selvin Young - 11 carries, 65 yards, 5.9 ypc

A problem the Broncos have had so far on offense is the inability to run the ball consistently, whether by design or by talent.  Yesterday, the Broncos again needed the running game to come up big, most importantly in the final minutes when a first down would have ended the game and they couldn't get it done.  While I hated the call at the goalline that resulted in a safety, the fact the Broncos were blown off the ball so decisively has to be a concern.  For the game, the Broncos ran the ball 24 times for 105 yards, good for 4.4 yards per carry.  It still wasn't enough for me, and the sooner the Broncos can get back to some sort of commitment to the running game, especially with the lead, the better the Broncos will be at closing games.  Perhaps, when Ryan Torain returns, we'll see it.

WIDE RECEIVER
 

B+

  Brandon Marshall - 6 rec. / 155 yards / 1 TD / 25.8 avg

Once again, Brandon Marshall imposed his will on an opposing defense.  Showing his ball control side last week(18 catches, 9.8 ypc), Marshall showed his big play capabilites averaging nearly 26 yards each time he touched the ball.  Marshall could have had an enormous day if not for a drop, a misstep out of bounds, or a shoestring tackle.  He is on pace to break several NFL records, and after missing Week 1 appears to be on a mission.  It was nice to see Jay Cutler spread the ball around, with Marshall catching 6 passes, Eddie Royal 4, Tony Scheffler 4, and Brandon Stokley 3.  That kind of distribution will help Marshall and the offense in the long run.

TIGHT END
 

B-

Tony Scheffler - 4 rec. / 32 yards / 8  ypc

All three tight ends had a solid game and were on their way to a higher grade until Scheffler's red zone fumble.  Like last week with the Cutler INT, turning the ball over in the red zone is unacceptable and will affect the overall grade.  It was nice to see Scheffler, Daniel Graham and Nate Jackson get involved in the passing game.  Few teams have a trio of tight ends as talented as the group the Broncos run out each Sunday and if they could eliminate the silly mistakes the Broncos offense could be even better.

OFFENSIVE LINE
 

A-

Another week, another solid performance by the Broncos offensive line.  Quickly, this group is becoming one of the best in the NFL despite it's age.  Jay Cutler was under a bit more pressure that in past weeks, but give credit to the Saints.  With Will Smith, Charles Grant and Sedrick Ellis, the Saints employ one of the more talented defesive line groups in the entire League.  To hold that group to zero sacks goes to show how talented this group is and can be.  There are still weaknesses in run-blocking, but I think it will get better as the weeks go on.  Until then, as long as Jay Cutler's jersey stays clean, this group gets an 'A'.
DEFENSIVE LINE
 

C-

Last week I wondered aloud about seeing Jarivs Moss in uniform.  I got my wish.  The result - 1 tackle, 0 sacks.  Moss didn't play poorly, at least no worse than anyone else along the line.  Drew Brees dropped back to pass 48 times and felt pressure 3 or 4 times at the most, including the sack credited to Ebenezar Ekuban.  The Broncos once again tried different looks to try and confuse the Saints O-line, going with 4-man fronts, 3-man fronts, a couple 5-man fronts, all trying to generate the pass-rush which has eluded the team for the past few years.  So why the C-?  The entire defense gets a free 1/2 grade for the goal-line stand and the 3rd and 1 stop at the end of the game.  Both plays were obviously huge in helping the Broncos win. 
LINEBACKER
 

B-

D.J. Williams - 14 tackles

Anytime the defense gives you seven point it is a huge jolt to the offense.  Nate Webster's fumble return for a touchdown showed the big-play potential of this defense.  Add it to the defensive stands mentioned above, and the while the defense was'nt great by any stretch, when they had to make plays the defense was able to get it done, and alot of it was due to the linebackers flying around.  ON the goal-line play it was Nate Webster breaking through to make the first hit on Pierre Thomas to stop him short.  At the end of the game, it was Williams that shot in from the wekside to stop Thomas on the 3rd and 1 prior to the field goal try.  Yes, the linebackers miss tackles and over-pursue every now and then, but they are flying around and playing with alot of energy.  That has to be worth something.

DEFENSIVE BACKS
 

D

Can't really blame this group for how they played, being that they played zone for a majority of the game. I'll make this simple - zone coverage + no pass rush + good quarterback = shredded pass defense.  The Broncos want to stop the run and not give up the big play.  The Saints took advantage of it by taking what the defense gave and dumping the ball down to Reggie Bush and Jeremy Shockey.  Without their best receiver, why would't the Broncos dare the Saints to try and beat them outside?  The one times they did, Marquand Manuel got beat deep by Robert Meachem.  Anyone else want to see Jack Williams on the football field?  Karl Paymah had another rough game, and as a group, the defensive backs are struggling, be it schem or performance, these guys need to step it up.

SPECIAL TEAMS
 

A

Quite a turnaround from last week.  I thought the special teams, from top to bottom, played their best game of the season.  Reggie Bush is as dangerous as they come at returning punts, and I know I was sweating when the Broncos punted the ball in the 4th quarter.  The coverage units maintained their spacing well and didn't allow Bush a lane to run to.  

The other units were just as solid, with Matt Prater having another solid day kicking field goals.  Prater is still perfect on the season.  If the special teams can play like this every week, Scott O'Brien's group might just be ok afterall.

COACHING
 

B+

The Broncos do a great job with those first 18 plays that are scripted.  It is the next 18 I have a problem with.  Two weeks in a row the Broncos got out to a fast start only to see things tail of in the middle quarters.  Why not script the first 30 plays?  I still don't think there is a big enough commitment to the running game, but hey, who am I to complain?  The Broncos are 3-0, heading  into a showdown with the worst team in football.  It can't all be bad, right?
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