We're a quarter of the way through the 2014 season. While not necessarily meaningful in the big picture (a grade never won a football game), grading our team is a fun exercise to undertake as it really makes you think about the nuts and bolts of our team, how they have performed, what their strengths are, and where they need improvement.
For this exercise we'll go with standard A-F letter grades. We're really just giving subjective assessments here, so no need to get too complicated (plus I would honestly probably blow a gasket thinking too hard about whether to give a group a 7 or a 7.3).
A = Excellent
B = Very Good
C = Mediocre
D = Sub-Par
F = Failure
+ / - = Added for flavor or where a rating is really to me between two of the grades.
Peyton Manning is still Peyton Manning. He hasn't had a bad game in my opinion to date. We're back on track setting records and winning games. He has room for improvement (lots of overthrows and a couple of picks he had no business throwing), but it is honestly me being nit-picky.
Running Backs: C
I really REALLY want to give them a D. But I just can't bring myself to ding them based off of what we've seen up front so far this year. Our O-Line has been struggling mightily in making holes and holding blocks and our run game suffers for it.
Montee Ball to his credit has done well breaking tackles, but he's getting initial contact behind the LOS a lot of the time. I'm not apologizing for him all the way though: His reads and burst has been lacking a bunch and that contributes to the problem as well.
I think we will be able to tell a lot about our running backs based off the next few games. Will they perform better because they burst to the hole a lot quicker than Ball? Will they see the cut-back lanes that Montee has been missing? This is a big opportunity for Ronnie Hillman, C.J. Anderson, and Juwan Thompson. It is very possible that a switch at RB would upgrade this group by mid-season.
Tight Ends: C
I'd kinda like to give them a C because Julius Thomas sucks so bad at blocking, but then I see his prolific passing stats and figure we'll meet half-way. This unit is pretty impressive in the passing game. When you bring out 12 personnel and can run the ball, though; it adds another level to our offense. We need Virgil Green healthy and we need Julius Thomas to really hit the blocking drills with gusto in order to improve in this group.
Offensive Line: B-
This is another unit that I have mixed feelings about: their pass blocking rocks, but their run blocking has been sucking. It showed signs of getting better in the last game and hopefully this next quarter of the season we'll see that trend continue.
With Manning getting rid of the ball in under 2.5 seconds consistently they should always be lights-out with pass blocking. I've seen no weak link here to complain about.
When running the ball, we aren't quite effective. The Orlando Franklin move has had mixed results so far. Chris Clark at RT hasn't impressed either. Hopefully Orlando just needs more time for adjustment. While I think he is well-suited for playing G, it is a big difference from playing RT.
Wide Receivers: A
Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders are absolutely killing it out there. We now have Wes Welker back who is also making clutch catches for us. Of the whole unit, the emergence of Sanders as a new weapon for this offense can not be overstated. He adds a new dimension to what we saw last year and really puts more stress on a defense to pick their poison.
Overall Offense Grade: B
We aren't hitting on all cylinders yet, but you really can't complain too much about the offensive output we've seen so far this year against some very talented teams. The first four weeks of our schedule has been challenging to say the least: Indianapolis Colts, Kanasas City Chiefs, Seattle Seahawks, and the Arizona Cardinals. Our offense is averaging 28.75 points per game and that is nothing to shake a stick at when you consider the quality of the defenses we have faced.
Defensive Tackles: B+
Our heavies in the middle are doing a pretty darn good job this year. It is easy to overlook since the work they do isn't always so flashy. That being said, we're getting push up the middle on pass rush situations in spurts and we are seeing runs well contained for the most part. Our opponents so far rush for an average of 3.5 yards per play which isn't bad at all.
Defensive Ends: A+
Demarcus Ware and Von Miller have combined for 7 sacks so far this season and they are just getting warmed up. Most of the teams we've faced so far have mobile quarterbacks which makes sacks much harder to come by. But it is also worth noting that we aren't seeing teams break contain on the outside that often. Our guys at the end should be commended for their great work against the run as well.
It is a big relieve to see Danny Trevathan back on the field. He was sorely missed and had he not played against Arizona, I'd have likely been putting a "D" here instead. Brandon Marshall and Nate Irving have been playing pretty well against the run and have left much to be desired against the pass for the most part. With Danny back we should see this facet of the team improve over the next few weeks.
Look here: we have the best cornerback in the NFL right now and he's not even our highest-paid guy. Chris Harris, Jr. just shuts fools down. That's not to take anything away from Aqib Talib though. Aquib has also been playing extremely well and has earned every penny we've paid him to date. We've seen some lapses in coverage when we've played a lot of zone, but you could pin that as much on the play calling as you could on the players. We have guys that are better in man than zone still.
T.J. Ward has been the enforcer we've been looking for for years. He's all over the field in coverage, blitzing, and crashing down on runners. Safeties have a sometimes thankless job, but when you have a really good one, you can easily see the impact.
I've seen a couple of worrisome coverage plays by Rahim Moore this quarter though, which is why I put the "-" on the grade. This lesson should have been learned a couple years back in the playoffs: never let the opponent get behind you!
Overall Defensive Grade: A
There are a lot of units here doing very well, but I see a lot of different areas where we can play better and give up less points. We'll always be able to say that, though. I again feel our competition level has been very high and for our team to be where we are, it is a credit to the defense for playing at a very high level.
Special Teams: B-
We aren't doing anything special on Special Teams, but the thing I really like is that we aren't consistently turning over the ball in that unit / blowing coverage every game or two like last year.
Where do you rate our team so far this season? Put your thoughts in the comments and discuss why if you have a different opinion that me. What do you see that I don't and where do you think we could improve?