The hero of the hour was undoubtedly Justin Simmons after he came up with the big-time interception on EJ Manuel to end the game. The Denver Broncos had lost all momentum to the Oakland Raiders, but in one high-point jump Simmons seized it all back - for good.
Simmons is starting in the NFL for the first time this season, having replaced T.J. Ward on the backside. It hasn’t always been pretty, but the kid is learning and earning the respect of the No Fly Zone.
“He was due,” cornerback Chris Harris Jr. said of Simmons. “We definitely needed the play and he made a huge play for us. We need him to make those impact plays and have some confidence.”
Both Harris and Aqib Talib loved the play from the young safety. The easiest way to fit in with this defense is by making the heroic plays to win games, which has been its M.O. for going on three seasons now.
“One of our young bulls stepped up like a vet in the clutch,” Talib said of Simmons. “High pointed the ball, you cannot do much better than that. So that is a big-time play by J.”
The Broncos coaching staff see his potential and saw part of the potential realized late in this game.
“Justin is obviously a great young player,” head coach Vance Joseph said of Simmons. “He’s very intelligent and very athletic, and that play he made tonight was a big time play. That’s what we’ve seen from that guy the last four to five months. Moving forward, he’s going to get better and better as he plays more football, but I’ve been very pleased with how he’s handled himself as a first-time starter.”
The play itself is one the Raiders ran several times with great success against the Broncos secondary, but like anything in football, if you see the same looks over and over again you will start to beat the play.
When it mattered most, Simmons beat the play.
“They had run that play, it was like an empty look, a bunch in that last two-minute drive and on that one 99-yard drive that they had, so I had to be patient,” Simmons said. “There are so many times where offensives would bait you into jumping things and it was a great rush up front, the corners did a great job getting hands on receivers and made my job easy on the back end to just go get the football.”
It was by far the best game of Simmons career. He finished with an outstanding +88.1 Pro Football Focus grade, earning their “Game Ball” for the game.
Denver’s strong safeties were both a major force in this game. Will Parks was consistently making plays around the box, and his only negative came on a play where he ran onto the field late and didn’t get the defensive call, allowing TE Jared Cook free behind the first wave of the defense. Simmons made the game-sealing interception, high-pointing the ball and taking it away from WR Amari Cooper.
Surprisingly, the Broncos secondary has been the weak point on defense so far, but that is likely due to chemistry more than talent. This unit will get better as the season wears on.
And it’s not like they are terrible. Currently, the Broncos are 11th in passing yards allowed per game and 7th in yards per attempt. We’re just used to them being 1st in both categories...