CAR-DEN grades: Broncos’ defense limits Cam Newton in second half of win

Last year's MVP plays great in first half but is limited in second. Denver's offensive line and defense grade very well, while QB Trevor Siemian is solid in his debut.

| 2 months ago
(Justin Edmonds, Getty Images)

(Justin Edmonds, Getty Images)

CAR-DEN grades: Broncos’ defense limits Cam Newton in second half of win

Denver Broncos 21, Carolina Panthers 20

Here are the biggest takeaways from the Denver Broncos’ 21 – 20 victory over the Carolina Panthers:

Denver Broncos

Quarterback grade: Trevor Siemian, 75.3

Trevor Siemian makes enough plays for Denver to win

There were times when he looked like a first-year starter, but I don’t think anyone expected Siemian to put together some of the drives that he did. His timing and accuracy on underneath and intermediate routes was superb. On throws targeted between 10-20 yards, Siemian hit all five of his attempts for 74 yards. No one will be confusing him for an elite quarterback anytime soon, but the second-year player did more than enough to win this game.


Top offensive grades:

C Matt Paradis, 89.5

FB Andy Janovich, 89.0

RT Donald Stephenson, 79.6

TE Virgil Green, 78.8

WR Emmanuel Sanders, 76.0

Denver’s offensive line deserves the game ball

Hats off to men right up the middle. Matt Paradis and Andy Janovich had about as good a games as you’ll ever see from a center and fullback, respectively. There wasn’t a time where Paradis was beaten cleanly, while Janovich had more than a couple hole-widening blocks on linebacker Thomas Davis. There is no chance the Broncos win this game without the herculean effort from those two.

Top defensive grades:

CB Chris Harris Jr., 90.8

OLB Von Miller, 82.9

OLB Shaquil Barrett, 80.1

LB Todd Davis, 81.0

CB Aqib Talib 79.2

Defensive line can’t replicate Super Bowl dominance, but secondary is still stingy

The loss of defensive lineman Malik Jackson to Jacksonville in free agency was felt regularly along that defensive front. Jackson didn’t have a single game in 2015 where he graded below-average as a pass-rusher and run defender like his replacement Jared Crick did Thursday. The Broncos made up for it, though, with the men behind them. New starting linebacker Todd Davis led the defense with six stops as well as a sack and a hit, while Chris Harris Jr. made up for an early touchdown by making a ridiculously difficult, crucial interception in the fourth quarter.

Carolina Panthers

Quarterback grade: Cam Newton, 78.9

Cam Newton is still Superman, but Denver does a good job of containing him

In the first half we saw the Cam Newton that was the MVP award winner in 2015. In the second half it was a bit of a different story. Because the Broncos secondary is so stout in man coverage, they are far more susceptible to scores via big plays than sustained short passing, and that’s what we saw Newton struggle with in the final two quarters. His adjusted completion percentage was only 66.6 percent and he didn’t complete a pass targeted over 20 yards downfield all day.


Top offensive grades:

TE Greg Olsen, 83.3

C Ryan Kalil, 79.9

RG Trai Turner, 75.5

LT Michael Oher, 75.3

RB Jonathan Stewart, 72.6

Kelvin Benjamin up and down in return

Benjamin looked like a god-send early in the game, beating Denver cornerback Chris Harris Jr. handily for the Panthers’ first score and moving the chains multiple other times. Unfortunately, the inconsistencies that plagued him as a rookie were still apparent. He misplayed a ball late in the first half and then rounded off an in-route that led to the Harris interception. In an offense that only saw tight end Greg Olsen as the other pass-catcher to haul in more than one pass, Benjamin can’t continue to make those negative plays.

Top defensive grades:

LB Shaq Thompson, 83.2

LB Luke Kuechley, 80.3

CB Bene Benwikere, 79.5

S Tre Boston, 73.0

DE Charles Johnson, 71.4

The Carolina secondary is officially an issue

Thursday night was a wakeup call for those who thought cornerback Josh Norman’s departure to Washington in free agency could be swept under the rug with the Panthers’ scheme. Rookie corner James Bradberry was a liability, with multiple penalties and four catches for 46 yards allowed on seven targets. New starting safety Tre Boston also posted a below-average grade, with two catches and 32 yards allowed on two targets. Linebackers Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis were solid in underneath coverage per usual, but the holes behind them were vast.

Get access to grades for every NFL player, complete with positional rankings, in our NFL Player Grades tool.

| Senior Analyst

Mike is a Senior Analyst at Pro Football Focus. His work has also been featured on The Washington Post, ESPN Insider, and 120 Sports.

  • Mike J.

    Interesting, a fullback is almost retro nowadays, but the lead plays were pretty effective.

    • T. Kothe

      The Broncos might have a lot of success using Janovich this season. FBs are so out of style as the league has shifted more and more into passing the majority of the time that defensive player selection has trended toward smaller, faster LBers who can cover better than the old bruisers. But lighter LBers can also mean more vulnerability to inside runs, especially when an extra blocker like a FB is being employed. That may turn out to be a consistent schematic/personnel mismatch in the Broncos’ favor this season.

      • Ron

        Hilarious,wow, using a FB,what a great concept??..Dumb ass

  • Ron

    Denver wont make the playoffs, sorry,they were exposed as Im sure the AFC is licking their chops based on what we seen..The QB will get exposed by better defenses against him & schemes,coverage’s etc…Give credit to their coaches,but this isnt going to work in the tough AFC west

    • scooobob

      Yes, beating the NFC Champs, set on payback, in a TOUGH opening game is a sure sign of weakness. A+ analysis…

      • Ron

        Yes, such a flawless team, and sooo great!!!!..You’re a fucking tool

        • Tim Edell

          Hey Ron..please return to ESPN website with your “intelligent analysis”.

          • Ron

            Pretty lame, even for a douche like your ugly ass, damn, were you hatched?

          • Ron

            You give us Ron’s a bad name. Smh

    • Sam Serra

      Denver defense definitely isn’t the same from last year, but i believe they’re still good enough to make the playoffs at least as a wild card, specially because their o-line seems to have improved a lot. Their d-line however was a disaster, i was impressed by how bad Derek Wolfe played without Malik Jackson to help him up front.

      • Malachi

        i’d argue the defense is better in 2016

        • Sam Serra

          What makes you think so?

          • Malachi

            2nd year in the system, improvement from young players such as shane ray and bradley roby. improved depth behind the starters such as adam gotsis and justin simmons. von miller’s improved focus and faster start to season already

          • RZ27

            But no Malik and Trevathan

          • Malachi

            both solid players, but we let them walk for a reason. out of the 30 UFAs elway let walk between 2011-2015 only one, mike adams (who was replaced with TJ ward), went on to have a pro bowl berth with their new teams.

            adam gotsis will replace malik eventually, and had a much higher grade coming out of college, 2nd rnd vs 5th for malik. danny t wasn’t even a 3 down player in 2015, he left the field in our nickel alignment, with tj and b marsh staying in as the LBs

          • TJ Smith

            I don’t think they will miss Danny T that much. Will see about Malik. It isn’t like they wanted to let Jackson go. They thought they could resign him but some of the money got insane. No way they were going to pay Von and what Malik wanted.

            Is it me or does PFF always under value Demarcus Ware. Feels like so many games Ware pass rushing is insane but come to PFF and it is Von getting all the praise.

          • Malachi

            i think elway prefers getting a third round compensatory pick for malik instead of paying him what JAX did. good player of course, but was really only a full-time starter in 2015 (his contract year)

          • TJ Smith

            Might only been full time last year but even previously he was looking like an up and coming star. Last year he looked like Michael Bennett and one of the best interior pass rushers in the league. One of the hardest things to find in the sport.

            For the defense to be even better they no question need interior pass rush. Jackson was a big reason Von and Ware destroyed Carolina in SB. I came in thinking Denver’s defense could be as good if not better. Especially since the depth on the edge is so good. You could make a case that Jackson was more valuable than Von since they have so many edge rushers. Interior rush needs to be better than what I saw on Thursday though. They will be a great defense either way but only way I see them being better is if an interior rush emerges.

          • Malachi

            well put. wolfe graded out better than malik on this site last year. he had a neck injury, but returned later, on thursday night btw. and carolina’s interior 3 O-lineman are def their line’s strength

          • David

            I don’t know what you mean by “destroyed Carolina in SB”. Broncos sacked Cam 6 times and forced him to fumble twice. (They also sacked Ginn once.) Panthers sacked Manning 5 times and forced him to fumble twice. Both defenses collected a single INT. The main thing, though, was that both of Cam’s fumbles were recovered by Denver in the endzone and the other putting them in the redzone. Only one of Manning’s was recovered by the D and it only put the Panthers at mid-field. So no destruction, just simple math of winning the turnover battle and luck that one landed in the endzone. If you recall, it was a 6 point game with 5 minutes remaining despite all of that. The Bronco’s scored their last points around 3 minutes left after getting that possession at the 4. It was as equally matched a game as the rematch was. Play it 10 times and we’re likely to have the joy of seeing each side win 5.

          • TJ Smith

            Your point is kind of meaningless. Mainly because what you just described was a typical offensive game for the Broncos. Especially last year. The Panthers by some metrics had the top offense in football. Not only did they not do anything. It seem like in a close game still they quit. If the Broncos defense played the Broncos offense in the Superbowl it would have been embarrassing. Panthers defense last year was good but did nothing special against a terrible Broncos offense.

            Personally I think only way Panthers split with am elite team is if half the games are at home. I’ve not been impressed with Carolina on neutral field or road. Especially against top tier teams.

    • SpringsGal

      Every year it is the same thing. And Denver has won that division the past 5 years. Once under some QB named Tebow. And last year, week after week it was no way Denver can win with noodle arm Manning. And they kept winning all the way to the Super Bowl. How did those Lombardi trophies look last night for all the haters?

      • Ron

        Lol, winning?.You got violated like a cunt prison bitch in San quentin against Seattle..LOL..Go douche you whore, try Elway’s mouth to do the job, fucking ugly horse face

        • anon76returns

          Thanks for classing up the joint, Ron.

    • Donkeypunch

      Hey moron: which AFC West team do you think is better than the Panthers?

  • T. Kothe

    Friendly reminder, folks: The down arrow to the right of comments lets you block users. It’s an excellent way to deal with petty little trolls.

  • Anonymous

    178 passing yards allowed, 47 of which went to a running back and their corners are “an issue”?

    And Denver has 2 of the better receivers in the league starting for them?

    • rodrigo pedro

      The secondary could not tackle.

    • SpringsGal

      And on the Andy Janovich TD run, a CB was right there and had no clue who had the football. He just stood there not knowing who to tackle as Janovich ran right by him. That was hilarious.

      • Malachi

        and he was the veteran of the group too lol

      • David

        Actually he didn’t stand anywhere and let him run right by him, they ran by each other. CB ignored the FB and went after the QB thinking play action, and then saw empty hands, turned and saw the FB was already about to score and still gave chase.

    • David Japhet-Mathias

      That was because Trevor only attempted one pass beyond 20 yards, which he was picked of because of pressure. Sanders had actually beaten the CB and if Trevor hadn’t been pressured he wouldn’t have under thrown it.

    • Izach

      Will say both CB and safety missed easy tackles on both big passes to Anderson and his big run, their tackling was a bigger issue than their coverage IMO. Can’t miss tackles when you the only one there

      • David

        We all saw the run where he juked out Bradberry, but you said passes so that doesn’t count, and the only big pass play to Anderson was the screen, that I can recall. And on that one he was led by an entourage against a single safety. They took out the safety and it was the other safety from across the field who actually did tackle Anderson into the endzone. No missed tackles there. So…….not sure what you’re referring to sir.

        • Izach

          CBs missed tackles on a few run plays, CJ had another dumb off pass for 20 yards on 2nd and 11 earlier in game that went for a 1st down due to a missed tackle, on the screen play the safety and CB didn’t read it early enough the safety in particular sat and waited instead of attacking and forcing back, even the FB TD on 3rd and 1 the blitzing DB lost track of the football and let the guy literally run right by him without noticing he had the ball, that’s an awareness issues by young DBs.

  • Sam Serra

    I understand that the Denver o-line did a pretty good job make openings for the running game, but still i don’t get why CJ Anderson got such a low grade. He showed great vision and was pretty efficient capitalizing on every opportunity the o-line gave him, and i’m talking about the ground game only, i’m not even taking in consideration that amazing receiving TD he scored from a screen pass.

    • Tony

      There are some positions that PFF struggles to effectively grade, and RB is definitley one of them. Their grades are hopelessly skewed towards RBs who get yards after contact, IMO.

      For instance, a RB who sheds a tackle for a 2 yard gain seems to be graded better than a RB who has the vision to get 10 yards before he is touched.

      As a Chiefs fan, I see it with Jamaal Charles, who PFF hilariously under-grades. For heavens sake, Spencer Ware graded higher than Jamaal Charles. No one with a working set of eyeballs would ever come to that conclusion.

      • Sam Serra

        This is actually a very good point, i saw the same thing happening with their grading of Adrian Peterson last season.

  • AJ

    Kelvin Benjamin is only the second receiver since the start of the 2014 season to get a touchdown off Chris Harris. Antonio Brown did it twice in the same game last season, but otherwise Harris has not been beaten for a TD in that timespan.

    • Malachi

      chris had his arm all up in between benjamin’s too, great catch by him

  • Malachi

    CHJ’s INT was soooo nice

  • phil

    OLB Shaquil Barrett got a grade of 80.1 for making 1 tackle the entire game? He was never thrown at, no sacks and didn’t even record an assist but got a better grade than Todd Davis who murdered it? What?

    • Donkeypunch

      Must’ve been QB hits, pressures, hurries etc…

  • Bogart

    Siemian will get better with each game. Odds are a nice step this coming week. About time he got a heads up instead of why he won’t last. Elway and Kubiak were not going to gamble themselves on Siemian to come out looking like idiots after all the drama. Sometimes there is more to the story than anything else that may matter. He is in a perfect situation to keep growing and become an above average QB. The kids I.Q. is high and he is hungry to learn with the tools to back it up. Lynch was a reach in the draft and something Elway had to do at that point to bring in capable looking bodies. It never screamed to me that he was the next “Elway” for the Broncos. PFF was not only site to drop the ball on Siemian in how they doubted. Now what? The kid just faced a top D in the Panthers and clearly did just a little more than manage the game. For the 1st start ever and against the Panthers to boot how can any not start taking notice instead of looking at raw rookie Lynch sitting on the bench! Just wait till he feels the need to start pushing the ball down the field to those WRs.

  • Jacob Larsen

    Can someone explain why Anderson got such a low grade. I am new to the site and trying to figure out how and why they grade some players the way they do. Did he get docked because his line did great?