NE-DEN grades: Von Miller dominant in AFC Championship

The top takeaways and highest-graded players from the Broncos' AFC Championship victory over the Patriots.

| 1 year ago
(AP Photo/Chris Carlson)

(AP Photo/Chris Carlson)

NE-DEN grades: Von Miller dominant in AFC Championship

In what was perhaps the last meeting between QBs Peyton Manning and Tom Brady, the defenses for both sides instead stole the spotlight in the AFC Championship. Here are the top takeaways and highest-graded players from the Broncos’ 20-18 win in Denver.

New England Patriots

– What stood out most in this game was the constant pressure put on quarterback Tom Brady (-4.4 PFF game grade). Denver’s pass rush got to him early and often, resulting in poor decision-making and general inaccuracy, especially on downfield throws. Brady was knocked down on the play before his first interception (second quarter, 14:41) and he threw his second pick with DE Malik Jackson (+1.4) in his face. In total, he ended up facing pressure on just over 45 percent of 61 dropbacks, with a -3.2 raw grade on those plays versus -1.3 when throwing from a clean pocket. It was frequent (and effective) enough that Brady often reacted in the pocket, anticipating pressure even when Denver’s pass rush didn’t quite get there.

– TE Rob Gronkowski almost carried the Patriots to overtime with two spectacular fourth down catches in the final 100 seconds, despite being doubled on both plays. He beat both Chris Harris (+1.6) and Josh Bush deep at 1:34 of the fourth to haul in a 40 yarder before putting the Patriots within two points a few plays later with a touchdown grab over Harris in the back of the endzone. Gronkowski’s efforts resulted in his highest receiving grade of the season after he finished with eight catches for 144 yards in 14 targets, while the rest of the Patriots receiving group had a fairly quiet day.

– The loss shouldn’t overshadow how well New England’s defense played at every level in Denver. The unit had just one player finish with a negative overall grade after stifling the Broncos’ offense in the second half. Linebacker Dont’a Hightower (+5.1), particularly, stood out with his constant presence at the point of attack and in the backfield on run plays. He finished with five defensive stops—one of them an impressive play against LT Ryan Harris at 10:26 of the third—while converting two of his 14 pass rushes into pressure. 

Top Performers

LB Dont’a Hightower (+5.1)

S Devin McCourty (+3.1)

LG Shaquille Mason (+3.0)

TE Rob Gronkowski (+3.0)

DT Alan Branch (+2.8)


Denver Broncos

– As he often does, LB Von Miller had a remarkable performance on Sunday, with three sacks and five other pressures. Miller did most of his damage from the offensive right side, obliterating tackle Marcus Cannon (-7.3) and taking advantage of New England going four and five wide as often as they did. His consecutive plays early in the second quarter were particularly impressive; first, he put Brady on the ground at 14:46 before dropping into coverage on the next play and picking the pass intended for Gronkowski.

– Likewise, LB DeMarcus Ware and DE Derek Wolfe deserve credit for their performances. Ware gave LT Sebastian Vollmer (-2.8) a tough time, compiling 10 total pressures, including a massive six QB hits (four in the game’s final two minutes). Wolfe added eight pressures from the interior, terrorizing guard Josh Kline (-6.9) for much of the game. For an example, take a look at his bull rush at 8:15 of the fourth quarter.

– Quarterback Peyton Manning (-0.2) had a solid, but unspectacular, game to reach his fourth Super Bowl—not far from his performance in the divisional round last week. He took advantage of several short fields, while negating New England’s pass rush with a quick release, but struggled to move the ball for much of the game. Two of his passes were pickable and he had some accuracy problems when throwing more than 10 yards downfield, where he finished 7-for-18. However, one of those completions was his second quarter touchdown pass to Owen Daniels (14:46), where he located the ball perfectly in the end zone and beat linebacker Jamie Collins for the second time.

Top Performers

LB Von Miller (+6.2)

LB DeMarcus Ware (+5.9)

DE Derek Wolfe (+3.8)

CB Bradley Roby (+2.3)

DE Vance Walker (+1.7)

  • Devin

    Vollmer, Cannon and Kline were practically turnstiles the entire game. Awful performance.

  • Jared

    Wheres the Oline Grades? I’d be surprised if they weren’t the worst for a unit in PFF History.

    • Elimanning

      Check the Broncos section. Looks like cannon and Kline graded out terribly

  • James Winslow

    Brady sucked yesterday, but the o-line was worse.

  • KAO

    It’s almost like the Pats staff wanted to lose not going 2 TEs more when they KNEW the Oline was having it’s worst showing of the season.

    • Devin

      There were a few plays where Jackson stayed in to block and the protection held up a little better, so even doing that a little more would have helped.

    • Brian

      Their problem is Gronk is the offense. I think he’s team MVP even more than Brady (considering he goes from great to garbage without him) so keeping Gronk in to block, while maybe helping protection, is taking away your best weapon. Also that’d leave a very strong Denver secondary covering edelman and almendola lol I could see maybe keeping backs in there more but really, I think there was just not much that could be done to stop Denver’s rush

      • KAO

        They could of brought in Chandler to block and still used Gronk.

      • anon76returns

        They could have decided in the offseason to develop an OL that could protect Brady and put together an actual running game. Not much that could have been done on Sunday, though.

  • MattyD929

    Wow, I can’t believe any Patriots offensive lineman got a positive grade.

  • CWE

    Not really seeing the positive grade for Shaq Mason–he seemed to have been abused just as badly as the rest of the line and had one really terrible play where he basically allowed a free rusher late in the game.

  • Phil

    I want to see the win loss record for teams that have the QB drop back 61 times it can’t be good

    • Sneeze Achieu

      Brady yesterday had the 54th game since 1960 with 60 or more passing attempts. Those teams are 7-47. The last to win was Brian Griese in 2008. Since then, qbs are 0-16. Since Rich Gannon beat Pittsburgh in 2002, qbs are 1-25 when throwing 60+ passes in a game.

      • Phil

        Thanks man for the response those are amazing stats

  • Brian

    That was a savage beatdown. Brady was pummeled, and that O line. Wow. Even after being on the field so much, that Denver D line still were blowing by people like they didn’t even exist. Brady was terrible, but at least he had a reason, Manning on the other hand….. hate to say but his last ever game, we assume, is probably gunna be a loss.

  • Bobby

    give denver it’s due but ive never seen an offensive line play that terribly in my life

  • etyb

    Yeah, I’d hate to be a Pats O-lineman watching the film from this game. Yikes.

  • Thomas Bell

    No mention of any of the Denver OL grades? It’s nice to see the NE defense given some credit. Denver had a few missed opportunities, but for the most part coverage was tight and running lanes were non existent.

  • Trepur

    You’d think for the stats site that claims to study the game tape and grade each player in isolation, you’d think they’d account for the relentless pressure when evaluating Brady.

    Average time to pressure: 2.16 seconds
    19 pressures on 4-man rush (that means coverage is 5 on 7).
    Pressured on more then 45% of his throws:

    There is no QB who could possibly be facing that much pressure with no time to throw and not make the occasional mistake.