The Denver Broncos officially made the playoffs after beating the Cincinnati Bengals on Monday Night Football. The defense has been excellent in 2015, and after giving up a pair of touchdowns to open the game, they shut down the Bengals' offense and A.J. McCarron. Dominant pass rushers Von Miller and Malik Jackson deserve the accolades they’ve received, as do Aqib Talib and Chris Harris, Jr. on the back end, but a large part of the unit’s success is due to the quality of their inside linebackers. With a combined +4.9 grade last night, Danny Trevathan and Brandon Marshall proved their quality once again.
Trevathan finished with a +4.7 grade against the Bengals. His performance was one of the main reasons why Clint Boling and Kevin Zeitler graded negatively as run blockers. Overall, he finished with an impressive eight stops from just 30 run defending snaps, and a +3.9 grade. Partnering with him in the middle, Marshall recorded three stops of his own. Although they made fewer plays in coverage, both ILBs still performed well in that facet of play. They finished with combined numbers of four completions allowed from five targets, for 25 yards. There were few splash plays from the Broncos’ inside linebacker duo, but they’re two of the very best players at their position.
Trevathan and Marshall are fifth and sixth respectively in our overall rankings amongst ILBs. Marshall has been particularly effective in run defense, where he ranks fifth. Overall, he’s made 37 stops but, more impressively, has missed just a single tackle. Marshall has easily the highest tackling efficiency of linebackers with at least 100 run defending snaps, missing a tackle only once every 61 attempts. Although Marshall isn’t a dominant linebacker in coverage—he has an 80.9 QB rating when targeted—he’s still held his own in that regard with a positive grade.
Trevathan, meanwhile, is a more complete player. He’s one of only three inside linebackers with cumulative season grades of +7.0 or higher in both coverage and run defense. After boosting his overall grade with his excellent performance on Monday Night Football, Trevathan has moved up to fifth overall in our rankings, and that’s despite coming off the field fairly frequently (692 total snaps). He’s on a hot streak too, with positive grades in each of the past 12 games. Trevathan has made 34 stops from 285 snaps, giving him a run stop percentage of 11.9 ,which is seventh at the position. Despite giving up a few more plays than his teammate, Trevathan is currently our third-highest graded inside linebacker in coverage, behind only Kuechly and Derrick Johnson. Overall, he’s given up 30 catches from 41 yards for 323 yards, two touchdowns, two interceptions, and three passes defensed. Only three other inside linebackers have made more plays than Trevathan’s five combined picks and pass deflections. He’s not selling out for big plays, either, with a respectable catch rate allowed of 73.2.
The Broncos look set to make a Super Bowl run because of the league’s best defensive unit. Denver boasts fearsome pass rushers in the front seven, and is three-deep in the secondary. The talent of the inside linebackers is an underrated aspect of the unit, however. They complete a group that has few weaknesses, and deserve praise for an impressive season.