NFL News & Analysis

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

at Sports Authority Field at Mile High on September 8, 2016 in Denver, Colorado.

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.

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