NFL News & Analysis

DEN-NO grades: Darian Stewart, Broncos' defense impress in win over Saints

NEW ORLEANS, LA - NOVEMBER 13: Darian Stewart #26 of the Denver Broncos returns an interception during the first half of a game against the New Orleans Saints at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on November 13, 2016 in New Orleans, Louisiana. (Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images)

Denver Broncos 25, New Orleans Saints 23

Here are the top-graded players and biggest takeaways from Denver’s 25-23 win over the Saints in New Orleans.

Denver Broncos

Quarterback grade: Trevor Siemian, 44.2

Siemian battered by Saints’ pass-rush

New Orleans designed their defensive game-plan to pressure Broncos QB Trevor Siemian, sending extra pass-rushers on 22 of Denver’s 48 pass plays. The Saints’ blitzes consistently resulted in pressure; Siemian was sacked six times and knocked down on six more snaps. The constant hits took their toll on the QB, who actually earned a lower grade with a clean pocket than when under pressure. He threw a pair of interceptions; one of them was the result of a misread coverage with a clean pocket against a four-man rush.

Trevor Siemian vs pressure

Top offensive grades:

C Matt Paradis, 84.4

WR Demaryius Thomas, 82.5

RG Michael Schofield, 77.6

LT Russell Okung, 77.0

TE A.J. Derby, 73.4

Right tackle continues to plague Broncos’ offense

WR Demaryius Thomas was the Broncos’ top target in the pass game, finishing with eight catches for 87 yards and a touchdown, and consistently beating Saints CB Delvin Breaux for first downs. Broncos RT Donald Stephenson has been disastrous this season, especially in pass protection. Stephenson currently ranks dead last among 78 qualifying NFL tackles (left and right) in both overall and pass-blocking grades for 2016. Stephenson was completely overmatched against Saints DE Cameron Jordan, allowing two QB hits and four QB hurries on just 31 snaps in pass protection before being benched for Ty Sambrailo. Denver was unable to get anything going on the ground against New Orleans, finishing with 105 rushing yards on 35 attempts (QB kneeldowns removed) for just 2.8 yards per rush. C Matt Paradis continued his excellent season, earning an 83.3 run-blocking grade to add to his league-best run-blocking grade among centers. The Broncos look like they miss C.J. Anderson, however, as running backs Devontae Booker and Kapri Bibbs did not force a single missed tackle, and their longest run of the game was just 11 yards.

Top defensive grades:

S Darian Stewart, 86.9

CB Chris Harris Jr., 84.8 

LB Brandon Marshall, 83.1

OLB Von Miller, 82.2

DE Jared Crick, 80.6

Opportunistic defense gives Broncos road win

Broncos safety Darian Stewart earned a team-best 86.9 overall grade after recording a fumble recovery and a pair of interceptions. His first interception came from a great break on the ball to beat Travis Cadet to his spot in the red zone, and he seemed to be around the ball from that point on. His second interception came from a deflected pass, and Saints rookie WR Michael Thomas fumbled the ball right into Stewart’s arms early in the fourth quarter. S Justin Simmons (five snaps) and S Will Parks (14 snaps) were part-time players on defense, but combined to make the biggest play of the game. After the Saints tied the game with 1:22 left in the fourth quarter, Simmons leapt over the snapper to block the go-ahead extra point attempt, and Parks recovered the ball and returned it for two points.

New Orleans Saints

Quarterback grade: Drew Brees, 52.6

Brees excellent under pressure, but comeback falls just short

Saints QB Drew Brees had trouble finding open receivers against an excellent Broncos' secondary. He threw a pair of interceptions, both of which were the result of forcing passes into tight coverage. Even his game-tying touchdown pass to WR Brandin Cooks was an underthrown deep pass into double coverage. Brees also made some excellent throws in this game, and was at his best under pressure (8-of-12 for 149 yards, two touchdowns, 149.0 QB rating).

Drew Brees vs pressure

Top offensive grades: 

WR Brandin Cooks, 81.6 

WR Willie Snead, 76.8

LG Senio Kelemete, 73.2

TE Coby Fleener, 72.4 

C Max Unger, 72.3

Young receivers lead New Orleans offense

Saints wide receivers Willie Snead and Brandin Cooks led the offense in overall grading after combining for eight catches, 145 yards, and three touchdowns. Rookie WR Michael Thomas was at the other end of the spectrum, fumbling twice in the fourth quarter and finishing with a 39.8 overall grade. The offensive line had a tough time holding up in pass protection against Denver’s pass-rush. RT Zach Strief (39.7 pass-blocking grade) struggled against Von Miller and earned his first below-average grade of the season after allowing two QB hits and two QB hurries.

Top defensive grades:

DE Cameron Jordan, 90.0

LB Craig Robertson, 84.3 

CB Sterling Moore, 83.7

LB Dannell Ellerbe, 81.6 

DT Nick Fairley, 80.3

Jordan takes full advantage of Denver’s right tackles

Saints DE Cameron Jordan was dominant on nearly every snap in this game, finishing with one sack, one hit, seven hurries, and six run stops for a game-best 90.0 overall grade. Jordan currently ranks fourth among all NFL edge defenders in overall 2016 grade, excelling both in run defense and as a pass-rusher. DT Nick Fairley also had a solid game, recording one sack, one hit, two hurries, and a pair of run stops. Rookie safety Vonn Bell had three run stops and earned an 80.6 run-defense grade. Bell currently ranks fifth among all NFL safeties in run-defense grade, and has missed just one tackle in 2016.

PFF Game-Ball Winner: Cameron Jordan, DE, Saints

PFF’s player grading process includes multiple reviews, which may change the grade initially published in order to increase its accuracy. Learn more about how we grade and access grades for every player through each week of the NFL season by subscribing to Player Grades.

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