Denver Broncos vs. Dallas Cowboys: Full Roster Report Card Grades for Denver
The Denver Broncos' Week 5 51-48 win over the Dallas Cowboys was arguably the best football game we’ve seen all season long. It was the second week in a row in which the Broncos scored more than 50 points, and they continue to make history each week. The 230 points scored by the Broncos in 2013 is the most by an NFL team through the first five weeks of a season, surpassing the previous record (217) held by the 2000 St. Louis Rams.
The game marked Denver’s 16th regular-season win, which extends its franchise record. This was also its eighth straight road victory, which sets a new mark for the Broncos.
The Broncos keep scoring points in bunches, and they were able to quickly come back after the Cowboys jumped out to a 14-0 lead in the first quarter. Denver’s first scoring drive went three plays, traveled 80 yards and only took 50 seconds off the clock. This was the Broncos' fifth touchdown drive of the season that took less than one minute.
In the second quarter, the Broncos ran only 20 plays but scored 21 points. Opponents have to truly pick their poison when facing the high-powered Broncos offense. The Cowboys rolled their coverage toward Demaryius Thomas, but they had no answer for covering Julius Thomas.
Wes Welker continued to show great chemistry with Manning. With another touchdown, he became the first player since Washington wide receiver Charlie Brown in 1982 to have at least one receiving touchdown in each of his first five games with a team.
Knowshon Moreno was running with authority against the Cowboys. He nearly managed to get his first 100-yard game of the season, finishing the contest with 93 yards on the ground. Backup running back Ronnie Hillman showed good explosion as a runner and receiver out of the backfield.
The Broncos defense struggled for most of Sunday’s game. The Cowboys offense got off to a hot start, and so did Tony Romo. He had a career-best 167 yards passing in the first quarter and finished the game with 506 yards through the air. This marks the first time in his career that Romo has gone over 500 yards passing in a single game.
Denver started the game in its nickel defense, but that package failed to slow down wide receiver Dez Bryant. We saw the superstar receiver dominate the likes of Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Chris Harris. However, rookie cornerback Kayvon Webster matched up well against Bryant at times. Bryant finished the game with six catches for 141 yards and two touchdowns.
After the game, head coach John Fox commented on the team's defensive performance:
Was it perfect? No. Are any of them perfect? No. But, we made some adjustments there at the end; we weren’t matching up very well. We had some explosive plays in some inopportune times. At the end, we were able to hang on.
It was kicker Matt Prater who put the Broncos over the top. His last-second field goal secured the win for Denver as its march toward the Super Bowl continues.
Check out the grades for each Broncos player against the Cowboys.
All quotes and injury/practice observations were obtained firsthand.
Peyton Manning: A+
Manning was once again on point this week. With 414 passing yards against the Cowboys, he passed Dan Marino for second place on the NFL’s all-time passing yardage list.
With four passing touchdowns against the Cowboys, Manning now has 20 for the season. This is a new league record for most touchdown passes through a season’s first five games.
In addition, Manning also passed former Browns quarterback Milt Plum for the most touchdowns (20) to begin a season without throwing an interception.
Manning did throw his first interception of the year, but it came after he had thrown his fourth touchdown of the day. The interception late in the third quarter ended his longest streak of passes without an interception (226). That mark falls three shy of the team mark (229) set by Jake Plummer in 2005.
After the game, Manning talked about the interception:
It was a bad decision. We were trying to get something down the field. They were in zone coverage. I thought I might be able to get one in there. Didn’t make a good throw but it really wasn’t a good decision as well, so certainly a bad time for it. I never really got into any kind of streak. You’re always trying to protect the ball. Certainly, that was not a good time. Their offense was hot, we needed to answer. We ended up allowing them to catch up and get the lead. It was a bad decision and a bad throw.
Manning is still on pace to throw for over 5,000 yards for the first time in his career. With 11 games to go in the season, Manning only needs to average 283.2 yards passing per game to reach that mark.
We also saw Manning get a rushing touchdown on a naked bootleg play. It was the first rushing touchdown in the last 62 regular-season games for Manning. The rushing touchdown was just the icing on the cake for Manning in Week 5.
Knowshon Moreno: A+
Moreno was running with a lot of anger and fire against the Cowboys on Sunday. His determination was easy to see, and his effort helped energize the offense all game long.
Moreno finished the game with 19 carries for 93 yards rushing and one rushing touchdown. He also chipped in with five catches for 57 yards.
He did fumble, but Moreno did not lose the fumble. He made several big runs against the Cowboys, including the first-down run to set up the game-winning field goal.
Moreno looks more mature as a runner this season. He’s running with better burst, determination and leg drive than he has at any point in his career. After the game, Moreno talked about how he feels now compared to the past:
I feel the same. I’m just running with a purpose. Every game, I try to go out, run with a purpose, do my job and do what I can do to help this team out. At the end of the day, that’s all it is.
Moreno is the most trusted back on the roster because of his ability as a runner, receiver and pass-blocker. He has a firm grasp on the starting job, and his role is likely to stay the same moving forward.
Ronnie Hillman: B-
Hillman showed good burst as both a runner and receiver out of the backfield. He had a long run of 17 yards, but Hillman found little rushing room on his other carries. He finished the game with seven carries for 17 yards against the Cowboys. Hillman did most of his damage as a receiver out of the backfield, compiling four catches for 42 yards.
His role was smaller this week than it was last week against the Eagles. He did miss some time with an ankle injury but was able to return to the game later on. If healthy, we should still see Hillman get a decent number of touches as the primary backup behind Moreno.
Montee Ball: D
We didn’t see much from Ball on Sunday. He’s clearly third in the pecking order, and he was only on the field for a handful of snaps.
His lone carry went for one yard as he failed to punch it into the end zone when the Broncos were close to scoring. Ball will have to be patient and wait his turn to get an opportunity. He must also begin impressing with the few touches he gets if he wants his role to grow.
Eric Decker: A-
Decker continues to see plenty of targets in the Broncos offense. With defenses so focused on Wes Welker and Demaryius Thomas, we’re seeing Decker get open regularly against single coverage.
He would have gotten a higher grade had he not fumbled the football early in the game. Decker made up for it later, snatching five catches for 87 yards and one touchdown.
Decker has clearly earned the trust of Peyton Manning and will continue to be a big part of the passing game going forward.
Wes Welker: A+
Welker has scored in every game he’s played for the Denver Broncos. He hauled in five catches for 49 yards and one touchdown against the Cowboys on Sunday.
The play designs for the Broncos are difficult for opponents to diagnose as the plays unfold. Welker was able to score on a jerk route near the end zone. He faked the out route, then he cut inside toward the middle of the field. Welker’s quickness is difficult to contend with, and he was wide open for the score.
After the game, Welker talked about the Broncos' mindset on offense:
We don’t put limitations on ourselves. Our deal is to go out there and score. That’s what we want to do is score points and make plays. No matter what the score is or how many points we’ve scored, we just go out and try to put points on the board.
Demaryius Thomas: B
Brandon Carr did a good job of covering Thomas on Sunday. The Cowboys were quite focused on not allowing Thomas to get his game jump-started. They kept safety help over the top on his side for most of the game.
Thomas had an early catch called back by penalty and then was quiet until the second half. He finished the game with five catches for 57 yards against the Cowboys. This was the third time Thomas had five catches in a game this season. It was also the second time he was held to under 60 yards receiving.
Denver’s passing game is built on taking what a defense allows. Manning does a good job of distributing the football to all of his targets, and he won’t lock onto one target. Thomas will continue to have up-and-down performances based on the way defenses play him.
Andre Caldwell: C
Caldwell was on the field for a few snaps, but he failed to record a reception, as he was not targeted in this game.
Julius Thomas: A+
The Cowboys have had trouble stopping tight ends all season long. Guys like Brandon Myers (Giants), Jared Cook (Rams) and Antonio Gates (Chargers) have all done well against the Cowboys defense. This was one of the reasons why I highlighted Thomas as a player who could stand out against Dallas in Week 5.
Thomas did more than stand out; he flat-out dominated the Cowboys all day. He hauled in nine passes for 122 yards and two touchdowns. There were even two more targets near the end zone that Thomas wasn’t able to score on. As great as he was on Sunday, his day could have been even better.
After the game, Thomas commented on his performance:
We talk about all the personnel we have and how teams are really going to have to pick who they want to take away in each game. Last game, I had a quieter game. This game, I was able to get some good looks and make some plays. I think that’s how our season is going to go. We’ll have guys that have blowout games. Sometimes teams will do something to slow one of us down. As an offense, we’re really hard to stop as a unit.
With defenses so focused on slowing down Demaryius Thomas and Wes Welker, we should see more from Julius Thomas as the season goes on.
Virgil Green: B
Green is the primary blocking tight end for the Broncos. He failed to record a catch, but he did a good job of blasting open holes for the ground game.
Jacob Tamme: C
Tamme played primarily on special teams and did not have a catch on Sunday. He did record three tackles against the Cowboys.
Joel Dreessen: C
This was Dreessen's second game back after two procedures on his knee this offseason. He spent most of the game blocking and did not record a catch on Sunday.
Chris Clark: A
Clark continues to play at a high level. He was able to stonewall Cowboys pass-rusher Demarcus Ware on Sunday. In fact, Ware moved to the other side of the line in an effort to see if he’d have better luck against right tackle Orlandon Franklin. Peyton Manning is safe and secure with Clark guarding his blind side.
Zane Beadles: B+
Beadles is playing strong as a run-blocker. He has an aggressive mentality, and he does a good job of moving his man out of the way. Beadles also continues to help Manny Ramirez double-team interior pass-rushers.
Manny Ramirez: B-
Ramirez had a good game against the Cowboys, but he did have a blemish on his play. Halfway through the third quarter, Ramirez was charged with a holding penalty. The infraction negated a three-yard run by Knowshon Moreno. Ramirez did a good job of protecting Manning on Sunday.
Louis Vasquez: B-
Like Ramriez, Vasquez had a good day with one bad play. On the team’s first play, Vasquez was called for holding. The penalty negated a 40-yard pass play from Manning to Demaryius Thomas. Vasquez continues to play well as a run-blocker.
Orlando Franklin: A
Franklin is a road-grader as a run-blocker. He also continues to show improvement as a pass-blocker. When Ware switched over to Franklin’s side, we saw zero sacks allowed. In fact, the Cowboys weren’t able to record a sack against Manning on Sunday and barely put him under duress.
Robert Ayers: A
Ayers is on a roll this season. He recorded a sack in the first quarter, and he has at least a halfsack in three consecutive games. Ayers did leave the game early with a shoulder injury. There’s no word on how severe the injury is at this time.
Derek Wolfe: C+
Wolfe didn’t show up in the box score on Sunday. However, he did make plays on film. Wolfe was re-directing traffic toward the middle of the field as a run defender. He also was able to get middle pressure on Tony Romo on the Cowboys' final drive. That pressure prevented Romo from stepping into his throw, which led to an interception by linebacker Danny Trevathan.
Malik Jackson: B+
Jackson’s game is not pretty, but it is effective. He’s a player who gets by on brute strength, quickness and hustle. Jackson was able to notch one sack against the Cowboys. He also recorded two quarterback hits against Tony Romo.
Kevin Vickerson: C-
Vickerson did not make it into the box score against the Cowboys. He played fewer snaps this week than in previous weeks, as the Broncos used a smaller package to try and defend the Cowboys' high-powered offense. When he did see the field, Vickerson failed to produce any sort of middle pressure on Tony Romo.
Terrance Knighton: C
Knighton failed to make it into the box score on Sunday. The Broncos came out in their nickel package, and Knighton saw fewer snaps than he had in previous weeks. When he was on the field, Knighton did hustle to the ball.
Mitch Unrein: B-
Unrein had two tackles on Sunday against the Cowboys. He even registered one quarterback hit. The Broncos continue to use Unrein as a short-yardage blocker when they’re close to the end zone. Unrein played in the team’s jumbo package during the naked bootleg that Peyton Manning ran around the left side for a touchdown. With Unrein on the field and multiple tight ends, the Cowboys heavily bit on the play fake to Moreno.
Sylvester Williams: D
Williams was able to play this week, but he failed to make the box score. He only stood out when he failed to hustle off the field early in the game, forcing the Broncos defense to call a timeout in order to prevent a penalty for too many men on the field. The rookie needs to improve his hustle on the field, and that extends to getting off the field, too.
Wesley Woodyard: C-
Woodyard struggled against the Cowboys on Sunday. He was regularly out of position in coverage, and Tony Romo was picking on him. Tight end Jason Witten was able to break free on a few routes with Woodyard trailing behind him. Woodyard left the game early due to a neck injury. There’s no word on the severity of the injury at this time. He recorded only two tackles before his injury knocked him out of the game.
Shaun Phillips: A
Phillips was almost the lone bright spot at the linebacker position this week. The veteran did a good job of playing with discipline against the Cowboys. He chased down Romo for two sacks and regularly put the Dallas quarterback under duress on Sunday.
After the game, Phillips discussed what it was like chasing down Romo on Sunday:
Romo is very athletic. He is able to move around in the pocket and keep plays alive. He does a lot of basketball-type things where he does a run and pick-and-roll, basically with his offensive linemen. But we don’t make excuses. We have to make the plays. Bottom line is, we made the plays when it counted and we got the victory.
Nate Irving: D
Irving was asked to do more this week after the injury to Woodyard. He made a big hit on Romo at the second level, and that was his best play of the day. Irving continues to struggle when asked to cover. There was a play late in the game where the defense got crossed up and Irving ended up getting burned by superstar wide receiver Dez Bryant. He’s a good run defender with a nose for the ball. Irving has never been a standout player in coverage.
Danny Trevathan: C
This grade was going to be much lower for Trevathan. Against the Cowboys, he really struggled to cover, and it led to big plays from the Cowboys' passing game. Trevathan was out of position on many plays, but he was on point when he needed to be.
The Broncos sealed the game against the Cowboys after Trevathan leaped to intercept Romo in the fourth quarter. After the game, Trevathan talked about his incredibly athletic play:
I was baiting him. But the D-line, I saw [LDE Derek] Wolfe rushing him and put his hands up. Romo threw it and I felt like, man, hopefully I don’t drop the ball when I get in the end zone this time. I fell to the ground and said, "forget it"!
That one play made up for his earlier mistakes, and it improved his overall grade on the day.
Kayvon Webster: C+
Webster started for the Broncos on Sunday, as the team started the game in its nickel package. The rookie has really impressed during his time in the pros. He’s big, physical and has the speed to hang with receivers downfield.
Webster was making big hits when he could and generally playing the role of enforcer for the Broncos alongside safety Duke Ihenacho. However, Webster did make plays in coverage.
At times, he was tasked with covering superstar wide receiver Dez Bryant. Webster did the best job against Bryant out of all the Broncos defenders.
Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie: D
It was not a good day for Rodgers-Cromartie. He has plenty of experience playing against the Cowboys from his days with the Eagles. On Sunday, he looked more like the player he was in Philadelphia than the improved player he’s become with the Broncos.
Rodgers-Cromartie was lost on the field at times. He was burned by Bryant, but also by Cole Beasley on a fourth-quarter touchdown grab. We’ll see if he can shake it off and return to form against the Jaguars in Week 6.
Chris Harris Jr.: C
Harris had an up-and-down game. He finished the contest with four tackles, including two for a loss. However, he struggled to make plays in coverage against the likes of Bryant and Beasley.
Harris left the game with a concussion. There’s no word on the severity of the injury right now. He’ll have to pass the NFL’s protocol for concussions before he can return to the field.
Tony Carter: D-
Carter is, and always will be, a gambler at heart. He loves to take chances in coverage, and sometimes that mindset gets him burned. It happened against the Cowboys when he took a swipe at an incoming pass for rookie wide receiver Terrance Williams. He failed to connect, and Williams was able to catch the ball. Williams turned up the field and scored an 82-yard touchdown. It wasn’t his only bad play, but it was clearly his worst.
Rahim Moore: C
Moore was consistent but unspectacular against the Cowboys. He led the team with six tackles, five solo, but was out of position a few times in coverage. The injuries to the secondary led to a shuffle of players in and out of the lineup. After the game, Moore talked about how those injuries had an effect on the game:
We have great chemistry. We all study. We all know different positions. That’s what it is all about. That’s why you coach. That’s why you have so many meetings, and you have so many walkthroughs and stuff like that. So you learn. Even though you are not in the game, you never know. ... You have to move on. Next man up.
Duke Ihenacho: B
Ihenacho continued to play as the enforcer for the Broncos on Sunday. He led the team with two passes defensed against the Cowboys. Ihenacho was constantly around the football, and the team seemed to respond to his energy.
Mike Adams: C-
Adams came in as injuries devastated the Broncos secondary. He finished the game as the second-leading tackler. Adams secured five tackles, four solo, against the Cowboys. In coverage, he always seemed a beat late to the football.
Omar Bolden: D
It was a rough game for Bolden. He was chasing down receivers from behind, as he was regularly getting burned when he was on the field.
David Bruton: C
Bruton is a star on special teams but didn't receive many snaps on defense against the Cowboys.
Returner Trindon Holliday: B
Holliday was avoided by the Cowboys kicking game whenever possible. He finished the game with three kick returns for 87 yards, and one punt return for nine yards.
Kicker Matt Prater: A+
Prater was perfect on Sunday. His fourth quarter kick from 28 yards away sealed the victory for the Broncos. He even knocked a field goal in from 50 yards away earlier in the fourth quarter.
Punter Britton Colquitt: A
Colquitt only got onto the field to hold for field goals and extra points as the Broncos did not punt on Sunday.
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