The Denver Broncos suffered a heart-breaking loss to the Seattle Seahawks last night, and it’s one of those results that really just shocks you as a neutral fan. I had the Seahawks winning this one due to their ridiculous depth on both sides of the ball, but I think anyone who called the Seahawks blowing the Broncos out probably surprised themselves by being correct. It’s easy to start pointing fingers at Peyton Manning and trying to make this game about his legacy or whatever, but I think it’s much more important to take a step back and look at the game holistically. Here on NFL Spin Zone, we’ve been trying to break down the game from every angle possible, and the most important thing is to avoid pointing fingers at the best player and to instead be analytical and constructively critical. Below are three Broncos players worth praising (yes, there are three), as well as three Broncos players who had games they would like to forget. And oh yeah, no Manning on this list of six.
Terrance Knighton came into yesterday’s game with plenty of fanfare, and it was great to see him receive national media attention. “Pot Roast” was money all season long for the Broncos at the heart of the defense, and he’s the reason why the Broncos were statistically the best team in the league at stopping interior runs, allowing just 2.9 yards per carry. He was at his best against LeGarrette Blount and the New England Patriots in the AFC Championship Game, and Knighton finished his run of terrific form in the playoffs by beating Seattle Seahawks center Max Unger pretty handily in the running game.
I broke down the matchup between Knighton and Unger, viewing it as a pivotal matchup in this one. Had a lot more things gone in the Broncos favor last night, I think we would be praising Knighton frequently for his play. The Seahawks ran the ball plenty of times up the middle, but their attempts were pretty much futile every time. Give most of the credit to Knighton, who dominated at the point of attack and continues to show why he is one of the best defensive tackles in the league.
WR Wes Welker
In a column on the site, I said that Wes Welker was significantly the best offensive player on the Denver Broncos yesterday, and that’s a statement I don’t anticipate backing off of. Demaryius Thomas had the stats, but he didn’t really do much on the passes thrown at him. He had 118 receiving yards, but that amounts to a mediocre 6.6 yards per target when you take his 18 targets into account. Now don’t get me wrong, Thomas had a pretty good game. However, Welker was significantly better, and his route-running helped free up Thomas for some of those plays. Plus, the crazy thing is that Welker averaged the most yards per reception on the team with 10.5 yards per catch. That’s not much, but it’s more than Thomas’s 9.1, as the Seahawks wanted Manning to throw short passes to his No. 1 target; you aren’t going to beat the Seahawks with those shot passes outside.
I wish the Broncos threw it to Welker more than ten times, because he averaged 8.4 yards per target and caught 80% of everything thrown at him. His quickness and intelligence (he’s among the best in the NFL at finding holes in coverage) caused problems for Walter Thurmond and the Seahawks coverage in the short and intermediate zones of the field, and the Broncos should have ran some more crossing routes with him.
LB Danny Trevathan
One of the most athletic linebackers in the NFL, Danny Trevathan has been a staple on defense for this organization this past season and is a player who seems to improve every week. Not only is he able to make strong plays in coverage, but he’s also more than capable of making plenty of plays in run defense. Trevathan led all players with 12 total tackles and seven total tackles, and he also had a tackle for loss. He and Knighton were stars in the downhill rushing attack against Marshawn Lynch, and he definitely deserves some praise in this space.
RT Orlando Franklin
Seattle Seahawks left end Cliff Avril is one of the most explosive pass rushers in the game, as he has a great mix of athleticism and speed to go with good size. He beat Franklin badly on two plays that led to interceptions, including a deflection from Avril, who finished with two total QB hits. Franklin has been a very good pass blocker in each of the past two seasons and will continue to be a great player for the Broncos, but he had some bad flashbacks to his underwhelming rookie season during last night’s game. The Pro Football Focus had him with four pressures allowed, and it was honestly an uncharacteristic performance from him.
CB Champ Bailey
I was thinking of highlighting Tony Carter as someone who struggled, but I think everyone expected him to run into trouble against a deep, underrated group of Seahawks wide receivers and a shrewd offensive coordinator who would find ways to exploit Carter in coverage. I think Carter has potential and looked good at the beginning of the year, but there’s more to playing corner than simply making plays on the ball.
Anyway, I was very disappointed by the display Champ Bailey put forward, especially since he looked solid against the New England Patriots two weeks ago. Bailey was simply destroyed by Doug Baldwin, who beat Bailey as bad as you can be beat on a corner route. It was pretty early in the game, and I’m sure Broncos fans remember how Baldwin was lined up in the left slot, completely faked out Bailey to the inside of the field and caught an incredibly easy ball. Baldwin, who came into the game leading all players with an average of 11 yards per target to showcase his impeccable efficiency, caught all five passes thrown at him for 66 yards, and he did the majority of his work against Bailey.
WR Eric Decker
In games when your team needs to pull a comeback out of the proverbial hat, it’s always important to have a deep threat who can bring you back in the game with one play. Not only couldn’t Peyton Manning get the deep ball going because of the Seahawks terrific coverage, but Decker was shut down by Richard Sherman all game long. Manning threw five passes to Decker, who caught just one of them for six yards; that’s not efficient at all. I think the logic from the Broncos was, “Look, we know Decker is probably going to be taken out of the game unless if he can beat Sherman, so we’ll see if he can burn him. If not, we’d rather have Demaryius Thomas still in the game on Bryon Maxwell, even if Maxwell is also great in coverage.”
I have no idea what exactly the Broncos were thinking, obviously, but I think that train of thought makes sense. Decker was thoroughly smothered by Sherman, who had a pretty underrated game. Demaryius Thomas and Wes Welker did all they could against the Legion of Boom, but the likes of Decker and Julius Thomas- especially Decker- were significant disappointments.