Grading The Cowboys' Next Opponent: The Denver Broncos

Dustin Bradford

They are 4-0, and most consider them the best team in the NFL. But are the Broncos really that good? A look at the PFF scores says: Well, yeah, they are.

No snappy banter today. We are looking at the next opponent for the Dallas Cowboys, the Denver Broncos, and how they stack up statistically, including how the team is grading out at Pro Football Focus. And there is no a lot here to encourage Cowboys fans, as the Broncos look the same in the stats as they do on the field: They are probably the most complete and capable football team in the league.

All PFF grades are based on the season to date, so you can divide by four to get an idea of how they are doing on average each week.

Quarterback

Yes, it is a team sport, but there is no real question that Peyton Manning is still one of the very top quarterbacks, and may be the absolute best playing today when all is said an done. PFF grades him at +18.8, and that is a full 34.5% better than the #2 guy - a certain Philip Rivers, who could be said to have had his way with the Dallas defense last week.

He is the oldest starting quarterback in the league at 37 and he is on pace to have a season for the ages. Consider the following season records that are within his reach.


Total yards passing Completion percentage Passer rating Touchdowns Yards per game
Manning 2013 (projected from 4 games) 5,880 75.0 138 64 368
NFL record 5,476 71.23 122.5 50 342.25

He has also thrown exactly 0 interceptions. It could be an epic year for Manning. The Cowboys need to find a way to slow down his march to the record books.

It is not all about the guy under center, of course. And Manning certainly has a lot of other weapons to help him.

Offensive Line

The offensive line saw some significant losses when OT Ryan Clady and C Dan Koppen were injured. And it largely has not mattered. Only G Zane Beadles posts any substandard scores, and obviously he has not impacted the overall offensive performance much. Add in Manning's known ability to get the ball out in a hurry and this is going to be a major challenge for the Rushmen, who saw a huge dropoff in their performance against the San Diego Chargers (check OCC's review of the defensive grades for all the bad news).


Clark Beadles Ramirez Vasquez Franklin

LT LG C RG RT
Total
+5.4 -3.9 +5.7 +8.7 +6.4
Run Blocking
+0.7 -1.0 +3.5 +2.1 +2.1
Pass Protect
+3.2 -4.1 +0.9 +6.4 +7.5

The Denver line has also given up only 4 sacks and 3 hits to Manning all season, and PFF rates them as the second most efficient pass blocking unit in the league, behind the Cincinnati Bengals.

Skill Positions

OK, could someone explain again why Wes Welker is not still with the New England Patriots? I am sure he is heartbroken to no longer have a record-setting quarterback to . . .

Oh. Yeah. Like Manning needed any more help, with Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker already available. One unique stat that PFF has is the wide receiver rating, where they figure out what the quarterback rating is when the ball is thrown to a particular receiver. No wonder Manning is looking to shatter a few records. (Rank is where they stand out of 46 wide receivers with enough receptions to make the list.)

Receiver PFF rank WR rating Targets Receptions Yards
Thomas 1 147.0 37 29 393
Welker 2 132.6 36 26 266
Decker
11 109.2 35 24 340

Just for comparison, Dez Bryant is at number 4 on the list, with a rating of 128.5. So you could think of this as Denver having three wideouts with Bryant-level impact. Not a good time for Morris Claiborne to suddenly be having problems with his coverage.

With the passing attack, Denver runs a lot of 11 personnel packages, and the best tight end they have is Julius Thomas. PFF puts him in the top ten for fewest drops, yards per pass route run, and pass blocking.

The running game for Denver is more to keep defenses honest, having gained the 13th most yards in the NFL. Which is better than Dallas at 18th. (No, all these numbers are not making me depressed. Much.) Ronnie Hillman is graded better by PFF, but Knowshon Moreno has almost twice as many rushing yards, and they are about even as receivers. And in their last game they got totally equal time, each playing on 31 offensive snaps.

Defense

The Broncos have some funny looking numbers defensively. In terms of yardage, they are the 25th ranked team in the NFL, which looks a little weak. They give up 390 yards a game. But if you look at how the yards break out, they are a little different. Denver is 30th in passing defense, but come in 3rd in the league in rushing defense. This is something often seen when a team faces a lot of "garbage yards" late in games where they are clearly in charge, such as last week's 52-20 victory over the Philadelphia Eagles. The scores started piling up for Denver in the second half. In yardage, the game looks very close, with the Broncos only having a 472 to 450 advantage, but obviously those yards run up by Philadelphia had no real effect on the game.

Defensive Line

Von Miller is still serving his suspension. In his absense, the PFF scores for the linemen are not nearly as impressive as for the O line, but digging into some of the specialized stats on the site yields some insight into the value of the players. Malik Jackson is the fifth ranked defensive tackle/nose tackle (two spots behind Jason Hatcher) at pass rushing productivity, and defensive ends Robert Ayers and Shaun Phillips rank eleventh and fifteenth for the same stat among 4-3 DEs. The other starter on the line, Terrance Knighton, is more of a run stopper, and he ranks twelfth among DT/NTs in that part of his game. They are a very solid group. Not spectacular, but without a real weak link, either. They do rotate a lot of bodies in to keep legs as fresh as possible.

Linebackers

Denver had a bit of a scare as starting Will linebacker Danny Trevathan was carted off the field in practice on Wednesday, but he appears to be all right.

The Broncos play a lot of nickel defense, as evidenced by how few snaps (28) Sam LB Nate Irving played. Trevathan is a top ranked player in all the PFF special stats, and he is the best ranked 4-3 OLB in tackling efficiency, and second in run stop percentage. Wesley Woodward shows up in the low to mid teens in all the ratings for inside LBs. This gives Denver a linebacking unit that is above average at worst, and probably close to a top ten unit.

Secondary

Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (who for some reason I always think should be a lot older than he is) and Chris Harris Jr. are the starting corners. They are both in the top 25 cornerbacks at PFF. The only weakness they have is that they are not great tacklers. Starting corners Duke Ihenacho and Rahim Moore are middle of the pack types in their grades. The four starters have collected four interceptions among them, so they are a bit dangerous as the opponents start flinging the ball all over the place.

Overall, there is not much you can point to as a weakness here. And there are a lot of strengths. The Cowboys have to bring a much better game than they played against the Chargers if they want to keep this one respectable, much less have a chance to win.

Star_medium

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