The Broncos offense got off to a better start in Week 3. They scored in the first quarter for the first time this season, and they quickly parlayed that hot start into an insurmountable lead.
Peyton Manning has now thrown for 12 touchdowns, most in the NFL through three weeks and the most in league history through three games. He also is the first player since Michael Vick in 2010 to throw at least 12 touchdown passes before throwing an interception.
We saw more balance from the Broncos offensively in Week 3. They finished the game with 37 passing attempts and 35 rushing attempts against the Raiders.
The Denver passing game was on point against the Raiders. Wes Welker and Julius Thomas each recorded a scoring reception, joining Saints tight end Jimmy Graham, as the only players in the NFL this season to catch at least one TD pass in each of the first three weeks.The Broncos top-rated defense did a good job against the Raiders ground game. Oakland entered Week 3 as the number-one rushing team in the NFL. Against the Broncos, the Raiders got only 50 yards rushing, averaging just 2.9 yards per carry.
Let's hand out the grades for each Broncos player against the Raiders.
*All quotes and injury/practice observations were obtained firsthand, unless otherwise noted.
Peyton Manning: A+
We're watching history being made every week when Peyton Manning is on the field. This week against the Raiders was no different as he passed for over 300 yards for the third straight week.
Manning is on pace to throw for over 5,000 yards this season. He needs only to average around 297 yards per game to eclipse that mark for the first time in his career.
He has yet to throw an interception, and Manning continues to spread the ball around to many different receivers.
After the game, the veteran QB talked about going through these first three games without throwing a pick, per Sam Farmer of the Los Angeles Times:
Just good play-calling. Trying to make good, smart, sound decisions. I think guys are doing a good job getting open on time. I think guys have a good clock in their heads about when to come out of the break versus different coverages. Protection has been good, so it gives you a chance to see the field and try to throw accurate footballs.
He easily picked apart the Raiders defense on Monday night. Of his five incompletions, four of them were dropped passes. Simply put, Manning was near perfect in Week 3.
Ronnie Hillman: A
Hillman played only two snaps in Week 2 against the New York Giants. Many believed he had fallen out of favor with the coaching staff because of his two lost fumbles in the preseason.
Against the Raiders, Hillman received a bigger workload and responded with a solid performance. He led the team in rushing with 66 yards on nine carries. He also got into the end zone on a one-yard run.
Hillman, who was sometimes lining up wide, caught his lone target for a 12-yard gain. He was wide open a few times after lining up on the outside, but Peyton Manning didn't throw him the ball.
After the game on the No BS Broncos Post Game Show, I asked Hillman if he would go to Manning to tell him that he was open. Hillman laughed, "No, I'm pretty sure Peyton will see it on film."
Manning was impressed after the game and praised Hillman for his performance as a runner:
Any time you can have the running game going, I know that opens up some things in the passing game and hopefully keeps the defense off balance. I thought all the backs made some good runs tonight. Really some good runs by Ronnie Hillman. Good job on him on that one drive. Two really good runs and then finishing with a touchdown was important.
Knowshon Moreno: C
Moreno continues to be the starter for the Denver Broncos. He led the team in carries with 13, but was only able to gain 39 yards on the ground.
He was targeted twice in the passing game and pulled in one reception for six yards.
Moreno continues to be the starter because the team trusts him the most in pass protection. Coming into Week 3, the Raiders led the league in sacks. The Broncos knew they'd have their hands full with Oakland's pass-rushers. Moreno did a fine job picking up the blitz on Monday night.
Montee Ball: D
This was the best performance we've seen from Montee Ball all year. He rushed 11 times for 61 yards, good for a 5.5 yards-per-carry average.
Ball did see some time on passing downs and looked better as a pass protector. He did run a few routes out of the backfield, but was not targeted by Manning.
The reason Ball gets a low grade is because he lost a fumble for the second week in a row. Ball security is critical for the Broncos, especially when they're trying to grind down the clock in the second half.
If Ball wants to get more playing time, then he must earn the trust of the coaching staff. I'm sure this week we'll see Ball carrying a football with him everywhere at Dove Valley.
Short passes can turn into long gains with Demaryius Thomas. Peyton Manning kept targeting him on underneath routes where Thomas could use his run-after-the-catch ability to gain big yardage.
The Raiders were playing two high safeties most of the night to prevent long passing plays. After the game Manning commented on seeing that coverage from the Raiders more than he did last season:
It’s kind of hard to say. You really feel like with the new personnel, they’re kind of a different defense than they were last year. So last year’s film wasn’t quite as relevant. You never quite know what you’re going to get this first division game out. How they’ll play—maybe they’ll play different next time. I thought they mixed it up overall with some two-safeties, with some man-to-man, some different blitz looks. Communication was really critical tonight and I thought our guys did a good job with that.
Thomas finished the night with the most targets (11) and the most receptions (10). His 94 yards receiving was good for second best against the Raiders.
Wes Welker: A
With the loss of left tackle Ryan Clady, I thought we might we might see more multiple-tight end sets—which would've meant fewer snaps for Wes Welker. The Broncos came out in its base 11 personnel for the first drive, but mixed in more two-tight end sets as the game went on.
But the formation changes didn't stop Welker from getting into the end zone against the Raiders. Welker was targeted eight times and caught seven passes for 84 yards and a touchdown.
The lone target that Welker didn't catch was a pass near the front pylon of the end zone. It was a difficult over-the-shoulder grab that Welker got his his hands on but couldn't pull in.
We should continue to see more 12 personnel used by the Broncos going forward. This means fewer snaps for Welker. However, that doesn't mean his production is going to slide in the weeks to come.
Eric Decker: A+
This was Eric Decker’s week to shine. He led the team in receiving with 133 yards, catching passes on all eight of his targets against the Raiders.
He was simply a man on a mission and refused to let a pass hit the ground. Manning rewarded him by targeting Decker early and often.
Defenses try to take away Thomas with bracket coverage over the top. An opponent will also try to double-team Welker underneath. Decker never sees that type of coverage and is always in a one-on-one situation.
We should continue to see Manning take advantage of those types of looks going forward. So long as Decker consistently makes catches, he could continue to have big performances for the Broncos.
Andre Caldwell: C-
Andre "Bubba" Caldwell failed to record a catch for the first time this season. He did see more snaps than in previous weeks but was targeted only one time by Manning.
That lone target came on a long pass down the left sideline. Caldwell did not secure the pass because of interference by a Raider defensive back; the penalty resulted in a Denver first down.
Julius Thomas: A
Thomas recorded his lowest catch total—three grabs for 37 yards and a touchdown—on the season in Week 3. He was not asked to block much more than he has in previous weeks, even though the team was playing without left tackle Ryan Clady.
After the game Thomas commented on the team's hot start but cool finish against the Raiders.
We actually started better today and finished slower. It’s actually just about putting points on the board, every time we got the ball we were looking to put some points up there; and we were able to do that early today. We struggled a little bit in the second half, but we’ll clean it up and keep on trying to be productive on offense.
It’s a case of pick your poison when playing the Denver Broncos. Like Eric Decker, Thomas continues to see mostly one-on-one coverage, and he still is a difficult matchup, despite his modest numbers against Oakland.
He’s getting open, but with so many mouths for Manning to feed, Thomas's targets may not be there every week.
Virgil Green: B
Green is the best blocking tight end on the roster, since Joel Dreessen continues to recover from a knee injury. He was asked to play a bigger role this week because of the loss of Clady, and he responded with a strong day. Green also caught one pass for three yards after twice being targeted by Manning.
Jacob Tamme: C
Tamme got more playing time on offense this week, as the Broncos used more 12 personnel groupings. He was targeted only one time but hauled in that pass for a five-yard gain.
Chris Clark: B+
Clark was quite impressive for most of the night against the Raiders. He has big shoes to fill in trying to replace Ryan Clady at left tackle.
Clark occasionally received some blocking help from tight ends and running backs. However, most of the night he was able to handle his opponent by himself. Clark would have received an "A+" if not for the lone sack he gave up.
After the game, Peyton Manning complimented Clark:
I thought Chris did a good job from a communication standpoint. You always see a little bit more when you watch the film. But, the fact that he’s been the starting left tackle in the offseason with the minicamps and the OTAs and training camp, from a mental standpoint, he was on top of it. No miscommunications or having to call a timeout because he didn’t know what to do. He was very sharp that way.
Zane Beadles: BBeadles continues to show well as a run-blocker for this team. Many of the Broncos' big gains in the running backs came up the middle. Beadles is an aggressive player, who can help blast open holes for the ground game. As a pass-blocker, he held his own and did a good job of protecting Manning.
Manny Ramirez: B+Ramirez has been quite impressive most every week. The Raiders came into Week 3 leading the NFL in sacks, but the Broncos only gave up one on the night. Like Beadles, Ramirez helped push around the Raiders up front to create rushing lanes for the running backs.
Louis Vasquez: A
There were no big touchdown runs to the right side of the field this week. However, Vasquez still showed off his trademark strength as a run-blocker versus Oakland.
As a pass-blocker, Vasquez did a good job of stonewalling his opponent.
Orlando Franklin: B+
Franklin did a good job of moving his feet in pass-blocking for Manning. He's really improved in that area during his pro career, and his refined technique was on display against the Raiders.
Franklin is still is known for being a devastating run-blocker and did his part by pushing around the Raiders defensive front seven.
Robert Ayers: A+
The defensive ends as a whole did a good job of staying disciplined and keeping contain. At the same time, they also collapsed the pocket and made Terrelle Pryor uncomfortable.
Ayers recorded the first multi-sack game of his career and three other quarterback hits and was generally a thorn in the side of the Raiders offensive line.
Derek Wolfe: CWolfe failed to get into the box score on Monday night. Even though he did not record a tackle, he did a good job of keeping containment, which forced the ball-carrier back to the inside of the defense where other Bronco defenders made the tackles.
Malik Jackson: B
Kevin Vickerson: A
Vickerson really thrived in this game. He continued to be a dominant force in the middle by stuffing the run. His play was one of the reasons why the Broncos were able to hold the NFL's best rushing offense to 49 yards on the night.
After the game, Vickerson commented on stopping the Raiders ground game:
Yeah, man, we just try to be consistent doing what we do up front and that’s being stout and physical in the run game. We don’t want to give up those garbage points at the end, but we got a big guy [NT Terrance Knighton] next to me that’s helping me clog stuff up too. It’s a good 1-2-3 punch with me, him and [DT] Mitch [Unrein] rolling in there together. It’s fresh bodies constantly, just doing what we do inside man, just wreck the middle.
Terrance Knighton: A
Sylvester Williams: DWilliams once again failed to record much playing time for the Broncos. The rookie failed to make it into the box score and really deserves an "I" for incomplete.
Mitch Unrein: C
Unrein continues to get playing time as a reserve player. He didn't make the box score as a defender, but did record one kick return for eight yards.
Wesley Woodyard: A+
Woodyard put in one of the best performances of the night. He was flying all over the field to shut down the Raiders ground game. Woodyard also did a good job in pass defense when asked to drop back in zone coverage.
The biggest play of the night came on a legal hit, on which Woodyard absolutely crushed quarterback Terrelle Pryor. The Raiders quarterback was taken out of the game after that and veteran Matt Flynn took over.
Woodyard really set the tone for the defense with his physical play. After the game he talked about his performance, saying, "Oh we’re competing. We all want to be the leading tackler on the team. That’s something that our linebacking core is, we’re tight, we’re close and we’re brothers."
Shaun Phillips: C+
Phillips didn't record a sack, and some might question this grade. But Phillips showed a great of deal of discipline in defending the edge against Oakland.
The Raiders have a strong ground game, and Pryor can be dangerous when he scrambles. Phillips didn't want to get too far upfield, which would open up rushing lanes for the big quarterback. The veteran linebacker did have a couple of clean up tackles on the night.
Nate Irving: B
Irving played more in this game than in previous weeks. The Broncos stayed in a base package more often in Week 3 as they were trying to stop the Raiders ground attack. Irving did a good job for the most part, leading the team with nine total tackles.
However, there was one play when he got too far upfield, which led to a 23-yard scramble around the edge by Pryor. Had it not been for that play, Irving would've had a near-perfect night.
Danny Trevathan: B
Paris Lenon: D
Lenon left the game early with a thigh injury.
Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie: B-
The Raiders passing game isn't a high-powered attack. Rodgers-Cromartie did a good job for most of the night...outside of one play.
Covering Oakland's wide receiver Denarius Moore downfield, the veteran corner let Moore slip away to the outside. Rodgers-Cromartie was essentially knocked off Moore by his own man, Duke Ihenacho, and the play resulted in a 73-yard touchdown catch for the Raiders.
Chris Harris Jr.: B
Harris finished the game with five tackles on the night, including one tackle for a loss. He did everything the Broncos asked him to, and he was equally impressive defending the pass or run.Cornerback Champ Bailey was not on the field, so once again we saw more from Harris. He did a good job sticking with his man on Monday night, no matter where he lined up on the field.
Kayvon Webster: A
This was a huge game for Webster. The rookie made his presence known with a couple of big hits against the Raiders.
In college at South Florida he was known for his physical style of play. That has most certainly transferred over to the NFL. After the game, Webster commented on how his play fired up the rest of his teammates:
The sideline, the players that we have on our team they do a great job of helping the young guys stay involved and cheering us on when we’re out there and it’s very encouraging that they’re behind us. [You] just try your best to do your job.
Tony Carter: D
Rahim Moore: B
Moore did a good job leading the safeties on Monday night. He recorded only two tackles but was around the football constantly. Moore also helped line up his fellow defenders before the snap.
Duke Ihenacho: B
Mike Adams: C+
Adams came in after the injury to Ihenacho. The seasoned veteran was around the football most of the night and did not get out of position.
David Bruton: C
Bruton is a star on special teams, but didn't receive many snaps on defense against the Raiders.
Returner Trindon Holliday: C
Kicker Matt Prater: A
Prater continues to be perfect on the year in field-goal attempts. He hit all three tries against the Raiders, including a 53-yarder. Of course, he was perfect on extra-point attempts.
Punter Britton Colquitt: A
Colquitt only punted once against the Raiders. He made it count for 37 yards.