Sunday's Week 4 52-20 win over the Philadelphia Eagles was another feather in the cap of the Denver Broncos. The Broncos’ 52 points scored against the Eagles were the most in team history, breaking the previous mark of 50 points scored against the San Diego Chargers on October 6, 1963.
Denver’s 4-0 start marks the sixth time in team history they have won four straight games to begin a season. It was a team-record 15th consecutive victory with all wins coming by seven or more points. This is good for second in NFL history, behind the 1941-42 Chicago Bears, who won 16 straight by such a margin.
The Broncos were nearly unstoppable when they finally jump-started the offense. Once again, they started out the game slowly, but really turned things on in the second half. Denver was aided by a 21-point outburst in the third quarter. During that time, the offense racked up 18 first downs and 214 yards without a third-down attempt.
Peyton Manning continued his hot streak, throwing for 327 yards and four touchdowns on Sunday. He now holds an NFL-record with 16 touchdowns over the first four games of the regular season. Things were going so smooth for the Broncos offense that we even saw backup Brock Osweiler get some playing time.
The ground game was, once again, led by Knowshon Moreno. We continue to see more carries and touches for second-year running back Ronnie Hillman. These added touches are at the expense of rookie Montee Ball.
The Broncos passing game is simply on a different level from most teams in the NFL. It was, once again, a big day for both Wes Welker and Demaryius Thomas. Eric Decker led the team in receiving, and tight end Julius Thomas helped create mismatches against the defense.
The Broncos came into the week with the No. 1 rushing defense in the NFL, averaging 43.3 yards per game. The Eagles came into the week as the No. 1 rushing offense in the NFL, averaging 209.0 yards per game.
We saw Denver handle the Eagles ground game for the most part. They were able to hold star running back LeSean McCoy to a season-low 73 yards rushing.
Denver's secondary did a good job against the passing game. Former Eagles cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie was able to shut down DeSean Jackson on Sunday. Jackson finished the game with only two catches for 34 yards.
Special teams made two big plays for touchdowns on Sunday. One was a Trindon Holliday kick return for a touchdown, and the other was a blocked punt returned for a touchdown by Steven Johnson.
Check out the grades for each Broncos player against the Eagles.
Peyton Manning: A+
Manning is making things look easy out there. He completed 28 of 34 passes for 327 yards with four touchdowns. Manning passed Brett Favre for the most four-touchdown games (24) in NFL history.
Every week, he just keeps breaking more records. Manning's 16 touchdown passes in the first four games is a new NFL record. He also has yet to throw an interception this year.
This mark ties former Cleveland quarterback Milt Plum for the most passing scores in a season before throwing an interception. Dating back to last year, Manning has a streak of 201 consecutive passes without an interception. This is the longest such streak of his career and the second-longest streak in team history.
He now has passed for 1,470 yards this year. Manning is still on track to throw for over 5,000 yards this season. He only needs to average 294 yards passing per game in order to reach that mark for the first time in his career.
After the game, Manning talked about how much fun he's having on the field:
I enjoyed that. That was a good team that we played. We felt really motivated to score points against these guys. You saw their offense. They are capable of scoring points.
Our defense did a heck of a job answering their challenge. We were motivated to be on top of our game offensively—to score points—touchdowns, not field goals. I thought we did that today. We certainly enjoyed that.
Brock Osweiler: C
We saw Osweiler get some game action for the first time this year. He entered the contest with 10:42 left in the fourth quarter and mostly handed off. Osweiler finished with 10 yards passing, completing two of three attempts against the Eagles.
Knowshon Moreno: A
Moreno is the most trusted back on the roster and continues to get the most touches when the game is at hand. He had a lot of success running against the Eagles defense on Sunday, racking up 78 yards rushing on only 12 carries.
He scored another touchdown this season—this time in the second quarter on a four-yard plunge. Moreno also caught one pass for 13 yards.
His pass-blocking was, again, on point, and that skill remains a hallmark of his game. With his performance on Sunday, Moreno moved past Tatum Bell into ninth place in team history with 2,668 career rushing yards.
Ronnie Hillman: C
Hillman ended the game with the same amount of touches as Moreno. He did not have as much success on the ground as Moreno, finishing with only 36 yards on 11 carries.
We saw Hillman snare a couple of passes for 21 yards. It seems like he's only an ankle tackle away from breaking off a big play on certain touches. He'll bust some big plays later this season, but was unable to shake free on Sunday.
Hillman appreciates the extra playing time and commented on rebuilding trust with the coaching staff after the game. “It’s just getting out there and being in a groove and having them (Broncos coaches) trust you enough to give you the ball and I’m starting to get more of that.”
Montee Ball: D
Ball is clearly third in the pecking order. The rookie has fallen out of favor with the coaching staff after fumbling in back-to-back weeks. He was able to hang onto the football today, but didn't do much as a runner.
We didn't see Ball get a carry until Peyton Manning had called it a day. In garbage time, Ball couldn't find much running room. He had eight carries for 24 yards, only averaging three yards per carry.
Demaryius Thomas: A+
The Eagles struggled to stop Thomas on Sunday. They did make a concentrated effort to prevent any deep catches, and the Broncos were perfectly happy with that.
Thomas worked close to the line of scrimmage and had plenty of success. He finished the game with nine catches for 86 yards and two touchdowns.
One touchdown was on a beautiful fade route in the corner of the end zone. His second touchdown was on a wide receiver screen. Thomas was able to catch the pass behind the line of scrimmage and scampered into the end zone from 15 yards out.
He's the favorite target of Peyton Manning in an offense that is making history every week.
Wes Welker: A+
Welker caught the first pass of the game for the Broncos and didn't slow down after that. He was able to sneak around behind the defense, finding the end zone twice.
His chemistry with Manning is strong, and the two seem to be on the same page in 2013. Welker caught his fifth touchdown of the year on Denver’s first offensive possession. With that score, he became just the second player in Broncos history (Al Denson, 1969) to record a touchdown catch in each of the team's first four games of the year.
Welker's six touchdown catches this season lead the team. After the game, he talked about what the team could do to improve:
There’s always things you can improve on. I know there are some things that I could have done better personally, but I’m sure everybody feels that way in this locker room. That’s how you get better, those little details, getting better at them and going out there and fixing them.
Eric Decker: BDecker leads the team in receiving for the second straight week with five catches for 88 yards. He continues to see single coverage that Manning takes advantage of. We'd see a higher grade for Decker had he not let a would-be 50-yard catch slip through his fingers in the first quarter.
Andre Caldwell: C
Caldwell actually saw two targets on Sunday. He was able to haul in one of those passes for five yards.
Julius Thomas: A
Thomas is a key piece in the passing game. He creates mismatches anytime he's on the field because of his size/speed combination.
The Eagles had their hands full with the Broncos receivers. Thomas finished the game with four catches for 43 yards. He did not get into the end zone, but he caught all of the passes thrown his way on Sunday.
Virgil Green: B
Green is the team's primary blocking tight end, although he did split time, in that role, with Joel Dreessen. Against the Eagles, we saw Green get one target which he hauled in for a five-yard reception.
Jacob Tamme: C
Tamme played primarily on special teams and did not have a catch on Sunday.
Joel Dreessen: C
This was Dreessen's first 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 is doing an outstanding job over the last two weeks. There was a lot of pressure on Clark after replacing All-Pro Ryan Clady in the starting lineup. He's done a fantastic job as a pass-blocker and did not allow a sack on Sunday.
Clark is a beast as a run blocker. On the second touchdown of the day from Demaryius Thomas, it was actually Clark getting out in front to spring him free to the end zone.
Zane Beadles: B
Beadles is blocking well when asked to push his man out of the way in the ground game. As a pass protector, he's doing a good job in one-on-one situations. Beadles is often asked to help Manny Ramirez double-team defenders on the inside.
Manny Ramirez: C+
Ramirez had a good game for the most part. His grade would have been higher had he not allowed a sack of Peyton Manning. On that play, we saw Ramirez get pushed back into Manning by Cedric Thornton.
After the game, Manning brushed off the play. “The protection has been solid—one sack today that was borderline almost a coverage-sack.” Manning said.
Louis Vasquez: A
Vasquez was a road grader who helped open holes for the ground game on the right side. He often moves his opponent out of the way with ease right after the snap. Vasquez is incredibly strong and can get push inside against most defenders.
As a pass-blocker, Vasquez did a good job of stonewalling his opponent.
Orlando Franklin: B+
Franklin continues to show improvement as a pass-blocker. He moves his feet to slide with an edge-rusher and has the strength to keep opponents at bay.
He's known mostly for his ability as a run blocker and continued to help create holes for the Broncos running backs on Sunday.
Robert Ayers: A+
The defensive ends had to play with heightened discipline against the Eagles offense. Ayers led the way for the team at the position and did a solid job of making things happen.
Ayers recorded six tackles, a half-sack and one quarterback hit on Sunday. During the No BS Broncos Post Game Show, I asked Ayers about the difficulties when facing an athletic quarterbaack like Vick. "Getting after Vick is tough. You need to stay at home and not create rushing lanes by getting too far upfield. Keeping contain and collapsing the pocket around him is the key."
Derek Wolfe: B+
After the game, Wolfe talked about going up against the uptempo Eagles offense:
I’ll tell you, I don’t know if I’ve ever been that tired, as I was in the first and second quarter. That first half had me pretty tired. They don’t run the plays fast; they just get lined up fast, so if you can control their breathing, you’ll be OK.
Malik Jackson: C
Kevin Vickerson: C
Vickerson didn't show up in the box score, but what he did does not go without notice. He helped stuff rushing lanes for the Eagles' ground game, causing many runs to move away from his spot.
Terrance Knighton: B
Mitch Unrein: C
Unrein continues to get playing time as a reserve player. He had one tackle on the night, but was able to get some pressure on Vick.
Wesley Woodyard: A+
Woodyard is playing at a remarkable level each week. His play is one of the reasons why the Broncos defense is having success in 2013.
Discipline is key when facing a zone-read offense like the Eagles. Woodyard did a good job of scraping and flowing to the play without false steps. This allowed him to get to the play as quickly as possible where he secured the tackle most of the time.
The Broncos defense is feeding off the energy of Woodyard. He's not an overly vocal leader, but leads the team with his play on the field.
Shaun Phillips: B+
Phillips did a good job of creating pressure on Sunday. He finished the game with four tackles and one sack. After the game, I asked Phillips about getting better each week:
In our minds, we did let up a little bit because we allowed them to score in the fourth quarter. In order to be a great defense, you have to shut the door all the time. Are we playing good? Yes. But can we play better? Yes. We have so much room for improvement.
Nate Irving: B
Irving was asked to do more this week, as the Broncos wanted to slow down the Eagles rushing attack. He was able to stay in position on most plays, not allowing his man to get by him. Irving wrapped up well on the night. He finished the game with three tackles, including one for a loss.
Danny Trevathan: B
Trevathan was flying around the field on Sunday. His speed and ability to play in space were on full display against the Eagles offense.
Trevathan led the team in tackles with 10, including one for a loss. He's making plays in coverage as well and had one pass defensed on Sunday.
Steven Johnson: A
Johnson doesn't get many snaps on defense, but made an impact on special teams. In the fourth quarter, he blocked a punt and returned it for a touchdown.
Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie: A
Rodgers-Cromartie spent the last two seasons with Philadelphia and did a solid job against his old teammates on Sunday. He led all players with two passes defensed and was able to frustrate DeSean Jackson.
After the game, Rodgers-Cromartie talked about his matchup against Jackson. “It was one that I was looking forward to. Just going against him a lot last year, knowing, anytime he gets the ball in his hands, he can do some explosive things, but for the most part, our D-line got out there today.”
The two three-and-outs Denver’s defense forced doubled the number Philadelphia’s offense entered Sunday’s game with. A big reason why they were able to do that was the play from Rodgers-Cromartie.
Chris Harris Jr.: A
Harris finished the game with only one tackle against the Eagles. It was a quiet night for him because of his smothering play. Harris did a good job of shadowing his man and didn't see many passes thrown his way.
Kayvon Webster: C
Webster came in as a sub-package player on Sunday. The rookie didn't make it into the box score, but was able to get in a big hit here and there.
On the No BS Post Game Show, I asked safety Duke Ihenacho if Webster was getting advice from him on how to look for the big hit. "I'm taking notes from him!" Ihenacho replied.
Tony Carter: B
Carter helped keep the Eagles passing game in check. He finished the game with two tackles, both solo, on the day.
Rahim Moore: A
Moore is playing with a lot of confidence this year. On top of that, he's having a good time on the field. After the game, Moore talked about his satisfaction with the defensive performance:
I’m very happy. We did a fantastic job stopping the run [and] stopping the pass. We gave up a few plays toward the end but I’m very pleased. We’ve got to continue to get better. It’s a 24-hour rule in this league—come tomorrow no one cares. It’s over.
He did a good job patrolling the field and finished the game with seven tackles. Moore helped prevent big plays and securely wrapped up his man when the opportunity was there.
Duke Ihenacho: B
Ihenacho stayed disciplined against the Eagles ground game. His nine tackles were good for second-best on Sunday. Ihenacho had one tackle for a loss and was always around the football.
After the game, Ihenacho talked about his fire and energy helping to pump up his teammates. “I think we all feed off each other. I just try to create big plays for my team, anything I can do to help, that’s what I want to do.”
Mike Adams: C
Adams came in as a reserve player late in the game. He did not show up in the box score on Sunday.
David Bruton: C+
Bruton is a star on special teams, but didn't receive many snaps on defense against the Eagles. He helped usher linebacker Steven Johnson to the end zone after a blocked punt.
Returner Trindon Holliday: A+
Kicker Matt Prater: A
Prater was perfect on Sunday. He chipped in seven extra points and knocked through a 53-yard field goal in the fourth quarter.
Punter Britton Colquitt: A
Colquitt punted twice for 97 yards against the Eagles. One punt went for a whopping 60 yards. Colquitt was also able to get one of his punts inside the 20-yard line.
All quotes and injury/practice observations were obtained firsthand.