Broncos Young Players Shine in Win Over Raiders


A picture says a thousand words, but the scoreboard might add even more.

47. 45. 14. 28. Final

It was a glorious win for the Denver Broncos to close out the season against one of their most storied rivals, and one that saw flashes of talent from a long list of players the Broncos hadn’t seen a lot from this season. A lot of that has to do with the fact that the second unit made it’s most lengthy appearance of the season, but the great thing was there was no drop off when the backups came in to play. In fact, they showed some things that even the first unit offense couldn’t pull off, like scoring a defensive touchdown.

Speaking of the defensive touchdown, outside linebacker Lerentee McCray was one of the stars of the day and second on the Broncos’ defense in overall grade from Pro Football Focus only behind the man who he backs up on the depth chart, Von Miller. McCray earned an outstanding pass rush grade for this game from PFF, and finished with two ‘stops’ (plays that constitute an offensive failure), two QB hurries, a sack, and a forced fumble that resulted in a touchdown. McCray made a phenomenal move to get past the right tackle and hit Derek Carr, who held the ball a bit too long but even if he hadn’t, it was a great rush by McCray, who finally got to the QB for the first time in his NFL career.

McCray spent all of 2013 on injured reserve, and had another strong offseason to earn a roster spot in 2014 as Von Miller’s primary backup. He hadn’t recorded a sack this season until that play, and actually graded out pretty well by PFF standards overall this season having played just 122 snaps.

It’s a bit surprising that the Broncos didn’t find more packages where McCray could come in as an additional rusher, especially with the struggles of Quanterus Smith, who is a phenomenal athlete but a bit of a project, and he proved as much this season with nine hurries and two QB hits in 308 snaps.

David Bruton is more of a veteran player at this point, but he’s been phenomenal filling in for Quinton Carter and T.J. Ward in the latter stages of the season. Prior to going down with an injury on a blatant illegal hit by the Raiders, Bruton was on his way to another solid game with a 1.1 grade from PFF, which brought his season total to 4.5 and a 4.4 since week 14. His young buddies in the secondary Kayvon Webster and Tony Carter both played well also, Webster grading out as one of the Broncos’ best players overall in terms of grade and Carter having picked up a fumble for a touchdown on a really heads up play.

Bradley Roby continued to show marked improvement over the second half of the season in this game with another positive grade. Roby has only two negative PFF grades since week 10 and showed over the course of his rookie season that he can do a little bit of everything at the cornerback spot. The Broncos played him roughly 75 percent of the snaps all year.

Omar Bolden, a backup defensive back and special teams player had a really good game overall with a 76-yard kick return, and a number of other big plays on defense and special teams. Bolden’s improvement along with the depth that David Bruton and Tony Carter provide give the Broncos a ton of options in the secondary. Even Josh Bush got into the mix with an interception to close out the game after being called up from the practice squad a couple of weeks ago.

Offensively, Virgil Green played perhaps his most complete game as a member of the Broncos. Not only was he a key part of the running game, he also caught three passes including his first ever touchdown. We wrote about that touchdown catch, which came from a perfect pass from backup quarterback Brock Osweieler. It was a long time coming for Green, one of the hardest workers on the team.

Speaking of that pass, it was one of just a couple for Brock Osweiler, but it was a good one. Osweiler rolled to his right and put the ball where only Green could get to it. He spoke after the game about how he feels ready to play and while he knows his circumstances are different than other backups in the league, as a competitor it’s hard for him to sit. The Broncos should be excited about what they saw from Osweiler at the end of the game, leading the team on his first touchdown drive as a pro.

It was a great performance by the Broncos, but even better to see backups come in and contribute not just to maintain a lead, but to add to it and push the Broncos into the playoffs with a lot of momentum from the top of the roster to the bottom.