Assessing the Broncos’ stock in the wake of a 24-7 victory over the Los Angeles Chargers at SoFi Stadium.
OLB Jonathon Cooper
The Broncos’ third-year outside linebacker has been solid all season and continued to impress in Sunday’s road win against Los Angeles. He helped set up Denver’s first touchdown when he intercepted a pass tipped by Baron Browning. The Broncos’ edge group is young and ascending, but it’s been through some machinations and growing pains this season. In all of that, Cooper’s been the most consistent, and he’s carried the heaviest workload.
S P.J. Locke
Locke is playing a really good starting partner next to Justin Simmons, and he’s not going to easily give up his starting spot to Kareem Jackson when Jackson returns from suspension next week. Locke’s capable of playing the deep half in coverage, is doing his job in run support and, in perhaps the most pleasant surprise for Denver, he’s become a really good blitzer. Locke had seven tackles, a strip sack and a quarterback hit against the Chargers.
DE Zach Allen
The Broncos paid Allen big money in free agency to be this kind of player. He’s going to gamble in gaps, and occasionally teams will be able to run the ball past him. But the longer Allen’s first season in Denver goes, the more impact he’s making as a pass-rusher. He had a sack and three hits Sunday against the Chargers and is up to five sacks for the season. One more will give him a career high. According to Pro Football Reference, he’s already tied his career best in quarterback hits. Allen’s also carrying a heavy workload, having played 82% of Denver’s defensive snaps this year.
G Luke Wattenberg
Good on the second-year offensive lineman for being ready to roll when his number got called. It’s particularly impressive for Wattenberg because when he got his chances as a rookie, he struggled mightily. The former Washington guard and center was overpowered and got run through too often in limited playing time last year, but he jumped in for Quinn Meinerz on Sunday and held his own just fine.
The Broncos notched a big victory, but it could end up being a costly one, too. Between Nik Bonitto’s left knee injury, Meinerz’s heart-rate issue and various other bumps and bruises, it’s probably the most question marks Denver has left a game with this year. The team wasn’t going to avoid it forever. But complicating matters is a short week to Saturday night’s game at Detroit.
WR Marvin Mims Jr.
The Broncos just haven’t been able to figure out a way to get Mims going offensively. Russell Wilson targeted him right out of the gate Sunday on the first play, but the placement was a bit off and it got intercepted. Denver’s timing and blocking are getting a little bit better in the receiver screen game as the season goes along, but Mims finished with a modest two catches for 11 yards.
The first one was easy. Cooper’s interception set the Broncos up at the 3-yard line, and Javonte Williams scampered in on the first play. The second one? Not so much. Wilson threw three straight incompletions, the last of which was originally ruled a touchdown, but Jerry Jeudy couldn’t get his back foot down in bounds. According to NFL stats, the Broncos have scored on just 52.2% of goal-to-go scenarios compared to a 71.8% league average.
Actually deferring when Denver wins the coin toss isn’t the problem. It’s what they’ve done to start the third quarter that’s been brutal. The Broncos started the second half with the ball for the 11th time in 13 games Sunday and went three-and-out. Again. On those 11 drives, Sean Payton’s offense has now punted nine times (one total first down) and missed two field goals. Gaining nine yards before willingly taking a delay of game penalty actually, somehow, goes down as Denver’s best effort to open the third quarter since the bye week.