NFL Wire News

Defense now attracting the headlines for Broncos


The Sports Xchange

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — The last time the Denver Broncos were 4-0, in 2013, they won their games by an average of 22 points per game. Their defense allowed an average of 23 points per game, but it didn’t matter with the offense launching up 21 touchdowns over those four weeks.

It’s a little bit different now.

These Broncos need the defense to carry an inconsistent offense. These Broncos are in tight games week after week, with an average victory margin of seven points. The offense has scored just eight touchdowns.

But the defense has accounted for just 14 points allowed per game, has scored two touchdowns of its own, has a league-leading sack total (18) that is tied with the 2013 Chiefs for the most by any team through four games in the last decade, and in every game so far has forced the game-winning or game-saving takeaway in the final five minutes of regulation.

The 23-20 win over the Vikings on Sunday followed that script to a tee. Denver sacked Minnesota quarterback Teddy Bridgewater seven times, but didn’t force a takeaway until T.J. Ward’s blitz with 37 seconds left jarred the football loose, allowing Von Miller to recover near midfield to clinch the game.

Defensive coordinator Wade Phillips has always been aggressive, but with talent like the Broncos have at his disposal, he’s using it to the maximum — like a blitz call in the final minute of a close game.

“That’s a hell of a call, man,” inside linebacker Brandon Marshall said. “Wade is a tremendous defensive coordinator. He knew we had six sacks up to that point, and he’s like, ‘OK, we’re going to come after him. We’re not just going to sit back and play coverage,’ and we did, and T.J. got the strip-sack, and we won the game. It was amazing.”

And it’s not just what the Broncos’ top-ranked defense is doing. It’s when it does it.

“We just never give up,” Marshall said. “We’re well-conditioned, because in the fourth quarter, we always come up with big plays, and that’s a testament to our coaches, our strength staff and just the players putting the right things in our bodies and not doing things that could hurt the team.”

Is it sustainable? That’s impossible to know, but what the Broncos know is that it takes a defense to take down the reigning kingpins of the AFC, because the only teams to defeat the New England Patriots at Gillette Stadium in the postseason — the Ravens (2009 and 2012) and the Jets (2010), did so with swarming units that harassed quarterback Tom Brady into mistakes he doesn’t usually make.

Ultimately, that’s what this is all about for the Broncos: building a team capable of dethroning the Patriots — and doing it in Foxborough in January, if necessary. Despite the mistakes on offense through four weeks, the Broncos just might have enough on that side of the football to capitalize on the mistakes caused by an explosive pass rush and swarming inside linebackers and safeties.


–PASSING OFFENSE: C-minus. Two interceptions off Peyton Manning led directly to 10 Vikings points and nearly knocked the Broncos completely off the rails. He was solid aside from those interceptions, and punctuated his day with two deep passes to Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders. Despite the absence of Ty Sambrailo, the Broncos had their best day in pass protection so far this season, and Manning was hit just three times.

–RUSHING OFFENSE: B. The consistency still isn’t there, with 72 of the 146 yards gained by Broncos running backs coming on a single Ronnie Hillman sprint that was the Broncos’ longest carry in nearly nine years. But at the end of the game, the Broncos hit a solid groove, with 22 yards on four consecutive carries moving the Broncos into range of Brandon McManus’ game-winning field goal.

–PASS DEFENSE: B. The Broncos surrendered yardage to Minnesota’s wide receivers, who used well-executed plays that obstructed Denver’s cornerbacks and precise passing from Bridgewater to tightly covered receivers.

–RUN DEFENSE: B. For all but one play, the Broncos contained Adrian Peterson, and if it had not been for that fourth-and-1 sprint through a gaping hole, Peterson would have left the day with just 33 yards on 15 carries. Missed assignments killed the Broncos on that 48-yard run, but the Broncos kept Peterson below 100 yards and didn’t let Teddy Bridgewater make a play with his feet until the final moments.

–SPECIAL TEAMS: A-minus. Brandon McManus’ kickoffs hung up in the wind, but strong coverage kept the returns from being explosive. McManus navigated those tricky breezes for a perfect day on placekicks and Britton Colquitt dropped a fourth-quarter punt at the Minnesota 3-yard-line.

–COACHING: A-minus. The Broncos continued to emphasize the pistol formation, using it on 31 of their 53 snaps, and ran just five plays from under center — two of which were kneeldowns, with the rest coming in goal-to-go. Head coach Gary Kubiak has been willing to adjust key tenets of his offense to try and get the most out of the offense, and he’s let Wade Phillips attack on defense, including a game-clinching blitz call with 37 seconds remaining.

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