Broncos Rewind: Defense, special teams

December, 4, 2013
12/04/13
7:00
AM ET
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- The Denver Broncos put a firm grip on the AFC West race this past Sunday with their second win over the Kansas City Chiefs in the span of three weeks.

It's difficult to throw a new wrinkle at a division opponent, especially with just 14 days in between games, but the Broncos showed the Chiefs a little different look on both sides of the ball.

And after a long look at the video from Sunday night's win, here are some thoughts on the team's defense and special teams:
  • Linebacker Von Miller has four sacks in the six games he has played for the Broncos since he returned from his six-game suspension to open the season. At times, especially in the first half against the New England Patriots he has looked every bit the All Pro he was last season when he finished with 18.5 sacks. And at times he has not. Sunday, he had several quality pressures, including on a Danny Trevathan interception that was negated by a penalty on Chris Harris Jr. as well as late in the game when Chiefs left tackle Branden Albert hyper-extended his knee trying to slow Miller down. He also had a tackle for loss and was often “impactful'' as defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio puts it. But in the end, at least at this stage of his return, Miller is a different kind of player than he was. He's looked different in practice and looked different in games. Personnel executives around the league now use words like “good'' and “potential Pro Bowl level,'' to describe him when last season they used words like “elite'' and “special.'' Miller is making his tackles close to the line of scrimmage or for loss and he is, at times, pressing the pocket and forcing offenses to adjust. But the game video shows a player more intent on playing with power, using the added bulk he intentionally put on his frame during his suspension. No question he is often good at the power game. He rushes with leverage, moves tackles back into the quarterback and gets the corner with a two-hand swipe to get the tackles hands off him right after the snap. But while good is good, Miller was an elite speed rusher in 2012, as in a rare talent, top of the line. And no matter the letter grades or numerical designations put next to what he's done thus far, the simple truth is, and many personnel folks around the league agree, he hasn't been elite yet for an entire game. Miller himself has said he's a “work in progress'' and the Broncos need some more progress.
  • There were times, particularly in the early going Sunday, when the Chiefs found some room to run against the Broncos' nickel package (five defensive backs). Included during that early damage was a 13-yard run by Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith and a 26-yarder by Smith. The Broncos have a slightly bigger nickel look they use with Quentin Jammer at one of the three cornerback spots and they fared better as the game wore on. Jammer, rookie Kayvon Webster and Harris Jr. were in the three cornerback spots in the nickel in much of the second half. It is something others will take a look at down the stretch, however. The Broncos will need safeties Duke Ihenacho and Mike Adams to be physical when they are asked to moved to the point of attack.
  • Not every team has a running back like Jamaal Charles, who was the top priority for the Broncos' defense in both the run game and the passing game. But the Chiefs were able to swing Charles out of the backfield at times to Miller's side to get Miller out of the pass rush. Miller was forced to go with Charles, leaving the Broncos with a three-man rush going after Smith. Miller played it well, however, and it is part of his overall game that has progressed a great deal since his rookie season when the Broncos would often pull him off the field on passing downs.
  • Without defensive tackle Kevin Vickerson -- he's now on injured reserve with a hip injury suffered in the loss to New England -- and defensive end Derek Wolfe in the lineup Sunday, the Chiefs often found a little room to work in the middle of the field. On a first-and-10 play from the Broncos' 37-yard line late in the first quarter, the Broncos were in a base defense with a bigger as they expected a run. Jammer and Harris were the two cornerbacks while Mitch Unrein and Terrance Knighton were the two defensive tackles with all three Broncos' starting linebackers in the formation as well. The Chiefs still carved out a lane and Knile Davis, who also had a 108-yard kickoff return for a touchdown in the game, went up the middle for 20 yards. With Vickerson out for the remainder of the season, it is a play -- an old school lead play in these pass-happy times -- that figures to get repeated from time to time in the coming weeks to see if the Broncos can hold their ground.
  • Davis' 108-yard kickoff return was the longest surrendered by the Broncos in the franchise's history and also the first one returned for a touchdown in Jeff Rodgers' tenure as the Broncos special teams coordinator. If you polled the Broncos players about who the team's fastest players are, safety David Bruton and cornerback Tony Carter are two of the names that would quickly come up. And it was Bruton and Carter who the 227-pound Davis ran away from to close the deal on the play. Davis did run a 4.37 40-yard dash at last February's scouting combine so he has top-tier speed. Davis also suffered a fractured ankle three times -- the right twice and the left once -- in a four-year span as he moved from his prep career to the University of Arkansas, so some teams did have a medical red flag on him coming into the draft.

Jeff Legwold

ESPN Denver Broncos reporter

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