- Jeff Legwold, ESPN Staff Writer
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Going big: Last regular season, opposing offenses had 38 pass plays of 20 yards or more against the Broncos' defense. After seven games this season, the Broncos have surrendered 40 such pass plays, including five Sunday night. But the last three weeks are of far more concern. Until a Week 5 win over the Cowboys, most of the damage was done when the Broncos sported big leads. But Dallas repeatedly challenged the Broncos downfield in the passing game, especially with tight end Jason Witten. The Cowboys finished with nine pass plays of at least 20 yards and the Colts followed suit as they completed three of their big pass plays to tight ends and running backs Sunday night.
Rush hour: Robert Mathis is not just another guy among the Colts' pass-rushers. He currently leads the NFL with 11.5 sacks, including his two on Sunday night. But after Mathis, you have to go all the way down to 34th to find the next Colts player on the league's sacks list: linebacker Jerrell Freeman, with 3.5. Yet the Colts consistently made trouble for the Broncos' mix-and-match offensive line, sacking Peyton Manning four times -- twice on third down and twice on first down. It may force the Broncos to find a happier medium between their desire to open up the formation with three wide receivers and their need to protect Manning, at least until right tackle Orlando Franklin returns to the lineup.
Shipping and handling: Last season the Broncos' running backs tied for the league lead (with Buffalo) for the position group in lost fumbles with seven. Seven games into this season, it is again an issue. The Broncos are currently tied for the league lead in lost fumbles by running backs with three -- with Green Bay, the Giants and San Diego. If wide receiver Eric Decker hadn’t dove into the pile to secure Ronnie Hillman’s fumble against Jacksonville, Denver would have sole possession of the league lead. And with Hillman’s fumble at the Colts' 3-yard line as the Broncos were trying to close the gap to two points with just over three minutes to play, the Broncos' backs have now lost two fumbles inside their opponent's 10-yard line this season. Montee Ball lost one at the Giants' 6-yard line in Week 2 to finish the Broncos' first possession of that game.
Flag bearer: There is intense, and then there is what defensive tackle Kevin Vickerson did Sunday night. Vickerson had two unsportsmanlike conduct flags in the third quarter -- both for removing his helmet on the field of play -- and an inexplicable roughing the passer penalty in the fourth quarter. Vickerson is one of Denver's veterans on defense, but his seven penalties leads the team.