AFC West: Chris Harris

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Rookie cornerback Bradley Roby put pen to paper Tuesday and signed his four-year deal with the Denver Broncos.

[+] EnlargeBradley Roby
Jack Dempsey/AP PhotoNow the real work begins for cornerback and first-round pick Bradley Roby after officially signing with the Broncos.
The no-stress signing of a first-rounder that has come with the league’s rookie wage scale was typically without drama for Roby and the Broncos. But it does put a bow on the Broncos’ six-player draft class, now all signed and sealed. The signing also continues Roby's official progression toward some serious playing time in the season to come.

If the team's offseason workouts are any indication, including Tuesday's practice, the first of a three-day mandatory minicamp for the team, the Broncos have stuck to the plan with the Roby. They said they selected Roby with the 31st overall pick of the May draft with the idea he could contribute immediately, and so far, Roby has held up his end of the bargain.

"I've been very impressed," said Broncos head coach John Fox. "It’s not too big for him. He’s obviously got the physical skills. ...I've been really impressed with what he’s done, how he’s conducted himself as a Bronco thus far."

Roby signed his four-year deal Tuesday for $6.95 million overall with the $3.376 million signing bonus. And with cornerback Chris Harris Jr. still working his way back from ACL surgery, Roby has been pressed into action with the defensive regulars more than he may have been if Harris Jr. was completely healthy.

But for a team that played nickel (five defensive backs) almost 70 percent of the time, Roby's progress is on the front-burner. The Broncos see him as a physical cover corner who can both jam receivers at the line of scrimmage and run with them in the open field -- John Elway has called him a "top 15 talent" on this year's draft board.

Roby and Aqib Talib project as the two outside corners in the nickel with Harris Jr. dropping down into the slot. At least for the moment, with Harris Jr. expected to be full speed for the opener, Harris Jr. and Talib would start in the base defense.

But Roby has been a quick study so far, aggressive in practices, including knocking a ball away in the two-minute drill Monday when quarterback Peyton Manning tried to push the ball into traffic. The Broncos did have a scary moment in that same two-minute drill when Roby and wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders collided on a crossing route.

Roby briefly left the field and removed his helmet, but returned on the next play.

"There are collisions, it’s a combative game," Fox said. "You try to avoid it as best you can, but sometimes you’re not going to be able to avoid all the situations, but they both popped up and everything’s good."

When the 2013 season began, the AFC West didn't really come up when the national conversation turned toward divisions that would provide the most playoff teams or Super Bowl potential from top to bottom.

Yet with four teams left in the AFC's postseason bracket, two of them call the division home, with the No. 1 seed Denver Broncos and the No. 6 San Diego Chargers set for the season’s third meeting on Sunday. They split the two games in the regular season, with each team winning on the road -- the Broncos by eight in San Diego and the Chargers by seven in Denver.

It will be the first time the Chargers and Broncos have met in the postseason, but San Diego is 2-0 in playoff games against Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning with wins in the 2007 and 2008 postseasons. Chargers reporter Eric Williams and Broncos reporter Jeff Legwold discuss the matchup.

Jeff Legwold: Eric, there were some who questioned the Chargers’ playoff worthiness when all of the dominoes fell in the regular season’s final week and they earned the AFC’s No. 6 seed. But with the win in Cincinnati, how do they see themselves at the moment -- playoff underdog or a team with a chance for more?

Eric Williams: Veteran players emphasized this week that playoff opportunities are precious, noting the fact that the Chargers have not made the playoffs since 2009. So guys like Philip Rivers and Eric Weddle want to see how far they can take it. Both mentioned the Chargers are only eight quarters away from the Super Bowl -- unbelievable when six weeks ago this team was 5-7 and an afterthought at making the postseason. Giving players more confidence is the fact that San Diego beat the Broncos in Denver just a month ago. The Chargers understand the deck is stacked against them facing a well-rested Manning. But they are playing with house money, and I suspect they will play with a lot of confidence and urgency on Sunday.

How is Manning handling all of the questions concerning his so-so record in the playoffs? And will that serve as motivation on Sunday?

Legwold: If you had to make a list of questions that cause Manning to put up the verbal deflector shields the fastest, the glove, anything that includes the phrase “all the way back," cold weather and the playoff record would be among the top items. He handles most everything in the public domain with a professional mixture of grace and the ability to move the conversation on -- he’s got plenty of experience in front of people to be sure. But in the end, Manning is a driven player -- one of the most driven players to have worn a helmet -- and everything is motivation. He doesn’t often let people on the outside see all that, but offered a glimpse after his 400-yard day against the Titans this season on a frigid afternoon when he told the team’s flagship radio station people could take the Manning-struggles-in-the-cold narrative and “stick it where the sun don't shine." So, the lure of the Super Bowl is always powerful for him, but he certainly uses plenty of things to maintain his focus, and any sort of criticism is in that pile somewhere.

Rivers has always been a thorn for the Broncos, but he attempted only 20 passes -- completing 12 -- in the Chargers’ win in Denver on Dec. 12, and he went 12-for-16 passing in the Chargers’ win over the Bengals last week. Is relying on the run the best thing for the Chargers’ offense, and would you expect a similar approach Sunday?

Williams: It all depends on the health of Ryan Mathews. The Fresno State product probably does not get enough credit for San Diego’s resurgence this season. But the Chargers have morphed into a running team the second half of the year. San Diego is 7-1 when Mathews rushes at least 19 times in a game. His ability to get to the edge of a defense with his speed, along with his physicality, has created a nice balance to San Diego’s offense so that Rivers doesn’t have to make all the plays. Mathews has a lingering ankle injury. He’s expected to play on Sunday, but how effective Mathews will be remains to be seen. If Mathews can’t play, Danny Woodhead and Ronnie Brown will pick up the slack. San Diego coach Mike McCoy has confidence his team can win in a shootout if they have to open the offense up.

You’ve talked about Denver’s inconsistencies on defense, which has been a problem all season. Will Champ Bailey play in this game? And if so, how will that help the secondary?

Legwold: Bailey played, essentially as the nickel corner, in the Broncos’ final two games of the regular season and will be in the lineup on Sunday. He played 35 snaps against the Houston Texans and 22 snaps against the Oakland Raiders. While those offenses had their fair share of struggles this season, the Broncos had two of their best outings of the year, surrendering 13 and 14 points to go with 240 and 255 yards, respectively, in those two games. Bailey hasn’t played out of the slot a great deal in his time with the Broncos, save for when the receiver he was matched with would line up there, but he has all the tools to be very good in there -- smart, plays with anticipation and has the ability, even in his 15th season, to change directions quickly and react on the ball. It has made the Broncos' secondary much better than what the Chargers have seen in the two meetings this year -- Bailey didn’t play in either game. The Broncos just have more options in how they deploy people in coverage and it gives them a top three at the position of Bailey, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Chris Harris. That’s a quality trio that enables the Broncos to do a few more things to try to affect Rivers.

Chargers defensive coordinator John Pagano has, for the most part, taken a page from the Bill Belichick manual for facing Manning -- coverage over pressure. How would you expect the Chargers to defend Manning and the Broncos’ offense? And how aggressive do you think they will be doing it?

Williams: I expect going in that Pagano will try a similar approach to what his defense executed so effectively in the last matchup: a mix of pressures and looks that force Manning to get the ball out quickly to underneath routes, and then rallying to the football. San Diego wants to limit big plays, keep the ball in front of them and tackle well. But one thing the Chargers have had success with is making in-game adjustments when things are not going well. The wild card here again is McCoy. Because he’s worked with Manning in the past, McCoy understands his strengths and weaknesses, and what he likes to go to in certain situations. And that will be used in Pagano’s game planning for Sunday.

San Diego surprised the Broncos a month ago by winning in Denver. What did the Broncos learn from that setback? And what are a couple key things Denver needs to accomplish in order to defeat the pesky Chargers and move on?

Legwold: That game came on a short week and you could see the table getting set for a Broncos' loss in the days leading up to the Dec. 12 win for the Chargers. Many of the Broncos players spent a great deal of time talking about how much they didn’t like playing on Thursday nights, how good the rest would be in the weekend that followed. And then they played like a team more concerned about just getting through a game than winning it. There have been no such issues this week. The Broncos will be focused on the task at hand this time. On the field, they have to keep the Chargers from converting third downs and putting drives together. San Diego repeatedly pounded away in the run game at the Broncos' lighter personnel groupings, particularly in the nickel, and the Broncos can’t allow that to happen again. The Chargers' defense was effective rushing Manning over the left side -- especially between left tackle Chris Clark and left guard Zane Beadles. This time, if the Broncos keep Manning cleaner on his blind side, they will move the ball.

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Captains are leaders, they set the tone, keep the train on the tracks. They have the votes to wear the C on their jerseys, they push when a push is needed, sometimes they pull to make sure everybody keeps up.

And for two of the Denver Broncos' captains that has meant an adjustment with their own parts of the big picture.

There's Champ Bailey, 12-time Pro Bowler who has never had a question mark next to his name as a starter until this season. And there's Wesley Woodyard, the first player since Hall of Famer Floyd Little to have been named a captain in his first five seasons with the team even before he was named captain yet again in this, his sixth season.

And neither is a defensive starter for the Broncos these days. In the Broncos search for answers on defense, a search that has taken most of the season, Bailey and Woodyard now find themselves as situational players handling their business with the same level of football professionalism they always have.

"Yeah it was definitely not how I scripted out in the preseason but injuries do that and it is what it is," Bailey said. "I'm moving forward. I'm happy about the role I'm in now. I think I'm effective there so whatever helps us get over that hump and win this first game.”

Bailey missed all but five games this season with a left foot injury he suffered in a preseason loss in Seattle. In his second game back in the lineup -- Oct. 20 in Indianapolis -- Bailey re-aggravated the injury and missed the next four games.

When he came back, again, against Kansas City Dec. 1, Bailey was not himself, said he didn't have "confidence" in his foot. The Broncos held him out two more games and when he returned the Broncos brought him back as the team's nickel cornerback with Chris Harris and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie in the starting spots.

It means Bailey, a fixture on the outside, in the left cornerback spot, is now in the slot, working the middle of the field with skills he believes he can contribute to the job.

"I feel like I'm a good cover guy, I can tackle, you name it," Bailey said Thursday when asked when he can bring to the job. "I can do anything, what else do you want me to do?”

Granted, it was two struggling offenses, but the Broncos had two of their best defensive outings of the season in Weeks 16 and 17 when Bailey was in the nickel role as they allowed 255 and 240 yards to the Texans and Raiders respectively.

For Woodyard, who was moved into the middle linebacker spot early in the season because the Broncos needed him to, suffered a stinger in the Oct. 6 win over the Dallas Cowboys. He missed the next two games and when he returned the Broncos thought something was missing as the defense continued to struggle at times in its base 4-3 look against opposing running games.

So, the Broncos moved Woodyard out of the base defense, cutting his snaps some, with the belief he would play that much better in the nickel and other specialty packages.

"And I just come to work to be the same Wesley Woodyard, I've always been," Woodyard said. "If you're a leader, you're a leader, not just sometimes. I feel like I'm one of the leaders and I feel like that means you're an example, you do what needs to be done."

The Broncos have other players who were long-time starters in the their careers in other places, players such as cornerback Quentin Jammer, safety Michael Huff and even Rodgers-Cromartie -- he's had three games with 32 or fewer snaps this season -- who have played in different roles as the Broncos have dealt with a variety of injuries to go with some struggles in slowing opposing offenses along the way.

Defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio said it's been a necessity as the Broncos had just two players -- Harris and linebacker Danny Trevathan -- top 900 snaps this season. That is a far different look than the Broncos sported last year when they had eight players top 900 snaps.

Del Rio believes it takes a player willing to look at the whole plan to see what's needed and that not every veteran player is up to the task.

"I think that's just the natural progression of it," Del Rio said. "Some people do it well and are very professional and great teammates and remain that and some struggle with that. We're fortunate that we have guys here that understand that winning the game is most important -- understanding what they need to get done for us on Sunday is what's most important. Sometimes you have to put personal ambitions aside and think more in terms of the team and less in terms of your individual self.”

"All that matters is winning games," Bailey said. " ... It's different, not something I expected, but I've always said individual things are great, Pro Bowls and all that, but I want a ring, I want to play for a ring and you need a team to do that."
Mike Adams, Keenan Allen, Kayvon WebsterAP Photo/Joe MahoneyKeenan Allen landed in the end zone twice, and the Chargers proved too elusive for Denver all night.

DENVER -- It's one thing to say you don’t like Thursday night games. It's another thing to play like you don’t like Thursday night games.

And the Denver Broncos, just four days after their 11th win of the season put them on the inside track for home-field advantage in the AFC playoffs, looked wobbly, tired and more than a little gassed in a 27-20 loss to the San Diego Chargers at Sports Authority Field at Mile High.

They looked, well, beatable. On their home field, no less. In a game they will -- should they have to make a January trip to Foxborough, Mass. -- not remember all that fondly.

"I’d say we didn’t have our best stuff. … They obviously did a better job getting ready on a short week than we did," Denver coach John Fox said.

But the Broncos aren't alone in the predicament they put themselves in Thursday night. The NFL record book is peppered with high-flying, throw-it-around offenses that have faced the same problem when it comes to getting into the trophy games: What happens when things don’t go exactly right?

When the timing isn’t there, when somebody else has a good plan, when the field isn’t in good shape, when it’s windy or somebody gets hurt. Even the best of the best touchdown producers through the years have needed a Plan B to pull them through at some point.

And, on a night when Chargers defensive coordinator John Pagano (a Boulder, Colo., native) was able to finally slow the train that has been the Broncos’ offense, Denver did not have an alternative. The Broncos were a three-dimensional example of a one-dimensional attack, managing just 18 yards on 11 carries.

They had three-and-outs on three consecutive possessions in the second quarter. Demaryius Thomas, Julius Thomas and Eric Decker had three receptions combined in the second half, and Peyton Manning’s longest completion was for 22 yards. The Broncos had a season-low time of possession of 21:11, and a team that had averaged 27.9 first downs per game came up with only 19 against the Chargers.

"We didn’t have the ball much," Manning said, "and when we had it, though, we didn’t do enough with it. … We got beat by a team that played better than us."

The Broncos teased a little with 10 points on their first two possessions, including a touchdown on their first drive after Chargers coach Mike McCoy elected to give Manning the ball to open the night after San Diego won the coin toss. But, after those two scores, there was a 29-minute span of game time in which the Broncos gained all of 13 yards on 13 plays.

"From that standpoint, we had those three three-and-outs in a row, and that ended up, it was damaging enough to cost us the lead," Manning said. "And [we] were never able to recover from that."

For those who have wondered what the Broncos would look like if they didn’t have a pile of touchdowns along for the ride, the picture was not pretty. A defense that has largely been considered a ball-and-chain to the operation did not rise up, did not make a play when it was needed, did not pull the team through when it had an opportunity to do just that.

The Chargers were the 14th consecutive team to score at least 17 points against Denver this season. They rushed for 177 yards and converted six of 12 third downs. These numbers were just the latest addition to a somewhat alarming pile of issues for a Broncos defense still searching for answers in mid-December.

"They made a lot of plays on third down, and that’s the tale of this game, not getting off the field on third down," linebacker Wesley Woodyard said. "Thursday night or not, it shouldn’t matter. Any time you step out on that field, you have to put out your full effort, and [Thursday night] we fell short of that."

"We’ve got to get a lot better, we know that," defensive tackle Terrance Knighton said.

The Broncos didn't get much out of the third phase, either. Returner Trindon Holliday made a couple of questionable decisions fielding the ball early in the game, and Nate Irving committed a comeback-crushing neutral-zone infraction in the third quarter that turned a much-needed stop into a San Diego first down. The Chargers kept the ball and ground seven more minutes off the clock, seven minutes the Broncos could have used before all was said and done.

"That penalty was a killer right there. … We didn’t stop the run; we didn’t stop the pass," cornerback Chris Harris said. "We have to get that right. We have the players in here to do it, but we have to get that done."

The Broncos are still 11-3, still in position to win their division and still in position, with a little help from somebody against the Patriots along the way, to gain home-field advantage in the AFC playoffs. Only the Texans and Raiders remain on the Broncos' schedule.

But, on a night when the offense reached out a hand because it needed some help, there was none to be found. And a team that has operated with so much confidence behind a historic offense came away with an uncomfortable feeling.

"We weren’t the best team on the field tonight," Woodyard said. "And it showed."

Broncos' Bailey: 'I'm ready to do more'

November, 28, 2013
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- For nine weeks this season Champ Bailey has watched the Denver Broncos go to work without him in the lineup. For nine weeks, he has patiently explained that when his left foot felt right he would be back on the field.

If all goes as Bailey expects in the coming days, Sunday will be that day and the Kansas City Chiefs' Arrowhead Stadium will be the place. Bailey originally suffered the injury in a preseason loss in Seattle in August and then re-aggravated it in an Oct. 20 loss to the Indianapolis Colts.

"I feel like barring any setbacks, I'll be out there," Bailey said. "That's the way I'm preparing myself this week, to play, and if nothing goes wrong, I'll be there."

"We'll work him back in practice as we have been, he has been limited; we'll continue to work him back in practice and when he can help us we'll let that occur," said Broncos interim coach Jack Del Rio.

Bailey's potential return certainly comes at an opportune time for the Broncos. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie injured his shoulder in this past Sunday's loss to the New England Patriots and cornerback Omar Bolden suffered a concussion. Bailey didn't want to expand this week on what is role might be against the Chiefs and he was still limited in Wednesday's practice. Chris Harris Jr. and Kayvon Webster worked at the two cornerback spots with the starters for much of the practice.

But for a 12-time Pro Bowl selection it has been difficult to watch defensive backs get injured and not be able to help. Before this season, Bailey had never missed more than seven games in any season. He had missed just 16 games overall in the previous 14 seasons combined. In addition to Rodgers-Cromartie's and Bolden's injuries, safety Rahim Moore is designated for return off injured reserve after surgery on lower his left leg should the Broncos make the postseason.

"That's the hardest thing for me," Bailey said. "Any time something goes wrong, I want to be in there to try to help. But, I have to make sure I take care of my body. The foot is feeling a lot better. I'm going to keep progressing through the week to make sure that I'm ready for Sunday.”

Bailey missed the first five games of the season before starting against Jacksonville and Indianapolis in back-to-back weeks. He limped off the field in Indianapolis after once again feeling pain in the arch of his right foot.

Bailey had eight tackles in the two games and knocked down three passes. Del Rio has said Bailey's presence in the defense, gives him plenty of additional flexibility in how the Broncos line up against opposing offenses. For his part Bailey sees the Broncos at 9-2 with a chance to put themselves at the top of the AFC West if they complete the season sweep against the Chiefs Sunday.

"This week is huge for us, all division games are," Bailey said. "I keep telling guys we're in a great position to do some things if we stick to what we're supposed to do. I've been trying to help on the sidelines, if I see something, trying to get that information to [rookie] Kayvon [Webster] or talk to Chris [Harris] about what I see. But I'm ready to do more. I want to be out there contributing to what we're doing. I want to help us win, what I always want."

Broncos Rewind: Defense, special teams

November, 27, 2013
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- When the Broncos roared through the first six games of the season, piling up the points and wins, Broncos interim head coach Jack Del Rio often preached composure to his defensive players, that how they went about their business week to week was far more important than getting swept up in the team's successes.

It is the same tact Del Rio has taken as he addresses the whole team these days in the wake of Sunday night's loss in New England. That the players should keep the ebb and flow of opinions about the Broncos' postseason prospects on the outside and get to work inside the building.

"I know everyone is going to ride that roller coaster, last week we're the greatest, this week not so good," Del Rio said. "We'll just keep working at it."

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:

  • Del Rio has said he would prefer to use a lot of personnel combinations to both improve the Broncos' ability to create the match-ups they'd like on defense as well as to keep everyone in the defensive meeting rooms engaged and involved through each week with the lure of at least some playing time. Nowhere has that been more evident of late than in the secondary. Against the Patriots, Del Rio used a variety of groupings, even before Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie left the game at halftime with a shoulder injury. Del Rio used Rodgers-Cromartie and Chris Harris Jr. at the cornerback spots in the base defense at times and used Harris Jr. and Quentin Jammer at the two cornerback spots in the base as well against some of the Patriots' bigger personnel groupings. And Del Rio had used both combinations at cornerback in their base 4-3 look before the Broncos had played 10 snaps in the base in the game. The Broncos also had a grouping in the base defense on a first-and-10 play early in the game that didn't include either linebacker Von Miller or Rodgers-Cromartie. The play was an incomplete pass. Miller then entered the game on the next snap, sacking Brady and forcing a fumble. Wesley Woodyard was only linebacker who was on the field for every defensive snap for the Broncos -- 87 in all. That first quarter snap was the only one Miller was held out. But Woodyard, Miller, Danny Trevathan, Nate Irving and Steven Johnson all played snaps at linebacker at varying times in the game, Irving, with 15 plays, usually when Miller was moved into a defensive end spot while Johnson played one snap.

  • [+] EnlargePatriots' Nate Ebner
    AP Photo/Elise AmendolaPatriots players celebrate Nate Ebner's recovery of a muffed punt in overtime.
    Given the success the Patriots had after halftime with pick plays -- with the receivers as well as wheel routes from their running backs hooking out of the backfield -- the Broncos can expect more of the same in the coming weeks. Few coaches bring out the copycats like Bill Belichick. The Patriots made a concerted effort to free their receivers against the Broncos' man-to-man coverage with a few more high-traffic routes, something the Broncos do on offense regularly to get their receivers free. The Patriots were particularly effective getting tight end Rob Gronkowski free by crossing him with another receiver, especially down the field when the Broncos were trying to cover him with one of the safeties.

  • The Patriots were down to a third-string right tackle in the first quarter after Marcus Cannon left with an ankle injury. With Sebastian Vollmer already on injured reserve and Cannon out of the lineup, the Patriots moved Will Svitek into the right tackle spot. Even with that the Broncos were not particularly effective generating pressure from that side of the formation, even when they flipped Miller to that side in longer down-and-distance situations. After sacking Brady three times in the first half, two of those before Cannon left the lineup, they did not sack Brady in the second half or overtime. The Patriots did use two tight ends at times to help things along and Svitek is no newbie -- it's his eighth year in the league -- but the Broncos should have been able to make a little more of the situation whether it was from Miller, Robert Ayers or Shaun Phillips.

  • It was a raw and difficult night for punt returners -- both teams lost possession on a muff from their top punt returner -- but the Broncos' Trindon Holliday has now muffed a punt against Indianapolis, San Diego, Kansas City and New England over the past five games. The Broncos only lost possession on the one against the Patriots', but it was obviously a trend headed the wrong way before Sunday night. Things are tighter down the stretch and into the postseason and few things change momentum like a special teams gaffe, both for the team that forces it or commits it. Holliday spent plenty of extra time in training camp and the offseason catching punts and perhaps it's time to break out the JUGGS machine again. The Broncos need him to be decisive about when he is or isn't going to field a punt, and to keep his elbows in when the makes the catch.

  • Many offensive coaches around the league would prefer for Denver not to be in their base defense -- because of the Broncos' team speed and their bigger front. In their first seven snaps in base defense against the Patriots the Broncos forced two fumbles to go with a sack. They scored on one of the fumbles -- Miller's 60-yard return -- and Terrance Knighton returned the other fumble to the Patriots' 10-yard line. The Broncos scored two plays later.

  • The play that gave the Patriots the field position for their game-winning field goal in overtime came down to both communication and execution. Wes Welker had to make the call sooner -- the Broncos use the word "Peter" to signify everyone needs to get away from a kick -- to make sure all of his teammates had a chance to stay clear. And Tony Carter, whose leg the ball hit, has to be aware of where he is on the field. He was moving laterally in front of Welker just before the ball hit his leg. He had an opportunity to see he was close enough, even if Welker waited slightly too long to make the call. Or as Del Rio put it; "Certainly, Wes would say, ‘Hey I've got to be more emphatic getting the guy out of there' and then Tony I'm sure would say, ‘Hey I've got to be more aware there.' ... It's just one of those fluke deals that can occur. We work hard and practice that to ensure it doesn't and it just got us -- it bit us there."

Power Rankings: No. 3 Denver Broncos

November, 26, 2013
A weekly examination of the Broncos' Power Ranking:

Preseason: 3 | Last Week: 1 | Power Ranking since 2002

A biting wind out of the north was strong enough Sunday night to induce plenty of turnovers in the New England Patriots' overtime win over the Broncos, but also strong enough to push the Broncos down two spots to No. 3 in’s Power Rankings.

That and 334 passing yards and three touchdowns from Tom Brady.

And this week, the Broncos (9-2) will face the Chiefs for the second time in three weeks, after winning a 27-17 meeting in Denver in Week 11.

“Each week there’s a new story. I mean, two weeks ago, it was Kansas City, ‘Oh, my God, if we don’t win this ...’ It’s not that,’’ Broncos interim coach Jack Del Rio said. “It wasn’t that then. It was a big game, big divisional game. [Sunday] was a big conference game, an opportunity. Now, those two games -- they’re gone. And the ones before are gone. We’re sitting here, we’re tied for first. We’re 9-2. We’ve won a lot of games. We’ve got some ball in front of us and we’re getting excited for the very next one. That’s where we are.’’

The Broncos expect to get some help defensively this week. Cornerback Champ Bailey, who has played in just two games this season because of a left foot injury he suffered in August, is slated to practice through the week and play against the Chiefs.

The Broncos still have the opportunity to earn home-field advantage in the AFC playoffs if they can bounce back quickly from Sunday’s loss. They are 5-2 in AFC games, just behind the Chiefs’ 6-2 mark. New England (8-3) is 5-2 in AFC games as well. The Broncos have three AFC West games remaining, and all five of their remaining games are against AFC teams.

“We still have a lot of work to do and everything is out there for us if we do our part,’’ cornerback Chris Harris said.

Broncos' defense is found and then lost

November, 25, 2013
Rob GronkowskiStew Milne/USA TODAY SportsThe Broncos allowed Rob Gronkowksi and the Patriots to erase a 24-point deficit in the second half.

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- In the end, the Denver Broncos had some of their own medicine shoved down their throats Sunday night.

Yes, a team that launched itself on an 11-game win streak in 2012 after erasing a 24-point lead in San Diego just over a year ago, got to see how the other half lives at Gillette Stadium. After a half of football in which the Broncos' defense was a swirling, playmaking, turnover-forcing machine, all involved were forced to come in from the cold in the early morning hours after letting one get away in overtime, 34-31 to the New England Patriots.

"We just didn’t get enough stops," cornerback Chris Harris said. "We didn’t get those stops we usually get. We are usually good about forcing teams to kick field goals, even if they get a short field or whatever, but we kept giving Tom Brady touchdowns."

It was the first time any team quarterbacked by Peyton Manning lost a lead of more than 22 points to lose a game. It was the biggest comeback in Patriots history. It was an improbable flip-flop after a short trip to the locker room for halftime.

Cornerback Tony Carter, who was the player lined up across from Baltimore's Jacoby Jones on the game-tying play last January, the play that will always raise the hackles of the Broncos faithful, was the player in the wrong place at the worst of times in the closing minutes of overtime Sunday night.

A New England punt with 3 minutes, 11 seconds remaining in the extra period, after the Broncos' defense got the kind of stop that had eluded them for much of the third and fourth quarters, bounced off Carter’s leg and was recovered by the Patriots on the Broncos’ 13-yard line. Three plays later, Stephen Gostkowski kicked the game-winning field goal.

Wes Welker, back to field the punt, had tried to wave everyone off just before the ball hit the ground, yelling “Peter, Peter’’ -- the Broncos' code word to stay away.

"I was just kind of blocking my guy, and at the last second I heard the call," Carter said. "I was trying to get out of the way and felt [the ball] hit my leg. It was just one of those deals, I was hoping it wasn’t the ball. That’s all, I was just hoping it wasn’t the ball."

And while it was Carter’s play that turned out to be the exclamation point on an OMG night for the Broncos, the heartbreak can be traced to some ill-timed turnovers by an offense that surrendered one too many short fields to Brady, but most of all to a defense that lost its mojo once the second quarter ended.

On the Patriots' first three possessions of the game, the Broncos’ Von Miller returned a fumble 60 yards for a touchdown; Miller sacked Brady, forcing a fumble that led to a second Broncos touchdown; and Duke Ihenacho forced a fumble that led to a Matt Prater field goal.

In 12 minutes of game time the Broncos had scored 17 points and the defense had three takeaways. For 12 minutes they were the defense that made the Broncos far more than just another pretty face that could only throw the ball and win games on sun-splashed days. They were the turnover-forcing, Miller-time defense that could rattle even a quarterback headed to Canton.

And then they were not. Then Brady found tight end Rob Gronkowski, who had one catch in the first half and six after halftime, including a touchdown. Then Brady had time to throw. After being sacked three times in the first half, the Broncos didn’t get him again for the remainder of the game.

With the Broncos working plenty of one-on-one coverages, Brady made a concerted effort to get the ball out more quickly after halftime. He targeted Gronkowski far more often, and the Patriots tried to create more traffic in their routes to shake free from the Broncos' defenders. So when Miller and the rest of the pass rush didn’t get there, the completions followed.

"[We] played a lot of tight coverage, did a couple things with pick routes, wheel routes, and they started to take advantage of some of that," Broncos interim coach Jack Del Rio said. "But nothing we didn’t see in the first half, nothing we didn’t handle better in the first half."

"We didn’t do enough," Harris said. "We feel like we let one slip away for sure."

So, for all the Broncos have done this season -- they are still the highest-scoring team in the league, with 123 points more than any other team -- they still have an enormous question mark as to whether they have the defense to win a postseason slugfest in an environment where water might freeze and things could get tight. About whether they could dig in and take down one of the game’s elite quarterbacks or a game-tested coaching staff on the opposing sideline.

Because they didn’t have it Sunday night. The past two times the Broncos have faced the Patriots right off Route 1, New England has churned out 444 and 440 yards of offense to go with 31 and 34 points. There is also the matter of the Ravens putting up 479 yards and 38 points in last January’s playoff game.

The Broncos showed they could run the ball, muscling up on offense when the situation called for it -- for 280 yards, with 224 by Knowshon Moreno -- even as Manning threw for just 150 yards, his lowest total since the 2009 regular-season finale.

"We’ll deal with this and learn what we can out of it," Del Rio said, "... learn the lessons that are there to be learned."

It was a tale of two halves for the Broncos on Sunday, but how the season's final chapters unfold, well, that just may be up to the defense. That same defense that simply has to find whatever it left behind on this frozen November night.

Broncos' D remembers fast times in N.E.

November, 21, 2013
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- There are instances when time is the chief concern for Jack Del Rio.

Times when the Denver Broncos interim head coach will see his defensive players moving a little too slowly, milling around a little too much and simply not ready enough for what’s to come. At that point, Del Rio will simply look at the scout team offense across from the group and shout “Don’t wait.’’

No, don’t wait, because you can't. He who hesitates first surrenders a pile of touchdowns and then is lost. And lost big.

[+] EnlargeTom Brady and Peyton Manning
Stew Milne/US PresswireThe last time Peyton Manning and Tom Brady met on the field, the Patriots' pace on offense caught the Broncos' defense off guard.
“I think the amount of time offenses want you to play in space has been a development in recent seasons, sure, but the biggest may be the pace offenses force you to play right now in the league," Del Rio said. “Everybody wants to go fast. We know, we see it every day."

And Sunday night there is at least some chance, even as the New England Patriots continue to try to find their groove on offense, that they'll try to give the Broncos a little bit of what Denver has been dishing out all season. The Broncos have had their foot to the floor all season long on offense, working fast and piling up the points, leaving teams, especially those which have ventured to 5,280 feet to play in downtown Denver, more than a little wobbly on the way to 398 points after 10 games.

“I think it helps us to have worked against our offense in camp and in practice all the time,’’ Broncos linebacker Wesley Woodyard said. “ … And we know what happens if we don’t get ready to go, we’ve seen it.’’

That they have and Sunday they all return to the place where things really took off. Last Oct. 7 the Broncos arrived to Foxborough, Mass., at 2-2, still trying to settle into the idea they had Peyton Manning at quarterback.

And they arrived knowing that, sure, Patriots quarterback Tom Brady liked to run a no-huddle look at times, to play fast. But what they got was some kind of next-generation, just-had-five-Red Bulls, no-huddle offense. The Patriots overwhelmed the Broncos defense with their pace, rushing for 251 yards -- often with defenders still getting lined up at the snap. The Patriots went on to win, 31-21.

They ran 89 plays on offense in that game, the third-highest total a team has ever run against the Broncos. It amounted to the most plays an offense had run against the Broncos since the ’84 Bengals ran 92 against them.

“I think it definitely served as a little bit of a wake-up call,’’ Del Rio said. “There were some moments -- we have a prideful group -- [where] I think they got the best of us in a few situations and did a nice job from their standpoint. We didn’t handle it very well. So I think we grew from that point forward as a unit.”

What was a surprise then is simply a week-to-week fact of life in today's NFL. Chip Kelly has brought the fast-break attack he ran at the University of Oregon to the Philadelphia Eagles. And team after team in the NFL is now talking about picking up the pace on offense, about having the option to beat defenses with speed.

Still, it does come down to turnovers and execution. The Ravens ran 87 plays against the Broncos in this season’s opener, and Denver won by 22 points. The Broncos played fast, slowed it down and most everything in between as Manning threw seven touchdown passes and the Broncos piled up 510 yards worth of offense. The Broncos also broke even on turnovers -- each team had two -- against the Ravens while last October against the Patriots they were minus-2, including a late fumble by Willis McGahee that stifled any comeback attempt.

The Broncos held Baltimore to just 58 yards rushing in Week 1 even as the Ravens were forced to largely abandon those efforts in the wake of what Manning was doing to their defense. The Broncos were more prepared for whatever pacing they faced as the Ravens averaged 4.5 yards per play. Last season the Patriots averaged 5.0 yards per play in their barrage.

“Oh yeah, I think that game kind of made us realize we need to always make sure we’re ready to go, when the play’s over, get back and get ready,’’ said Broncos cornerback Chris Harris Jr. “Now, you’re not surprised, I think you just kind of assume everybody’s going to go fast … We just want to get fast stops then, get off the field, get our offense the ball so they can go fast too. Because I don’t think anybody can go fast like our offense right now.’’

Broncos careful to avoid a bad mix

November, 19, 2013
Peyton ManningWesley Hitt/Getty ImagesThe Broncos have been deliberate when adding veteran free agents like Peyton Manning.
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- On his way through 15 NFL seasons that have included 12 Pro Bowl selections, Denver Broncos cornerback Champ Bailey has seen players come and seen players go.

He’s seen good signings and some not so good, he's seen teams with guys all rowing in the same direction, and teams with guys who won't even put the oar in the water. And he’s seen it takes just one bad veteran apple to push the whole tree down.

Or as Bailey put it: “One thing you don’t want to do is put a bad vet in your locker room."

It comes to light as the Broncos, now 9-1, have had some veteran players do what they’ve been asked to do, whether it was what they expected or not, and not made waves. Players who have had bigger roles for the team or in other places, with different job descriptions now.

“The locker room, the team spirit, it’s all connected in how you relate to each other," Broncos interim coach Jack Del Rio said. “If you’ve got a guy who’s sour, that’s always complaining about something, his own situation, whatever it may be, it sucks the life out of the group."

Broncos executive vice president of football operations John Elway has always said one of his first goals as the team’s top football decision-maker was to “get the locker room the way it needed to be," and the best way to do it is building a foundation of homegrown players by “stacking those draft classes." But Elway also wants free agency to be a tool to fill in around the edges, or in the case of signing quarterback Peyton Manning, as the ultimate dip into the annual veteran talent grab.

“But you always want to make sure, whether it's one-year deal or somebody like Peyton, that it’s the right guy, that he’s going to be what we want for the Denver Broncos," Elway said.

The Broncos signed Quentin Jammer, a 12-year veteran, on May 30 in hopes he could make a move to safety and be a physical player who could play in coverage deep down the middle of the field. But once he arrived and practiced with the team, Del Rio said the thought was Jammer simply played better at cornerback, but the Broncos also had some depth there.

As a result Jammer played just one snap in the first seven games of the season combined.

“But there aren’t many guys like him," Broncos cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie said. “He just gets to work, and when we needed him he was ready. Guys like that, who have done as much as he has, they make you go. We all can see how to go work from guys like him and Champ."

With some injuries and Jammer’s play through the week in practice, he has since played 19 snaps on defense against the Redskins, 33 against the Chargers, including two snaps to open the game when Rodgers-Cromartie told Jammer to take his spot to make the start against Jammer’s former team. And Jammer had 20 plays on defense in Sunday night’s win against the Chiefs.

“I think that’s another great example of a guy, when you talk about a proud veteran that has played at a high level for a number of years in the league, and for him to remain a positive teammate -- I think that’s why you saw that kind of tribute start that he got (against the Chargers), because the group recognizes this is a guy that has a lot of skins on the wall, and this guy has played a lot of good football," Del Rio said. “ ... For a guy -- a veteran guy with all his experience, all his accomplishments -- he’s accepted his role and been a great teammate. It’s such a positive thing to have for your football team."

Tight end Jacob Tamme played 46 percent of the Broncos' snaps on offense in 2012 on the way to 52 receptions. This season, with Julius Thomas having been the primary receiver at the position (Thomas already has 10 touchdown catches this season), Tamme has played just 52 snaps on offense over the first 10 games, and has three catches.

But Tamme is the team leader in special teams tackles, has played on 63 percent of the plays on special teams, and came within an eyelash of blocking a punt against the Chiefs on Sunday.

Safety Mike Adams, a 10-year veteran, started 16 games last season, but lost his starting job in training camp to Duke Ihenacho. Adams has since played in some of the defense’s specialty packages to go with one start this season when Ihenacho was injured. Adams will likely be looked to again with free safety Rahim Moore having had surgery on his lower right leg Monday morning.

“But a guy like Mike, he knows what he has to do and he’s always ready," cornerback Chris Harris Jr. said. “We have a lot of good guys in our room who just want to win. We all want to play for sure, but we all want to win, and I think everybody does what they have to do to make that happen."

Then there’s Shaun Phillips, another 10-year veteran, a player the Broncos signed to a one-year deal during the draft weekend this past April. Some personnel executives said before Phillips signed in Denver they believed he could still have an impact in a defense if he went to a successful team with a strong locker room after his frustration in the Chargers’ failure to make the playoffs in 2010, 2011 and 2012.

Phillips currently leads the Broncos in sacks with nine, and has enabled the Broncos to overcome Von Miller's six-game suspension for violating the league’s substance abuse policy to open the season.

“From some of the things that we determine in evaluating the tape and then working with him and getting him here, he’s been a pleasant surprise," Del Rio said. “I mean, he’s been a little better than we’d hoped in terms of his impact and his leadership. Smart, tough guy. He’s a great communicator ... Yeah, very happy with him."

But if things don’t go nearly as well, the solution is fairly simple to say, but often difficult to perform in these salary-cap times. But Del Rio said there is only one real repair to make for a signing gone bad.

“I’ve seen those guys disappear, which is the best thing a team can do," Del Rio said. “It’s abracadabra time. They disappear. That’s what typically happens, if it’s disruptive, you would hope a team, at least a team that wants to be successful, would relieve that situation, because you have to relieve it to cure it."
Alex SmithAAron Ontiveroz/The Denver Post/Getty ImagesDenver sacked Alex Smith three times and handed the Chiefs their first loss of the season.
DENVER -- In all of the words, both spoken and written, that have been devoted to the Denver Broncos this season, most have been quickly filed under "offense."

Filed with touchdowns, Peyton Manning and record performances, quarter after quarter, game after game. And with that the questions lingered. What exactly the Broncos would do if Manning wasn't, well, Manning and they had to get in touch with their defensive side?

Or as cornerback Chris Harris Jr. put it on his way into the locker room following a dirt-under-their-fingernails 27-17 victory over the Kansas City Chiefs in Sports Authority Field at Mile High Sunday night: "I thought y'all said we didn't play defense."

Perhaps it says something about the Broncos' season and how high the bar has been set that Manning had his ninth 300-yard passing game and the Broncos were "held" to 427 yards and 27 points, and it all still went down as a rough-around-the-edges affair. But it was just that at times, with Manning nursing an injured right ankle encased in a brace.

The Broncos needed something else. They needed to run for more than decoration on offense and they needed their defense, a defense that has enjoyed life in the jet wash of the Broncos' offense for much of the season, to stand up and raise its hackles.

They needed their defense to roll up its sleeves and get to work. To outperform the Chiefs' defense that came in as the league's leader in scoring defense and sacks.

"Without a doubt, we heard all this hoopla about which offense is best, and which defense is best," Broncos linebacker Wesley Woodyard said. "We just wanted to get out there and play our style of football and that’s physical. …l We got this win and we’re happy to get this win."

Sunday really belonged to the Broncos' defense that both made the critical play of the night and checked off the biggest item on the to-do list they had carried into the game. The play came just seconds after Manning and rookie running back Montee Ball didn't connect on a handoff. The Chiefs recovered the fumble at the Broncos' 18-yard line in a game the Broncos led 3-0.

On first-and-10 from the 18, Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith flipped a pass to fullback Anthony Sherman. Cornerback Quentin Jammer arrived first to stand Sherman up and linebacker Danny Trevathan then crashed into Sherman knocking the ball free. Jammer recovered the ball at the Broncos' 16-yard line. Five plays later the Broncos scored a touchdown for a 10-0 lead.

"They were kind of blitzing and I rushed the handoff and I didn't give him a good handoff at all," Manning said. "Obviously you're not feeling good leaving the field and they turn around and fumble right away … pretty critical series there."

"I love the way Danny plays," Woodyard said. "He goes out there and plays hard every time … and they didn't get any points out of that."

Then there was the matter of Chiefs running back Jamaal Charles.

After the Chiefs' first nine games, all wins, Charles was their leading rusher and leading receiver with 47 catches, or 14 more than Dwayne Bowe. If you had added it all together in those nine wins Charles had accounted for 39 percent of the yardage (1,114) the Chiefs had gained on offense and had 48 percent of the touches (217).

And the Broncos gave Charles the attention those numbers deserved, often slowing the pass rush from the edge at times to keep a linebacker within sight of Charles. The Broncos also used plenty of defensive backs in the pass pattern against Charles and swarmed him in the run game.

In the end Charles finished with 78 yards rushing, 35 of those yards coming on one second-quarter sprint around the left end, to go with minus-6 yards receiving on two catches. Those 72 total yards accounted for Charles' lowest output of the season.

"We tried to come out there and move the ball," Charles said. "But give credit to their defense, they did a great job scheming us."

"That was the key to the whole game, really, because if we can't stop Jamaal Charles, that's a long night for us," Harris said. "We wanted to make them one dimensional if that one dimension wasn't him."

So, here they are at 9-1 with Manning on a sore ankle, wide receiver Wes Welker with a concussion and tight end Julius Thomas with a sore knee. But the Broncos brought a little more to the table Sunday night and showed a little something some folks might have believed they didn't have.

"We all know, everybody in here, we're capable of playing on defense the way we played [Sunday]," Harris said. "We have the talent, we still didn't play our best game, but we've improved each week. People will see the real us, I think, when we put it all together. But this is a team and we think our defense, we have a lot to offer, we can be there when we're needed and I think we will be."

Broncos Rewind: Defense, special teams

November, 13, 2013
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- For one week the Broncos showed they are intent on getting things done while head coach John Fox is away, recovering from open heart surgery.

The Broncos moved to 8-1 with their 28-20 victory over the San Diego Chargers, they continued to show flashes of a team that is historically dominant on offense with a fast and aggressive defense that can change games.

But they also flashed lulls on both sides of the ball, enough of those the Chargers made it a game before all was said and done.

With that in mind, and a long look at the video, here are some thoughts on the Broncos defense and special teams:
  • In a three-play span of Sunday's third quarter the Broncos showed the potential for their defensive front to return to last season's disruptive best. But if the Broncos are going to crank up the heat on opposing passers with more frequency out of the four-man rush or disrupt the action at the line of scrimmage in the run game, Von Miller and Shaun Phillips have to make that happen. On a first-and-10 play from the Chargers' 34-yard line with 5 minutes, 1 second to play in the third quarter, Miller crashed the middle of the Chargers formation to get Chargers running back Ryan Mathews for a 1-yard loss. Two plays later, on a first-and-10 from the Chargers' 46, Phillips made San Diego pay for trying to block him with a tight end, working to the inside and catching San Diego quarterback Philip Rivers almost as soon as Rivers finished his drop. Miller then arrived to finish things off. Both plays came with the Broncos in the nickel, with three down linemen and Miller lined up, standing, along the line of scrimmage. Earlier in the game defensive end Robert Ayers also showed a quality inside move on a pass rush, the kind he has flashed previously and the kind if he used more would increase his sack numbers. Overall with quarterbacks looking to get rid of the ball more quickly, the more quality work the Broncos' best pass-rushers can do working to the inside, the more success they will have getting those quarterbacks on the ground.
  • Rookie cornerback Kayvon Webster keeps answering the challenges put in front of him. Webster played 45 snaps on defense Sunday, his highest output of the season as interim head coach Jack Del Rio used all nine defensive backs in uniform in a variety of personnel groupings, including several different combinations in the nickel (five defensive backs). Quarterbacks have taken their shot at the rookie, hoping to capitalize on his inexperience. One of the things that has earned Webster so much playing time is his ability to match up in 1-on-1 situations and to play with don't-back-down confidence in those situations. Rivers often tried to pick away at Webster, especially on slants when the Chargers receivers beat him to the spot for some short gains. But Webster was usually up to the challenge when Rivers tried to drop one over him down the field, including a pass breakup by Webster in the end zone against Vincent Brown.
  • It is an odd sight, but the Broncos played 10 snaps on defense without Miller in the game Sunday, including four in the first quarter. The Broncos took Miller out in both the base defense at times, as well in some of their work in one of their nickel packages. The total included some pass-rush situations in the nickel in the second quarter, when Miller was out for five consecutive plays, including a second-and-9, when Rivers hit tight end Antonio Gates for a 22-yard gain. In the end Chris Harris and Rahim Moore were the only players to remain on the field for all 73 snaps on defense. Linebacker Wesley Woodyard played 71 plays, missing two after re-aggravating a neck injury.
  • Peyton Manning's presence in an offense does things to people. Rams coach Jeff Fisher once tried to onside kick the first three times the Titans kicked off against the Colts and Bill Belichick's fourth-down gamble that didn't pay off against Manning on "Monday Night Football" is still talked about any time another coach gets in a similar situation against Manning. It's why two of the Broncos last four opponents, including the Chargers this past Sunday, have used fake punts in their first possession of the game as they search for some momentum. The Chargers converted a fourth-and-1 when safety Eric Weddle took a direct snap for a 2-yard gain. The Broncos did force a punt six plays later and took the following possession for a touchdown.

Rapid Reaction: Denver Broncos

November, 10, 2013

SAN DIEGO -- A few thoughts on the Denver Broncos' 28-20 win over the San Diego Chargers:

What it means: It means we get an AFC West showdown next Sunday night when the 9-0 Chiefs come to Denver to face the now 8-1 Broncos. It will offer the age-old question about defense against offense, with the highest-scoring offense in the league’s history after nine games facing the league’s sack leaders who have not surrendered more than 17 points to any opponent this season.

Stock watch: Tight end Julius Thomas was limited in practice this past week because of an ankle injury, but it took just one play for Thomas to show he felt just fine and what he means to the offense when he is healthy. On the third play from scrimmage for the Broncos, Thomas took a short flip from Peyton Manning 74 yards up the right sideline for the Broncos’ first touchdown. In the Broncos’ three-wide receiver set Thomas continues to be the riddle for opposing defenses when they move their help toward Denver’s wide receivers.

Blindside issues: In Week 7, the Colts’ Robert Mathis terrorized Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning, putting two of the hardest hits on Manning of the season from the blind side -- a rush from the defensive right -- including one that caused a fumble. The Chargers’ Tourek Williams beat Broncos left tackle Chris Clark Sunday to swipe the ball out from Manning’s blind side. The momentum changed in the game for a bit and with the Chiefs next up on the docket, it is a concern.

Variety pack: With cornerback Champ Bailey having missed his seventh game of the season because of a foot injury and safety Duke Ihenacho out with an ankle injury, defensive coordinator/interim coach Jack Del Rio obviously made the decision to use everybody else in uniform Sunday. Del Rio played all nine active defensive backs at some point in the defense. He mixed and matched in all of the personnel groupings, especially at cornerback, where Quentin Jammer got the start in the base defense. Kayvon Webster, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Chris Harris also played at cornerback in the base defense during the game.

What’s next: The Chiefs (9-0) are coming off a bye, so they will have had some extra time to get ready for the Broncos’ offense. Kansas City has 36 sacks, but while Justin Houston (11.0) and Tamba Hali (9.0) are the outside rushers who have done the most damage, it’s Chiefs nose tackle Dontari Poe (4.5) who may be the most difficult matchup for the Broncos overall.

Broncos want to find themselves on D

November, 4, 2013
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- As the Denver Broncos sifted through the season’s first half they saw an offense that was operating at a breakneck, historical pace.

They saw special-teams unit that has been efficient and opportunistic. It's a group that has blocked two punts and scored three touchdowns.

And then there’s the defense.

“I don’t think how we approach it has changed for us since Week 1," said linebacker Wesley Woodyard. “... We have a target on our back. We've got to give it our best and we haven’t been doing that so far .... I think we’ve played hard, but we haven’t played our best. We have to do both, we have to play hard and make plays both, we have to get back to how we know we can play."

[+] EnlargeChris Harris
Kirby Lee/USA TODAY Sports"I think everybody in here knows what we're capable of, it's just a matter of going out there and playing that way," cornerback Chris Harris said.
The Broncos were at, or near, the top of every major defensive category last season and have had very little of that kind of performance this season. Not matter what the cause -- gratuitous yardage piled up by opponents chasing the Broncos' record-setting offense, injuries all over the depth chart, missed tackles, ill-timed penalties or a missed assignment or two -- they find themselves in the bottom third of the league rankings in points allowed per game, yards allowed per game and passing yards per game.

They were No. 3 in run defense and tied for the league lead in interceptions with 13 after eight games. And they haven’t looked, or been, nearly as disruptive down in, down out, as they were throughout the 2012 regular season.

“I don’t think we’ve played our best, for sure, that's no lie," said cornerback Chris Harris. “I think everybody in here knows what we’re capable of, it’s just a matter of going out there and playing that way. I think we feel like there’s a lot of room for improvement, but a lot of reasons to feel good about it, too. We have too much talent to be one of the bottom defenses against the pass, we don’t think that’s us, for sure.’’

The Broncos' defenders all believe the win over the Washington Redskins just before the bye offered at least a glimpse of what the group can do. They surrendered just 266 yards while limiting Robert Griffin III to 7 yards rushing and 132 yards passing as the Broncos finished with four interceptions.

“That’s closer,’’ Woodyard said. "Closer, but we need that all the time and more."

“We’ve had these performances, we just didn’t finish strong," said safety Rahim Moore. “ ... Comprehensively, as a group, we made plays. Turnovers, sacks, forced fumbles, just everything."

Cornerback Champ Bailey’s foot injury -- he’s played in just two games -- and Von Miller’s six-game suspension to open the season haven’t helped matters. Woodyard has also missed two games with a neck injury while Robert Ayers missed one with a shoulder injury. As a result the Broncos have yet to play in any game with the 11 starters they expected to have when they filled out the depth chart in training camp. And while the Broncos constantly preach "next man up'' on the injury front, it only works if the next men up are up to the task.

Or as coach John Fox put it last week: “I think we haven’t really been whole the whole season defensively. I think our guys have hung in there, continue to work hard … I felt we were much more capable than what we had put on tape up to that point.’’

“That’s true,’’ Woodyard said. “I think you see flashes. But with our offense, we just need to get stops and keep giving the ball back to our offense and that’s a formula for success.’’

The Broncos believe Miller will continue to round into form after having played in just two games before the break because of a suspension for violating the league's substance-abuse policy. Overall, the Broncos will not face an offense that entered the weekend in the league’s top 10 in scoring in the final eight games of the regular season. The Chiefs and Chargers, tied at No. 13 to open the weekend (24.0 points per game) were the closest with a caveat of Tom Brady’s presence in the Patriots’ offense always a threat despite their struggles thus far.

But no matter how many lines in the record book Manning and the Broncos’ offense write in the regular season, the simple truth remains that at some point something else will be needed if the Broncos want to play in February. The highest-scoring offenses in the league’s modern era have rarely won the Super Bowl.

Of the 16 teams that scored at least 500 points in a season since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger, only four went on to win the Super Bowl. And the list of teams that didn’t win the title game includes the offense that holds the single-season scoring record the Broncos are currently chasing -- the 2007 Patriots, who finished the regular season 16-0.

There is also the matter of those last two postseason losses for the Broncos that closed out the 2011 and 2012 seasons. In those two games the Broncos surrendered 694 passing yards and nine passing touchdowns. They also came away with just one sack in the two games while having surrendered 301 yards rushing along the way.

“You have be there in the playoffs,’’ Woodyard said. “That’s why you keep working, to be the kind of defense we need to be .... It's not going to just happen, we have to keep working it, pushing for it and playing that way week in, week out.’’

W2W4: Jaguars at Broncos

October, 11, 2013
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- For days the Broncos have been surrounded in their home city, surrounded by swirl of discussion over point spreads and remember-when mismatches. The Broncos, after all, are 5-0 having scored a historical 230 points in those five games.

The Jaguars, on the other hand, have scored just five touchdowns this season and don’t have a player with more than one.

It means Sunday's game at Sports Authority Field at Mile High will be a test of the Broncos’ concentration, their preparation and attention to detail. It will be a true gauge of how they handle prosperity. So with that in mind, here are some things to consider:

    [+] EnlargeDominique Rodgers-Cromartie
    AP Photo/John MinchilloDenver CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie will be facing a Jaguars team whose QBs have thrown nine interceptions this season.
  • Welcome back: Unless something unexpected happens Saturday, the Broncos will have the secondary on the field Sunday they had hoped would be there when they opened the season. Champ Bailey is set to play his first game of the season -- “That’s the plan,’’ Bailey said -- and Chris Harris, who suffered a concussion against the Cowboys last Sunday, practiced Friday and is poised to play. That means the Broncos will have Bailey, Harris and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie at cornerback against a passing offense that has thrown for fewer than 200 yards per game (193.4) this season. It would allow the Broncos to play more man-to-man coverage and push more resources toward the line of scrimmage to stop Jaguars running back Maurice Jones-Drew. Opponents have returned three interceptions for touchdowns already this season against the Jaguars.
  • They’re efforting: While the Jaguars haven’t been able to settle into a more traditional approach on offense because they have trailed so early, so often in games, if the game is still in question, the Jaguars will try to pound the ball on offense. And that's something opponents have been able to do at times against the Broncos defense, until Peyton Manning and the Denver offense has shredded those plans with a touchdown or three. Unlike most teams, the Jaguars have a fullback in the offense -- Will Ta’ufo’ou -- and have opened three of their five games in a two-back look. One way for the Broncos to find themselves in at least some trouble would be to let the Jaguars move the ball out of their two-back or two-tight end formations and eat some clock. Offensively, Jones-Drew is still the Jaguars' most reliable player, even as he continues to work his way back from last season’s foot injury. He’s averaged just 2.3 yards per carry amid the Jaguars’ offensive woes. With left tackle Luke Joeckel out for the season, the Jaguars also figure to stay in some heavier formations to try and protect quarterback Chad Henne. The Broncos will have to perform out of their base 4-3 formation and will likely have to do it without Wesley Woodyard at middle linebacker. Paris Lenon will need a productive day in Woodyard’s spot if Woodyard is held out as expected because when the Jaguars do run, they are most often coming right over center Brad Meester. Even with their limited carries this season, only four teams have run more over the center this season than the Jaguars have.
  • Blackmon and Shorts: The Jaguars do have two wide receivers who can win some battles against man coverage in Cecil Shorts and Justin Blackmon. Blackmon, who missed the first four games of the season because of a suspension for violating the league’s substance abuse policy, had five catches for 136 yards and a touchdown in his first game back last week against the Rams. Blackmon is more of a downfield option and the Broncos should look for him to work the deep middle in particular. Shorts has plenty of short area explosiveness and will work plenty in the short and intermediate areas. The Jaguars, given their protection issues up front -- they traded tackle Earl Monroe to the Ravens earlier this season to go with Joeckel’s injury -- figure to try to pick up the pace at times and use plenty of the quick-hit routes in the passing game.
  • Find the rookies: Like any rebuilding team, the Jaguars have some young players in the lineup in key places with the idea they will simply learn on the job. For the Jaguars that is no more evident than at safety where they start two rookies. Johnathan Cyprien is an upper-tier prospect who was Jacksonville’s second-round pick this past April and Josh Evans, a sixth-round pick, has replaced the injured Dwight Lowery (concussion) at free safety. The two have played well given their inexperience, but the Jaguars have also had to avoid asking them to do too much. As a result the Jaguars don’t do a lot of pre-snap movements to keep things simple for the pair and that’s often a difficult recipe against Manning, something even Jaguars coach Gus Bradley has alluded to this week. If Manning knows what you’re in, and he almost certainly does if you don't try too hard to disguise it, he will quickly find the hole, early and often. And that could make for a long day for a youthful Jaguars secondary.
  • No biggies: No team, given their three touchdowns on special teams already, knows more than the Broncos what kind of momentum-changers those plays can be. And the Broncos will have to keep Ace Sanders or Jordan Todman from popping a return or two in the game and change field position. Sanders, a rookie wide receiver, had an 88-yard punt return for a score negated by a penalty last week against the Rams. Todman had a 37-yard kickoff return against the Rams.
  • Turn it over: Beyond having what most personnel executives in the league would consider the thinnest roster in the NFL, the Jaguars have consistently turned the ball over too often this season.The Broncos will have some opportunities to make those kinds of plays. Jacksonville's quarterbacks have thrown nine interceptions -- tied for the second most in the league -- and lost two fumbles. The Jaguars have often uncorked those turnovers early in games.