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Thursday, October 24, 2013
Broncos' D still waits for all of its starters

By Jeff Legwold

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- With each passing week, the pile of numbers that have cascaded across the Denver Broncos' defense gets a little bigger, a little more of a problem.

Points allowed per game: 28.1, 28th in the NFL.

Yards allowed per game: 397, 30th.

Passing yards allowed per game: 319.9, 32nd.

Pass attempts per game by opponents: 41.2, 30th.

All of those figures are sure to carve a new worry line or two into the brow of those in and around the team’s complex, but it also leads to another number that could certainly be tied to the rest. Times the Broncos have played the 11 starters they’d hope to play: 0.

And with cornerback Champ Bailey poised to miss his sixth game of the season Sunday against the Washington Redskins because of a left foot injury, the Broncos still haven’t fielded the defense it had planned to when they were getting things cranked up in training camp. And next man up or not, so far this season's performance is not on par with 2012 when the Broncos were fourth in scoring defense and second in fewest yards per game allowed.

"We have the target on our back and that’s something that we’ve got to approach every day in practice," said linebacker Wesley Woodyard. "We’ve got to give it our best and we haven’t been doing that so far. We’ve got to continue to change the things that we haven’t been doing right and make them work out for the best ... I think we all know we can be better."

In the end, the Broncos' depth has been tested already and they need Von Miller to bounce back, and quickly in the coming weeks. Defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio was asked Thursday if he has been frustrated at any point after seven weeks since he has yet to field the defense he had slotted in the depth chart this summer.

"No, I’m still looking for the 11 players in the same picture, when we’re swarming the ball like that," Del Rio said. "I mean, I love coaching, I love coming out here working with the guys, teaching the guys, motivating the guys and then we go out and let it rip on Sundays."

Last season, the Broncos did not surrender a 300-yard passing game during the regular season as Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco’s 331-yard, three-touchdown effort in the divisional round playoff game was the only time an opponent crossed the 300-yard passing barrier against the Broncos. This season Flacco, the Giants' Eli Manning, the Cowboys' Tony Romo and the Jaguars' Chad Henne have already topped 300 yards against the Broncos.

Romo even topped 500 with a 506-yard, five-touchdown performance in Dallas earlier this month. It was the highest yardage total for an opposing quarterback in the Broncos’ franchise history.

Last season, the Broncos tied for the league-lead in sacks with 52 as Miller led the way. After seven games in 2012 the Broncos had 19 sacks, a total that included three games with at least four. This season, they also have 19 after seven games, but it both looks and feels far differently. Several of this year’s sacks have been clustered in the opponents’ late-game drives when the Broncos’ have had huge double-digit leads. The Broncos have four sacks on their opponents’ last two drives of games combined this season when they led by at least 16 points at that time in three of those games.

When the game is in doubt, they haven’t consistently pressured opposing passers as well as they did last season

"No, we’re not where we want to be," Woodyard said. "But we’re only coming on the halfway point (of the season). We’ve got time to get to work."

It all started with Miller’s suspension, the first report of which hit the day before training camp opened. That took their sack leader -- 18.5 last season -- out of the mix for six games and he did not look to be anywhere close to his 2012 form when he returned to the lineup in the 39-33 loss to the Colts in Indianapolis this past Sunday night.

"Von did some good things and did some things he’ll do better as we go on," Del Rio said. "It was good for him to get his first game action in a number of weeks, knock a little bit of the rust off not having played, but we know he’s dynamic player, we’re glad to have him back and think he’ll be a week better."

Then Bailey, who had missed just 10 games in his previous 14 NFL seasons combined, suffered a left foot injury in an preseason loss in Seattle that kept him out of the regular season’s first five games. Bailey re-aggravated the injury Sunday night in Indianapolis and is back on the shelf again until sometime after the Broncos’ bye week.

And there’s Woodyard, who was the Broncos' do-it-all guy last season as the only player in the league with at least 100 tackles, five sacks and three interceptions when all was said and done. The Broncos' tackle leader (114 in ’12) left the win in Dallas in the second quarter and then missed the last two games. He is expected back against the Redskins.

"We know what it takes," said cornerback Chris Harris. "...It takes everybody to step up and admit their mistakes and figure out what can all do better ... I say it like we hit the reset and get going again. We know our potential."