Denver Broncos: Aqib Talib

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- No, it wasn't Marshawn Lynch or Jamaal Charles or Frank Gore or even the newly-famous Jonas Gray -- all running backs the Denver Broncos have faced this season -- that uncorked the first 100-yard rushing game against the Broncos' defense.

It was St. Louis Rams rookie Tre Mason, who finished with 113 yards on 29 carries to help move the Broncos from the league's No. 1 run defense before Sunday's game to No. 2 after. The Rams' 33 rushing attempts amounted to the second-highest total by a Broncos opponent this year, second only to 37 attempts by the Seattle Seahawks in Week 3.

[+] EnlargeTre Mason
Michael B. Thomas/Getty ImagesTre Mason was the first back to run for more than 100 yards against the Broncos this season.
"I think we miss fit a couple things," said Broncos head coach John Fox. "They ran it quite a few times. I think we had 10 (attempts). They had 31. I think we're capable of better."

And after a long look at the game video, here are some thoughts on the Broncos defense and special teams:

  • When the Rams acquired troubled wide receiver Kenny Britt, the team's coaching staff believed they could coax more out of Britt, than he had shown previously in his career. Britt had not had more than 69 yards receiving in any game this season, but Shaun Hill found him, largely in man coverage, four times in the first half Sunday for 128 yards, including a 63-yard touchdown when he escaped Broncos' rookie Bradley Roby. The most curious completion of the four was Britt's first catch of the game: On the Rams' third play from scrimmage, Britt simply ran by cornerback Aqib Talib for a 33-yard reception. It was just the kind of concentration lapse the Broncos got at times from Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie last season. It was the key play in an 11-play drive for a field goal on the Rams first possession of the game.
  • The Rams were able to give Mason room to run with plenty of scheme work in the run game. St. Louis flashed some zone plays and played them with discipline, not leaving any gaps, but also had some quality counter plays, bringing the tackle or guard around the other way. The Rams had at least some success running out of three-wide sets against a Broncos formation with six defensive backs in it. Mason had a 15-yard run against that look in the first quarter to go with a 27-yarder against it in the third quarter -- both plays featured a missed tackle by Broncos safety Quinton Carter that would have limited either play.
  • In the crazy-bounce department, when DeMarcus Ware schooled Rams rookie tackle Greg Robinson in the fourth quarter, it came within inches of being the game-altering the play the Broncos needed. In what was a 19-7 game at that point and Ware lined up in a two-point stance at the right defensive end, Robinson chose to block down on Broncos defensive tackle Terrance Knighton. Ware came clean to flatten Hill from the blind-side, knocking the ball free, but the force of the hit knocked Hill down on top of the ball. Hill's recovery prevented the Broncos from a potential scoop-and-score.
  • The Broncos have been unclear about what's happening with kicker Brandon McManus. Either they don't have confidence in the strong-legged kicker to attempt 54- and 55-yard field goals in pristine conditions inside the Edward Jones Dome, or McManus's groin injury is impacting their game day decisions. McManus has been listed on the team's injury report for several weeks with a right groin injury (his kicking leg). Either way, after watching McManus warm up, Broncos head coach John Fox said the Broncos capped McManus' range, again indoors, at 50 yards. He has attempted, and made, 60-plus yard kicks in warm ups in recent weeks outside in Sports Authority Field at Mile High. McManus missed a 53-yard attempt against the San Diego Chargers and hit the right upright for a miss from 41 yards against New England. He's 3-of-5 on field-goal attempts since Matt Prater's release. McManus' 11 attempts are 30th in the league, just behind Prater's 12, though Prater missed the first four games of the season with a suspension.
  • The Broncos continue to trail the league's best in the return game. Rookie Isaiah Burse is tied for 19th in the league in punt returns (7.2) while Andre Caldwell is 21st in the league among kickoff returners with at least 10 returns at 22.9 yards per return.
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. – In the last three seasons, the Denver Broncos have faced their longtime AFC West rival Kansas City Chiefs six times. Simple NFL math, really: Division foe, usually two matchups a season. In 2013, the Broncos faced the San Diego Chargers three times, with the two AFC West meetings in the regular season to go with last January’s divisional round playoff game.

Denver Broncos players and coaches say playing the New England Patriots offers the same we-know-them, they-know-us headaches an AFC West team would bring.

And that's because, through winning, schedule rotation and the postseason, the Broncos have faced New England almost as much as they've faced their own AFC West brethren. In the previous three seasons, the Broncos have faced the Patriots five times – three times in the regular season, twice in the playoffs -- and Sunday's game with be the sixth time in the last four seasons.

[+] EnlargeBrady/Manning
Stew Milne/USA TODAY SportsTom Brady and Peyton Manning meet every year on the field because they're always finishing in first place.
“I don’t know if it’s a good thing that I’m old enough to go back to the AFC East or if it’s bad thing," said Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning. “It means I’m old because we played them twice a few years before Tom [Brady] was playing back then. But even once we changed divisions when I was Indianapolis, we were playing them every year, and twice [in] three of those years, and of course played them twice last year. It’s a credit to the Patriots for being in the mix every single season and their consistency in their head coach with Coach [Bill] Belichick and their coordinators and their consistency with Tom Brady at quarterback. They’re always in the hunt, they’re always there and they’re playing really well right now."

Because it’s far more difficult to toss a new wrinkle at a divisional foe that knows you the best, it has been difficult for the Patriots and the Broncos to outright fool each other. Things usually come down to the old-school football maxims of whistle-to-whistle discipline and turnovers.

“We’ve played these guys so much, it’s like a division opponent, really," said Broncos defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio. “We’ve played them quite a bit. I think they’re pretty familiar with us as well."

By the time each team’s offensive and defensive assistants have broken down the personnel groupings and personnel tendencies for each team before each meeting, before each team’s coaching staff has then made game plans for each of those games, even the football intel a former player can offer is even muted a bit.

Del Rio said he’s talked to cornerback Aqib Talib, who played for the Patriots for a season-and-a-half following a 2012 trade from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, but the Broncos essentially had all of the information already.

"There are some things that he confirmed," Del Rio said. “Certainly little tips on individual players, things like that. But there is plenty of work to do without spending your whole time trying to pick his brain."

So, with Sunday’s meeting and another possible postseason meeting in January to go with another regular-season meeting in 2015 if both teams finish in first place again, it’s going to be a while before the Patriots don’t feel like a divisional opponent.

“It’s a great matchup of two of the better teams in the league," Del Rio said. “We’ve earned this because we’ve ended up in first place. It’s a first-place schedule that we both play. So two good teams that are going at it. So we look forward to the challenge.”

It's a good problem to have, Manning said.

“Somebody was asking me if I ever see the schedule come out and say, ‘Boy, I wish we didn’t have to play them again,’ but in reality they’re always winning the division, they’re always there and so if you’re going to play them, for the main reason we’ve played them so many times is because we’ve won the division the year before also," Manning said. “So it’s a challenging consequence of being a good team the year before; that’s what you want. You want to win the division. It gives you the chance to get in the playoffs, gives you the chance to win a world championship. That’s kind of your goal every year."
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- For all of the time and verbiage expended on the discussion of quarterbacks in recent meetings between the Denver Broncos and New England Patriots, the bottom line has often been found, not in well-constructed spirals thrown from here to there, but at ground level.

Yes, since the start of the 2006 season, these two teams have played eight times, including twice in the playoffs, and the team that has pounded out more yardage in the run game has won six of the games.

[+] EnlargeKeenan Allen
Chris Humphreys/USA TODAY SportsAqib Talib and the Broncos will need to rely on its top-ranked run defense to beat the Patriots.
"Doesn't surprise me," said Broncos defensive tackle Terrance Knighton. "Not at all. I think people on offense know every defense wants to stop the run, make you do one thing because then you go after the quarterback. If people run the ball on you, then the quarterback stays clean and he gets do what he wants when he wants. And with Tom Brady that's never a good thing."

There was the Patriots' 257-yard rushing day in 2008, their 251-yard rushing day in 2012 -- both wins for New England -- to go with the quirks as well. The read-option Broncos of 2011 ran for 252 yards on the Patriots' defense, but lost when Patriots head coach Bill Belchick's plan stymied Tim Tebow into an 11-of-22 passing day with no touchdowns.

Or the 280 yards rushing the Broncos pounded out in last year's regular-season meeting when the Broncos launched themselves to a 24-0 halftime lead before losing 34-31 in overtime. But, in the end, the rushing numbers have been a quality crystal ball for how this rivalry between AFC power brokers has gone over the past 13 seasons even with Peyton Manning behind center for the Broncos since 2012 and Brady behind center for the Patriots in all but one of those games (the Patriots' win in '08 when Brady was recovering from season-ending knee surgery).

The Patriots have often pounded out game-changing running room against the Broncos' lighter defensive formations, in the nickel and dime, when New England spreads the field, forcing the Broncos to respond with additional defensive backs. The Broncos, with rookie cornerback Bradley Roby having added the athleticism and the willingness to tackle in the run game as the nickel corner to the already physical tandem on Chris Harris Jr. and Aqib Talib, tackle better on the outside than they have in recent seasons.

"I think at the end of the day there's no doubt that they've had some great battles, had great success over time, both of them," said Broncos head coach John Fox. "In Peyton's case (with) two different teams. Obviously with Tom (Brady), one team. But I think so much more -- it's a team game. That doesn't get a lot of publicity but at the end of the day it's going to be the Broncos versus the Patriots."

This past Sunday, even with Brady having thrown the ball 35 times in his five-touchdown blitz of the Chicago Bears, the Patriots still ran the ball 32 times -- for 122 yards -- including an 86-yard day from Jonas Gray. Gray is a player who has already spent time on the Baltimore Ravens' practice squad in his career and been cut by the Miami Dolphins.

The Broncos enter Sunday's game with the league's top run defense, with opponents having rushed for an average of 72.4 yards per game. Since the Kansas City Chiefs pounded out 133 yards in Week 2 to go with 129 yards by the Seattle Seahawks in Week 3, the Broncos have surrendered 37, 31, 62 and 61 net rushing yards.

And 23 of the San Diego Chargers' 61 rushing yards last Thursday night came on the game's final play with the Chargers running out the final 18 seconds of the game from their own 31-yard line.

"It's the same mindset every week," said Broncos linebacker Brandon Marshall. "We don't want people running the ball on us. We want to get to all of the things we can do with our packages in the pass rush. To do that we have to stop the run."

"We've had a good start, but each week we want to get that number lower and lower," Knighton said. "Two specific categories we look at in our D-line group and that's run defense and sacks. We put a lot of emphasis in that. We talk about it off the field, it's on our minds all the time. When you have corners like Aqib and Chris coming in and making tackles, safeties like our safeties, that means everybody on the field is committed. And the number shows how you swarm."
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Yes, the Denver Broncos' defense is better than last season’s version.

It’s a healthier group, at least to this point, has more impact players dispersed on the depth chart and has more speed across the board.

Just don’t try to sell it as a finished product to head coach John Fox.

[+] EnlargeBrandon Marshall
Ron Chenoy/USA TODAY SportsDenver's Brandon Marshall stymied Chargers RB Branden Oliver for much of Thursday night's game.
"We’re not even to halftime right now," Fox said Friday. "We’re not even halfway through the regular season, there is a lot of football left to be played. I like what we’re doing, I like the way they’ve worked and gone about their business, but we’re not kicking back, there is plenty left to do."

With that in mind, and after a long look at the game video, here are some thoughts on the Broncos’ defense and special teams:

  • The Broncos limited the Chargers’ run game during Thursday night's 35-21 win, kept wide receiver Keenan Allen from doing too much damage and kept the San Diego offense off balance. But if there was one matchup the Chargers did win, it came when the Chargers consistently found tight end Antonio Gates matched up on the Broncos' safeties. Gates is certainly an impact player at the position, and has been a difficult matchup for any defense over the past 12 seasons. But Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers consistently went to Gates when Gates had either Quinton Carter or T.J. Ward in tow. On the Chargers’ first scoring drive of the game Gates forced a pass interference penalty on Carter to convert a third-and-6 situation to go with a 31-yard reception over Carter to convert a third-and-20. Gates later scored a fourth-quarter touchdown over Ward. The Broncos have succeeded plenty this season because their personnel allows them to play more man coverage than most defenses, but this was one time when an offense found the matchup and kept hammering away. The Broncos did limit Gates to just five receptions, but two of those were touchdowns -- Gates’ 31-yard catch set up another score from the 2-yard line as well -- and two resulted in third-down conversions.
  • Quality personnel work is always not seeing what a player is, but seeing what he could be. To find those that fit what you do and will grow into the job along the way. Exhibit A in the Broncos’ defense will always be cornerback Chris Harris Jr., as an undrafted player who has simply become one of the league’s best in coverage. On Thursday night, linebacker Brandon Marshall, who spent most of the 2013 season on the team’s practice squad, was another example. Marshall showed anticipation with closing speed to the ball in limiting the Chargers’ ability to get rookie running back Branden Oliver in space to use his quickness. Marshall was credited with 10 tackles, five coming on receptions by Oliver, who gained more than 3 yards on just one of the plays.
  • The Broncos consistently won the line of scrimmage in the game and in what may be one of the bigger differences between this year’s defense and last year’s is it won the line of scrimmage in both their bigger base personnel as well as in the lighter specialty packages in the nickel and dime. Of the Chargers' first 15 plays from scrimmage, six went for negative yardage. For the game the Broncos forced the Chargers into eight plays for negative yardage, including two sacks on Rivers. That total doesn’t include cornerback Aqib Talib's tackle on Oliver for a 5-yard loss in the third quarter, a play that was negated by an illegal use of the hands penalty on defensive tackle Marvin Austin.
  • Kicker Brandon McManus continues to show a power leg since the Broncos made the decision to keep him over Matt Prater. But the jury is still out as to how McManus will react to a kick with the game in the balance. But long before Prater showed his late-game consistency, nobody knew how Prater would react, either. Kickers don’t get to rehearse those, they have to go through them and earn their way. But McManus has dealt with a groin injury at least some since he was retained -- he was held out of one practice in each of the past two weeks. Both of his misses this season -- he's now 6-of-8 -- have come from 53 yards and both he hooked left, the second of which came Thursday night. That is often an indication of a too-aggressive leg swing on approach to the ball or a slight shift in the plant foot. It will bear watching in the coming weeks.
  • Much like they did in training camp the Broncos continue to battle some ball security issues in the return game as Isaiah Burse caught a punt Thursday night with his back toward the coverage unit and Andre Caldwell lost a fumble, though the official ruled after a replay review that he was down before the ball came out on a 30-yard kickoff return in the second quarter. Replays showed the ball moving before his forearm made contact with the ground. Overall the Broncos are currently 26th in the league in punt returns and ninth on kickoff returns.
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. – If the past accounts for anything Thursday night, Denver Broncos rookie cornerback Bradley Roby can expect, and should expect, Philip Rivers to put Roby on the hot seat.

Because when the San Diego Chargers came to Denver last December, on a short week, for a Thursday night game, Rivers looked early and often at then-rookie cornerback Kayvon Webster. Rivers repeatedly tested Webster in last season’s 20-13 Chargers victory, a total that included a 14-yard completion to Vincent Brown in the first quarter, a 12-yard completion to Eddie Royal in the second quarter, a 10-yard touchdown throw to Keenan Allen in the second quarter, and a 32-yard completion to Brown in the third quarter.

[+] EnlargePhilip Rivers
Christian Petersen/Getty ImagesPhilip Rivers could look to single out rookie cornerback Bradley Roby on Thursday.
“I told Kayvon at the time, those were about Philip’s accuracy," said Broncos cornerback Chris Harris Jr. “There are always technique things you can do, footwork, at the line of scrimmage, but Kayvon was in the right spot a lot of time, it’s just Philip is accurate and he challenges everybody. He doesn’t care who you are; he would challenge Champ [Bailey]. I think he’ll come after me, too, because he has in the past."

Roby, who was the Broncos' first-round pick in this past May’s draft, has been tossed into the mix from his first day in the Broncos complex. Right from Roby’s first day, defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio told the rookie he would have to “earn his way," and that Roby shouldn’t be surprised if he couldn’t crack the rotation right way.

The Broncos also tested Roby early in training camp, with both offensive coordinator Adam Gase and wide receiver Demaryius Thomas having said they “picked on’’ Roby plenty in those early practices. It was all for the greater good, however, for both Roby and the defense.

Because even then Del Rio had high hopes for Roby in the defense and one of the most important things for a young defensive back to do in the NFL is bounce back from mistakes, to survive, with some semblance of confidence intact, when the league’s best behind center find where you are in the coverage.

“I think it’s always the way where you, as a young player, have to keep fighting in there," is how defensive tackle Terrance Knighton, a defensive captain, has put it. “Guys in this league are going to test you, every game. If you can’t keep coming back, they’ll keep coming after you."

“I want them to trust me," Roby said. “I always say I want to be one of the reasons we win the game."

Del Rio has moved Roby all over the formation and figures to do it again against the Chargers. Roby, who didn’t play much, or ever, in the slot at Ohio State, has been put there plenty by Del Rio. Del Rio has matched Roby up on the likes of Reggie Wayne, Larry Fitzgerald and Michael Crabtree while even adding Roby to the pass rush in recent weeks.

Roby has played on 78.8 percent of the team’s defensive snaps this season and is third on the team in passes defensed – behind only the starting cornerbacks, Harris and Aqib Talib.

“You can’t be frustrated with guys like Rivers, [Tom] Brady or Peyton [Manning]," Harris said. “You can’t get frustrated with those guys. They’re going to make some tough throws into some tight coverages and you’ve just got to line back up to the next play. I remember last year, Kayvon had some great coverage and [Rivers] was able to just fit the ball in. So you can’t be discouraged. We’re definitely going to make those throws a challenge. He’s going to have to make some perfect throws. … And whoever is out there with us will be ready."
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- There is no question the Denver Broncos (4-1) have earned their way thus far.

Sunday night, when they face the San Francisco 49ers (4-2) in Sports Authority Field at Mile High, it will mark the fifth time in six games the Broncos have faced a team that won at least 10 games last season.

Though things certainly change from one year to the next, the Broncos have already waded through three defenses ranked among the league’s top 14 in scoring defense (the Chiefs, the Cardinals and the Seahawks) and the 49ers will be the fourth.

With that, some things to keep an eye on:
  • Manning
    Start with the record. Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning needs three touchdown passes to break Brett Favre’s record of 508. The 49ers are physical up front, they have consistently affected the timing of opposing offenses, and the Broncos have had particular trouble holding their ground in pass protection in the middle of the formation. Many defensive coaches say they think defenses should attack the gaps between center Manny Ramirez and guards Orlando Franklin and Louis Vasquez. The 49ers will do the same, especially with Justin Smith working from the right side of the 49ers defensive line. There are big plays to be made against the San Francisco secondary, but most quarterbacks don’t get enough time to find them.
  • To that end the Broncos have flashed more of a power look in the past two games and found a little more of a run game to go with it. They lined up tackle Paul Cornick as a tight end 11 times in the win against the Arizona Cardinals and 21 times in the win against the Jets. However, it will be a surprise if the 6-foot-6, 310-pound Cornick doesn’t get a long look to start at right tackle at some point in the near future. The Broncos have been out of sorts on the offensive line with four of the starting five flagged for penalties against the Jets, and New York consistently created pressure rushing just three, a situation that demands attention before it is imitated the rest of the way by Denver opponents.
  • Gore
    The Broncos have consistently talked about limiting 49ers running back Frank Gore on Sunday. No question that is key, because the 49ers' offense has found a little bit of a groove since sort of "re-discovering" Gore over the past three weeks. Early in the season the 49ers seemed a little enamored with their impact players at wide receiver like Brandon Lloyd, Michael Crabtree, Anquan Boldin and Stevie Johnson, and got away from what they do best -- grind away at a defense. Gore has two 100-yard games over the past three weeks, but the Broncos have handled their business against opposing running backs well overall. They have, however, let mobile quarterbacks escape at times, particularly the Seahawks’ Russell Wilson in Week 3 when Wilson got loose several times in overtime. The Broncos have keep the 49ers' Colin Kaepernick hemmed in, which means Denver's Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware have to be particularly disciplined in the rush and not get themselves deeper in the backfield than Kaepernick. The 49ers are stout along the offensive line, so the Broncos will need their marquee players to play a top-tier game.
  • The 49ers have run the ball on 55 percent of their first-and-10 plays this season, 63 percent of the time on second-and-5 and 55 percent on second-and-6. That is a heavier run total than most offenses these days, so the Broncos will have to defend the run out of their lighter specialty packages at times in the nickel (five defensive backs) and dime (six defensive backs).
  • The 49ers put plenty of size on the field at wideout -- their top four receivers are at least 200 pounds, and three of them (Crabtree, Johnson and Boldin) are at least 6-foot-1. The Broncos can match up better with their current group of cornerbacks, with rookie Bradley Roby added to the mix, than they could have last season. Boldin is proficient in the short to intermediate areas, so Roby or Chris Harris Jr. will have to keep him from being a reliable option for Kaepernick late in the play. Eleven of Boldin’s 32 receptions this season have come on third down.
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Aqib Talib returned the first pass he intercepted for the New England Patriots 54 yards for a touchdown.

Talib had to wait to repeat that feat with the Broncos -- he had an interception return for a touchdown against the Kansas City Chiefs called back in Week 2 because of a penalty -- but his first official interception for the Broncos came with just 15 seconds remaining Sunday when he returned it 22 yards for a score.

"That's twice the first one went for a touchdown," Talib said. "In New England and now with Denver ... man, I want to add to the list."

So, with that in mind, after a long look at the game video, here are some thoughts on the Broncos' defense and special teams:

  • [+] EnlargeAqib Talib
    AP Photo/Bill KostrounAqib Talib returned his first interception with the Broncos for a touchdown.
    In John Elway's first four drafts as the team's top football decision-maker the Broncos' first selection has been a defensive player. Von Miller, Sylvester Williams and Bradley Roby were first-round picks while Derek Wolfe was taken in the second round in 2012 after the Broncos had traded out of the opening round. Couple that with all of the free-agency capital the Broncos expended on the defense this past March, including Talib, and the Broncos are just beginning to enjoy the fruits of those labors. What it all means will have to wait, but when the Broncos lost in overtime in Seattle they were 30th in the league in yards allowed per game (390.7) and 16th in points allowed per game (22.3). After they had concluded their business against the Jets' struggling offense -- the Jets are near, or at, the bottom of the league in most significant passing categories -- the Broncos are now 4th in the league in yards allowed per game (318.2) and seventh in the league in scoring defense (20.8 points allowed per game). Granted playing the Cardinals No. 2, and then No. 3, quarterbacks didn't hurt their rankings and neither did Geno Smith's struggles. But it is the trend the Broncos both wanted, and needed, with a plan that has been several years in the making. Or as Elway has said "so we don't put Peyton in a position to have to do everything with the offense. We want the defense to have its own identity about how it plays."
  • The Broncos' current regime, especially Elway, has always liked the multi-taskers at linebacker, the guys with enough physicality to play along the line of scrimmage if they had to as well as the agility to play in the open in the team's specialty packages. And they're willing to go a little smaller behind their defensive tackles to get those players on the field. Enter seventh-round pick Corey Nelson, whose four years in what he called "a pro-style defense" at Oklahoma, has enabled him to move into the lineup. Nelson first caught the Broncos' eye enough to be kept on the 53-man roster after the preseason as the eighth linebacker. Then Nelson made a big enough impression on special teams to be used on defense, albeit for just two snaps against the Seattle Seahawks. But has done enough in practice since that when Danny Trevathan left Sunday's game on the second defensive snap it was Nelson, not Nate Irving, who came into the game as the second linebacker in the nickel, alongside Brandon Marshall. Nelson was credited with a team-leading seven tackles in the game and showed the ability to get off blocks and good instincts to the ball. "I feel like that's what they brought me in for—for my talents and abilities, that's what they wanted me to do," Nelson said. "So I was able to do it. But I definitely feel like that's a strength that I have, and that they're using." Nelson flashed as a productive pass-rusher in some situations at Oklahoma, especially in his sophomore season, so that is something else the Broncos could add to his to-do list in the coming weeks.
  • The Broncos, in large part, have kept rookie receiver Cody Latimer out of the game day lineup because wide receiver Andre Caldwell returns kickoffs and wide receiver Isaiah Burse returns punts. So, despite showing enough chops in the preseason to be legitimate deep threat as well as a matchup problem in the scoring zone, Latimer continues to take what can be a bumpy ride on the learning curve in the audible-heavy Broncos' offense. But in the big picture it's worth noting the Bronco are currently just 30th in kickoff returns (21.6 yards per return) with just four returns in their five games and 27th in punt returns at 5.2 yards per return. The Broncos are also one of just six teams in the league with at least 10 fair catches. After a shaky training camp on all fronts in the return game, the Broncos have made what they believe are the best, and safest, choices for their game day 46 without using a starter like Emmanuel Sanders or Wes Welker in the return game because of the threat of injury. But at least part of the price tag for all of it is Latimer without a uniform on game day.
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- With a few high-profile new faces, a few high-profile players coming back from their 2013 injuries, the Denver Broncos have said the defense they have been in the season's first month will not be the defense they are as the season goes on.

“I think everybody is getting more and more comfortable with what we’re doing,’’ said defensive tackle Terrance Knighton. “We’re getting there, we’re not there, but we’re getting there.’’

And with the Arizona Cardinals forced into using No. 3 quarterback Logan Thomas, a rookie, during Sunday’s 41-20 Broncos victory, the Broncos held the Cardinals to just 215 net yards, including 37 yards rushing.

After a long look at the game video, here are some thoughts on the Broncos’ defense and special teams:
  • After allowing the Cardinals to keep the ball 12 and 10 plays on the game’s first two drives -- both ended with field goals -- the Broncos forced 10 three-and-outs by the Cardinals’ offense. Some of that was due to injuries. Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer was a game day inactive and No. 2 quarterback Drew Stanton was knocked out of the game early in the third quarter after a hit by Von Miller. There were at least eight dropped passes by Cardinals receivers and backs, but it was exactly the kind of defensive tempo coordinator Jack Del Rio has talked about. Take out an ill-advised throw in coverage from Thomas to running back Andre Ellington that somehow turned into an 81-yard catch-and-run for a score, and after the first quarter the Cardinals gained 35 yards in the other 12 possessions combined.
  • The Broncos continue to be bold with the use of rookie cornerback Bradley Roby and while other rookies have received more attention this year, you’d be hard-pressed to find one tossed into the kind of situations Roby has found himself in week-to-week. The Broncos matched him up with Reggie Wayne in the season opener, have played him in the slot at times after Roby didn’t play there in college and Sunday let him fend for himself at times against Larry Fitzgerald. The Cardinals’ passing attack went into the cooler for the most part when Stanton left the game -- the 81-yard touchdown was Thomas’ only completion -- but Fitzgerald finished with 57 yards on three catches. Roby gets caught in off coverage at times, but is resilient and doesn’t seem to let the tough plays bother him. It gives the Broncos the option to move Chris Harris Jr. in and out of the slot when they need to -- Harris Jr. played there against the Seahawks’ and Percy Harvin in Week 3 -- which also gives them the ability to adapt to the team on the schedule each week far more than they’ve been able to do in the previous two seasons of Jack Del Rio’s tenure.
  • Knighton said it best when he was asked about Miller following Sunday’s game when he said “I just feel bad for quarterbacks now.’’ The Cardinals tried to handle Miller with right tackle Bobby Massie much of the time and it didn’t go well for Arizona. Miller continues to show more of the coveted “bend’’ for elite pass--rushers -- the ability to get the shoulder under the opposing tackle's and still maintain his speed to the corner. It was Miller’s most elite trait at his best before his ACL surgery and his intentional weight gain following his suspension. His flexibility has returned as he dropped some weight and what it means is the double teams soon will return as well. And that will bring difficult choices as Del Rio can than add extra rushers into the middle of the formation, especially out their rush packages in the nickel and dime while DeMarcus Ware will find more room as well. It will be something to keep an eye on given 13 teams have surrendered at least 11 sacks to this point and the Broncos will face three of them over the next four games (Jets, 49ers and Patriots) and five over the next eight games.
  • In their last two games the Broncos have surrendered just one run of more than 9 yards -- a 12-yarder to the Seahawks’ Marshawn Lynch in Week 3. The Cardinals did not have a run longer than 6 yards Sunday.
  • Safety T.J. Ward is the only Broncos defensive player to have played every snap in four games. Safety Rahim Moore has played all but three and cornerback Aqib Talib has played all but nine snaps.
  • Kicker Brandon McManus, in his first game since Matt Prater's release, was 2-of-3 Sunday, having hooked one wide left for a miss from 53 yards, while he may have also dented the left upright as one of his makes bounced through a little later. And most special teams coaches will tell you when a right-footed kicker like McManus hooks the ball like he did Sunday he usually is trying to drive the ball a little too hard when he doesn't have to. Jason Elam, as well as Prater, have often spoken of kicking to the distance and conditions in front of you. If it was just first-game adrenaline, at least first game since the job was his, all is well as he learns the local conditions. MetLife Stadium, as was Giants Stadium in the same set of parking lots in past years, is notoriously blustery and will be another gauge for McManus' progress.

One has been a league power broker, one wants to be.

And when the Denver Broncos and Arizona Cardinals get together Sunday afternoon in Sports Authority Field at Mile High, the Broncos (2-1) will try to knock some of the rough edges off while the Cardinals (3-0), one of just two teams to arrive to Week 5 undefeated, will try to show they are ready to be at the front of the line.

Cardinals reporter Josh Weinfuss and Broncos reporter Jeff Legwold take a look at the game.

Legwold: At 3-0, how do the Cardinals see themselves? Upstart in NFC? Or team that believes it should have made the playoffs last year and is ready to take the next step to be in this postseason mix this time around?

Weinfuss: If there's one thing the Cardinals don't see themselves as, it's an upstart team. That much was instilled in them by Bruce Arians last season. Especially after upsetting Seattle at home last December, this team believed it should've been in the playoffs. And with how they played in the second half of the season, it's hard to argue with them. But the Cardinals who returned this year learned a lot from last season's first half, most notably how important it is to win those early games. What they're doing now isn't a surprise to those who pay attention to this team, and a lot of it is a direct result of Arians' demeanor. His straight-shooting personality -- curse 'em out on the field but hug 'em off of it -- has rubbed off on everyone in the locker room. It has led to this team to believe it could win for the first time since Kurt Warner was here.

Speaking of learning from last year, what was the main thing the Broncos took away from last season's loss in the Super Bowl, and how have they used it in 2014?

Legwold: The main thing GM John Elway took away was he wanted far better personnel on defense and some more receivers who could battle their way through physical play from defensive backs. The result was an offseason spending spree that reeled in DeMarcus Ware, Aqib Talib and T.J. Ward on defense to go with wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders. The Broncos also used a first-round pick in the draft on cornerback Bradley Roby and a second-rounder on wide receiver Cody Latimer. So, the 35-point loss certainly forced a roster makeover and for the holdovers it did provide plenty of incentive as they went through the offseason workouts. There is a feeling, after the overtime loss to the Baltimore Ravens in the divisional round of the 2012 playoffs followed by the Super Bowl blowout, of trying to finally close the deal this time around.

In terms of roster makeover, with all that has happened to the Cardinals' defense with the injuries, etc., how have they pushed themselves into the league's top five?

Weinfuss: Nobody expected Arizona to be among the league's top five defenses this year after losing the likes of Karlos Dansby and Daryl Washington before the season and then Darnell Dockett during training camp and John Abraham in the first few weeks of the year. But credit must be given to the Cardinals' front office. The brain trust has done a good job of finding veterans who still have gas in the tank, such as linebacker Larry Foote and defensive lineman Tommy Kelly. But the biggest reason for the defense's success is defensive coordinator Todd Bowles. His single-gap scheme revitalized this defense last year and all he has been doing is adding wrinkles here and there to adjust to his personnel. For example, Arizona is running a lot of nickel and dime packages because it gets rookie safety Deone Bucannon on the field. For as good of an offensive mind as Arians is, Bowles is his equal on the defensive side.

Have the additions to the Broncos' defense been paying off? Or is it too early to see a difference? Do you think they'll be the difference between another ring and a consolation prize?

Legwold: The new arrivals have all had impact in the season's early going. Ware leads the team in sacks (2.5), Talib has been every bit the No. 1 corner they hoped he would be and Ward is one of two players on defense who have played every snap in the first three games, having been used in a variety of roles. The Broncos have seen enough from Roby. They've tossed him into the deep end of the pool as the rookie and he has matched up with some of the league's front-line receivers. All of that said, however, the Broncos still haven't consistently shown the kind of play they'll need to hoist a trophy, particularly on third down. As linebacker Von Miller and cornerback Chris Harris Jr., who both had ACL injuries last season, continue to work back to full speed, the Broncos should continue to improve. Also, linebacker Danny Trevathan, who was the team's leading tackler last season and who suffered a fracture on the top of his tibia in training camp, will play in his first game of the season Sunday. It will mean the Cardinals will be the first team to face the revamped defense with all of the starters in place.

Sticking to defense, Manning heads into this game with 499 career touchdown passes. Between the two of them, Cardinals' assistant head coach/offense Tom Moore and head coach Bruce Arians have seen many of those up close as former Colts assistants. To that end, with that kind of up-close-and-personal knowledge, how do you think the Cardinals will defend Manning and the Broncos' offense?

Weinfuss: One thing the defense has stayed consistent on this week is that they don't want to tip their hand to Manning before the snap. With that being said, I think they'll blitz him constantly -- all three of his sacks this season have come off the blitz, which, I can imagine, was good news to Bowles. But they won't blitz Manning like they'll blitz other quarterbacks because he's so good at adapting so quickly. Arizona plans on giving Manning the same look every snap. But guys who have played Manning know he'll wait until the very last second to make a decision because the defense will have to show their blitz by then, but the Cardinals will try to hold their disguise as long as possible.

With Manning coming up on such a historic mark, has it been a distraction for this team in the sense of more non-football attention has descended upon them? Are they ready for Manning to pass Brett Favre so they can just get back to focusing on football?

Legwold: One thing about this team is the swirl around them doesn't get to them very often. Last season they had Miller's suspension in training camp, John Fox's open-heart surgery during the bye week and five defensive starters on injured reserve by the time they were preparing to play in the Super Bowl. The Super Bowl loss may have been the first, and worst, time for the Broncos not to play to the level of a game's standing last season. Before the title-game blowout, they had handled everything that had come their way without losing their edge. This time around players here simply assume Manning will hit 500 and then go on and break the record through the natural course of things. The record is nice, but they want another shot at the title and, for the most part, they see whatever happens along the way as issues that must be dealt with to get that chance.
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- With Arizona Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer a question mark for Sunday's game, Denver Broncos defensive players say they don't need to know who their opponent will put behind center and that they will concern themselves with the plays they believe whomever is in the lineup will run.

[+] EnlargeDrew Stanton
Jim McIsaac/Getty ImagesDrew Stanton's completion percentage is significantly lower than the ailing Carson Palmer's, but whichever Cardinals quarterback the Broncos face Sunday won't pose much of a running threat.
Palmer, who has missed the past two games with shoulder woes, was excused from Cardinals practice Wednesday and is set to visit with a specialist this week because of continuing issues. Should Palmer not be in the lineup -- he is doubtful to play in Sports Authority Field at Mile High at this point -- the Cardinals would start Drew Stanton for the third consecutive week.

Stanton is 2-0 this season filling in for Palmer. Before it was known Palmer was going to miss Wednesday's practice, Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians described Palmer's recovery as "still waiting to see, still doing a lot of treatment with it."

"They don't care who plays quarterback," said Broncos cornerback Aqib Talib, referencing the Cardinals' 3-0 start. "So we shouldn't care who plays quarterback."

The Broncos say both quarterbacks are largely pocket passers, so the Cardinals' offense has looked similar with either thus far. Palmer's 37 pass attempts in the season opener against the San Diego Chargers are still the season high, but Stanton has thrown 29 and 33 passes in the Cardinals' past two games.

Stanton's completion percentage was significantly lower -- 48.3 and 54.5 percent in the past two games -- than Palmer's 64.9 in the opener. But the Cardinals have been able to move the ball when they've needed to, and wide receiver Michael Floyd leads the league in yards per catch at 22.9 in an offense willing to take its chances down the field at times.

"They don't change their offense. They're going to run the same plays," Broncos head coach John Fox said. "It looks very familiar to the old Steeler days. They call mash, or power … they're going to establish the run. And they're going to take shots down the field; they're going to take seven or eight [deep passes] a game."

The sample size is small at just three games, but Stanton has also targeted the team's pass-catchers roughly the same as Palmer did in the opener. Floyd and Larry Fitzgerald lead the way with 22 and 21 targets, respectively, while Cardinals rookie wide receiver John Brown has been targeted five, four and six times in the team's three games.

"They're both pocket quarterbacks, so we treat them both the same way," Broncos cornerback Chris Harris Jr. said. "… When you look at it, you see them with the same progressions. There are some throws Carson Palmer may do more, but the offense is the offense and that's how we have to approach it."

Overall, the Broncos would seem to get their first chance to rush a quarterback who, in either case, hasn't run that often this season. The Broncos have faced Andrew Luck, Alex Smith and Russell Wilson in their three games, so either Palmer or Stanton -- 12 carries combined -- would likely bring a different, more aggressive approach in the pass rush than the Broncos have shown to this point.

The Cardinals' receivers -- with Floyd, Fitzgerald to go with the rookie Brown -- have the Broncos' attention as well.

"Those three receivers, I think it's probably the toughest receivers we've played so far," Harris said. "Big, physical receiver guys. Their quarterback [Stanton], he loves to throw shots, throw deep. That's something that I've been doing extra myself, just catching a lot of deep balls getting ready for that."

"I definitely agree," Talib said. "These guys, they get vertical and they catch that ball. As a DB, that's the ball you don't want caught on you, and that's the one they're going to throw 8-10 times. Like I said, they're going to give you a whole bunch of them.”
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- For the Denver Broncos, the Arizona Cardinals will present an odd mix in the preparation for Sunday's game in Sports Authority Field at Mile High.

On one hand, when the Broncos divvy up the assignments in their secondary, Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald is going to be at the top of the things-to-do list. Fitzgerald is an eight-time Pro Bowl selection who has often made the ridiculous look routine throughout his career.

[+] EnlargeBradley Roby
Jack Dempsey/AP PhotoBroncos CB Bradley Roby spent most of his Week 1 night covering Colts WR Reggie Wayne.
But in a still-youthful season when quarterback Carson Palmer has missed two of the Cardinals first three games because of a shoulder injury -- backup Drew Stanton is 2-0 as a starter this season -- Fitzgerald doesn't lead the team in catches, yards receiving or touchdowns. In fact three of the four Cardinals touchdown receptions this year are by rookie wide receiver John Brown.

So, for the Broncos it means giving Fitzgerald the attention he warrants and still finding a way to handle the rest. Beyond Fitzgerald, the Broncos will have keep Michael Floyd from the big play -- he leads the league in yards per catch at 22.9 -- and match Brown's speed.

Floyd, at 6-foot-3, 225 pounds, is one of the biggest receivers in the league. The Broncos have added far more size to their coverage looks with Aqib Talib and rookie Bradley Roby for just this kind of scenario.

Talib is really the match-up cornerback for the Broncos now, so he would figure to see plenty of Fitzgerald, but the Broncos have also shown their willingness to use Roby in a variety of 1-on-1 situations on upper-tier receivers. Roby has played both outside and in the slot already this season and the Broncos left him to fend for himself against Reggie Wayne in the season opener.

"I didn't really play the slot in college," Roby said. "Things happen fast, you have to be ready, get yourself to the spot and be ready to battle."

In a nod to their increased versatility, the Broncos moved Chris Harris Jr. back into the slot against the Seattle Seahawks in the Broncos' Sept. 21 game, largely to cover Percy Harvin. Brown is a similar type of player, though a smaller-framed player than Harvin, but the 175-pounder was one of the fastest players at this past February's scouting combine (a 4.34 clocking in the 40-yard dash).

At Pittsburg State, Brown lined up at running back as well as wide receiver while also returning punts and kickoffs. He took his first touch in his first game at the school for a punt return touchdown.

Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians, who has called plays in offenses that have played both wide open and a slug-it-out style in his career, has quickly found a niche in the Cardinals' offense for the rookie. And teams who have deployed to deal with Floyd and Fitzgerald have, too often, left Brown either running away from man coverage or zipping unattended through zone coverage.

The Broncos, who have played out of their nickel package (five defensive backs) just under 60 percent of the time thus far, figure to keep to that schedule in Sunday's game. The Broncos have even used it in some run-first, down-and-distance situations because they like the speed it gives them in the formation.

"I went back in the slot (against the Seahawks) and I don't think many people thought I would be back in the slot all time against somebody," said Harris Jr. "But we can line up a lot of ways and we have to because we're going to play teams with good receivers looking to move them around. But I think we can do more things this year against that."
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. – Denver Broncos defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio knows all about bend-but-don’t-break defense.

It’s just he’s not all that interested in either.

“I’m not looking for any bend," Del Rio said this week. “But at the end of the day, we want to make plays. It just so happens that we’re giving ourselves a chance and then coming up with plays to stop people from scoring in key moments. So that’s the good part: The resiliency, the determination, those are the good things. And we want to clean it up and not let it get like that. But it’s a constant battle … So like I said, we’re hard at work. We’re aware of things that need to be better. We’re working hard to make sure they get better."

When the Broncos take the field Sunday against the Seattle Seahawks, the plan was for the Broncos’ remade defense to have shown itself ready for a Super Bowl rematch, for the defense to have shown it can be what both Del Rio and the players have said they believe it could be, and that’s a top-five unit. And two weeks into the regular season, the new faces have had plenty of impact, and the group has made a fourth-down, game-clinching play in each of the first two victories, over the Indianapolis Colts and Kansas City Chiefs.

But the Broncos also find themselves 28th in the league in yards allowed per game -- how the NFL ranks defenses statistically overall -- at 394.0 yards allowed per game and 14th in points allowed per game (20.5). The Broncos are tied for 10th in sacks (five), tied for ninth in interceptions (two) and have not yet recovered a fumble.

[+] EnlargeAndrew Luck
John Leyba/The Denver Post/Getty ImagesDeMarcus Ware and the Denver Broncos' defense are looking to make a bigger impact.
“I wouldn’t say we’re searching for anything," Broncos defensive end DeMarcus Ware said. “I always say there is room for improvement. We have all the players here, and we’re playing good enough to win games. But you’ve got to have those shutout games, those games you want to have on defense -- those big turnover games, interceptions, getting more pressure on the quarterback, keeping the quarterback in the pocket and not having those big games."

Against the Seahawks, it means having all of the above. It’s about keeping quarterback Russell Wilson under duress, limiting his escape routes. It’s about keeping running back Marshawn Lynch from controlling the tempo with yard after yard after contact. It’s about, for the Broncos, being far better than they were in the 35-point loss in Super Bowl XLVIII.

The defense received most of the attention in the offseason with the signings of Ware, cornerback Aqib Talib and safety T.J. Ward to go with first-round pick Bradley Roby this past May. But new faces, to go with the Broncos returning from stints on injured reserve -- linebacker Von Miller, safety Rahim Moore, cornerback Chris Harris Jr. and defensive end Derek Wolfe -- means the Broncos are still working to fit the pieces together.

That can be more difficult on defense, as teams rarely do in any practice what just might be the most important job on defense -- tackle at game speed. They can simulate, they can work on form and positioning, but they don’t get to see how they close the deal until the games get played. From the Seahawks' perspective, the group in front of them Sunday won't be close to the unit they faced in the Super Bowl, given at least seven projected starters on defense for the Broncos on Sunday did not play in the Super Bowl, and just two of the usual starters on defense -- defensive tackles Terrance Knighton and Sylvester Williams -- will be playing in the same spots as they did in the title game.

“We’re a real good unit," Del Rio said. “It’s early in the year. We’ve played well in spurts. We’ve played well in big moments. We’ve contributed to two wins. But we feel like there’s a lot of work yet to be done, and our guys all understand that. But we have a good group, and we’re working hard."

Said Moore: “We know what we have; we know what we can do. I’m not sure the last couple weeks we win both those games all the time in the past. We feel like we want to be on the field with the game on the line, we want that. We can play better, and we will. Every guy in here wants to show what we can do and keep getting the W's."

Broncos Rewind: Defense, special teams

September, 16, 2014
Sep 16
6:30
PM ET
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- The Denver Broncos’ re-vamped defense has made a fourth-down play in the closing minutes to preserve each of their two wins.

Now, in the weeks to come, the group is hoping to do a little better in the minutes that come before that.

[+] EnlargeJohn Fox and Aqib Talib
AP Photo/Jack DempseyJohn Fox will be imploring the Broncos to commit fewer penalties after they committed 23 in the first two weeks.
“I don’t think anybody is all hyped up about where we’re at," cornerback Chris Harris Jr said. “We know we have a lot of work to do to be what we want to be."

And after a long look at the video here are some thoughts on the team’s defense and special teams:

  • At times the Broncos have crossed the fine line between hard-charging and aggressive unit and being a unit that commits too many ill-timed, unforced errors. In the win over the Chiefs alone they had five offside penalties by four different players, a roughing the passer, and a flag for 12 men on the field. After two games the Broncos are tied with Chicago and Washington for fifth in penalties, having been flagged 23 times. The team’s defense has accounted for 13 of those flags, with only one of those having been declined. The offside penalties particularly stung this past Sunday, as one negated an interception return for a touchdown by Aqib Talib. The Broncos have surrendered six first downs by penalty as well in the first two games.

  • In 2012, the Broncos struggled covering opposing tight ends for much of the season. That year tight ends caught 81 passes against the Broncos for 948 yards and 11 touchdowns. The current group hasn’t reached that level of difficulty yet, but opposing tight ends have had some impact. This past Sunday the Chiefs’ two -- Travis Kelce and Anthony Fasano -- had a combined seven catches for 120 yards. Kelce did particular damage in the Broncos’ specialty looks on defense. Kelce had a 20-yard reception on a third-and-18 in the third quarter to go with a 20-yarder with just over two minutes remaining in the game. Both catches came with the Broncos rushing just three and dropping eight into coverage. That’s going to get a long look from the offensive coordinators still on the docket, unless the Broncos deter them in the coming weeks.

  • The Broncos have made it clear where they stand on the recoveries of Harris Jr. and safety Rahim Moore from their stints on injured reserve last season. Moore has played more total snaps than any player on the team, having been on the field for 159 of the Broncos 160 defensive snaps to go with 12 plays on special teams in two games. Harris Jr., just seven months removed from ACL surgery, played 80 of 86 defensive snaps against the Chiefs this past Sunday. That was after he had played 39 of 74 snaps against the Indianapolis Colts in Week 1. “I just felt like my conditioning was better, I felt better after working on it more last week," Harris Jr. said. “It just keeps getting better and better."

  • Whether it’s finding one undrafted rookie after another good enough to make their roster or signing somebody else’s castoff for a 1-year deal to get a player who ends up starting, the Broncos continue to pick players to help in specific roles. The swapped a conditional seventh-round draft pick for kicker Brandon McManus so McManus could fill in for Matt Prater, who is serving a four-game suspension for violating the league’s substance-abuse policy. And while McManus hasn’t been asked to kick with the game on the line -- he’s 2-of-2 on field goal attempts from 20 and 21 yards -- he has shown an NFL-worthy leg. With two home games in Denver’s altitude, he’s tied for the league lead in touchbacks (10) and tied for the league lead, with Baltimore’s Justin Tucker, for touchback percentage with both players at 10-of-11.
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- When some of the NFL’s officials rolled through the Denver Broncos complex during training camp to enlighten the team’s coaches and players on the rules changes for the season as well as the "points of emphasis," the Broncos saw one of their own on the training video shown to every team in the league.

In the portion of the video that discussed centers moving their heads or their hands too much before the snap in an effort to get defensive players to jump offside, it was the Broncos’ Manny Ramirez who was used as the example of what not to do.

[+] EnlargeJohn Fox
AP Photo/Jack DempseyJohn Fox saw his defense commit five offside penalties on Sunday, matching its total for 2013.
And after five offside penalties on Broncos defensive players Sunday, head coach John Fox believes not everybody got the memo, citing some “abrupt’’ movements from Kansas City Chiefs center Rodney Hudson.

Asked Monday for the root of four different defensive players being flagged for five offside penalties in Sunday’s 24-17 Broncos win, Fox said:

"They might have been a little abrupt. [That’s] something we’re, of course, going to turn in. I can’t speak about it, but we’ll turn it in."

One of those penalties, from defensive end Quanterus Smith late in the fourth quarter, negated an interception return for a touchdown by Broncos cornerback Aqib Talib. Fox also didn’t let his own players off the hook, either, as defensive end DeMarcus Ware was flagged twice to go with one penalty each for Smith, Von Miller and Terrance Knighton.

Because of crowd noise at Sports Authority Field at Mile High, the Chiefs used a silent count for much of the game -- "There was no cadence," Fox said.

"After maybe one or two, think we probably should have adjusted a little better," Fox said. "[But] the squatting and turning of the head fairly abruptly, you know, was something that we’ll make sure the league knows about."

Asked about the team viewing the training video this summer, Fox added: "Yeah, something we made people aware of. It didn’t work out so good."

"They had a really good snap count," Ware said. "There’s no excuse, it’s watching the ball. But when you have a lot of movement before the snap of the ball, you get a little antsy."

Last season the Broncos' defense was flagged for five offside penalties all year.

Before the season, officials were told to flag centers under the guidelines that "prior to the snap, any quick, or abrupt movement by any offensive players, or several offensive players in unison, which simulates the start of a play, is a foul."

The league's directive also said among the things to be penalized was to be "a center abruptly lifting or dropping his head not immediately followed by the snap."

In the league’s training video it was Ramirez who was shown quickly dropping his head without snapping the ball.

The NFL made it a point of emphasis given there were 33 neutral zone infractions by defenders flagged in 2005. Last season there were 132. Last year Broncos opponents were flagged seven times for neutral zone infractions and three for being offside.

John Fox: 'There are no cupcakes'

September, 14, 2014
Sep 14
9:00
PM ET
DENVER – Observed and heard in the Broncos' locker room after their win 24-17 over the Kansas City Chiefs Sunday:
  • The Broncos were left to explain what was on, at least some levels, an unsightly win. And while the scrappy, not-so-pretty wins were celebrated before Peyton Manning signed, the Broncos 11-penalty day where the Chiefs ran 29 more plays on offense than Denver did was not. It was enough to get coach John Fox’s hackles up . “We’re not going to win every game 58 to nothing,’’ Fox said. Fox later added: “There are no cupcakes, there never will be. They’re all tough and you feel good about all of [the wins].’’
  • The Broncos' defensive players all say they love the crowd noise, the thunder of stomping feet by those in the seats for their home games. But Sunday the Broncos struggled in their own stadium at times. The Broncos' defense had five offside penalties, including one by defensive end Quanterus Smith that negated what would have been a game-clinching interception return for a touchdown in the fourth quarter. “They had a really good snap count,’’ defensive end DeMarcus Ware said. “There’s no excuse, it’s watching the ball. But when you have a lot of movement before the snap of the ball, you get a little antsy.’’
  • The Broncos' defense has made a play on fourth down in the closing minutes to preserve a seven-point victory in each of the first two games. Last week it was rookie cornerback Bradley Roby knocking a pass away from Colts wide receiver Reggie Wayne and this week it was defensive tackle Terrance Knighton knocking down a pass on fourth down with 15 seconds to play. “We just got to end the game there,’’ cornerback Aqib Talib said. “We saw the clock, we saw the down and distance, defense just had to end that game. We like being on field last.’’
  • The Broncos came out of the game with two injuries -- to linebackers Lerentee McCray and Von Miller. Initially McCray’s looks to be more serious. He was taken to the locker room in the first quarter with a right knee injury and did not return. McCray will have an MRI on Monday, but after the preliminary exam there was some concern he could miss some time. Miller, who was not in the game during the Chiefs’ final drive, will be evaluated more on Monday as well.

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