Denver Broncos: DeMarcus Ware

W2W4: Broncos vs. Raiders

December, 27, 2014
Dec 27
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- The Denver Broncos, who spent the week with 20 players listed on the injury report (or 37.7 percent of the roster), could certainly use a weekend without a game before they begin whatever becomes of their playoff run.

And to earn that coveted bye during the wild-card weekend, they will have to defeat the Oakland Raiders Sunday in Sports Authority Field at Mile High. With a win, the Broncos can also finish out the regular season 8-0 at home for just the sixth time since the schedule went to 16 games and the first time since 2005.

"There is a lot at stake, there usually is, you only get 16 of these things," said Broncos head coach John Fox. "And a division opponent, a home record, a lot of things ride on this game. We're looking to play well."

With that, some things to keep an eye on:

Close the gaps: After allowing a season-high 207 yards rushing to the Bengals this past Monday night, including an 85-yard touchdown run by Jeremy Hill, the Raiders figure to pound away a bit in the run game just to see where things stand with the Broncos. Before Monday, the Broncos had not surrendered a run play longer than 27 yards this season. The Raiders have leaned on Latavius Murray more of late -- the Raiders have had two games this season when a back has had more than 18 carries and Murray has them both over the last three games. The Raiders have struggled mightily to run the ball at times this season -- they've averaged just 2.4 yards per carry on runs over the right guard, 3.3 yards per carry over the left guard -- but Murray has had a 90-yard touchdown run against the Chiefs and runs of at least 23 yards in four of his last five starts.

Rattle the rookie: Raiders quarterback Derek Carr learned at least some lessons from his brother David's body-bruising experiences as an NFL rookie quarterback. In David Carr's rookie season in 2002, he was sacked a league-record 76 times and some personnel executives in the league believed he never really recovered from that. Derek Carr has been sacked 21 times this season and has noticeably progressed since the last time the Broncos saw him on Nov. 9. Derek Carr was 30-of-47 passing for 192 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions in the Broncos' win in Oakland. Since that games, however, Carr has thrown just two interceptions in six games combined -- both against the St. Louis Rams Nov. 30. Carr has beaten the Chiefs, 49ers and Bills since the loss to the Broncos. He's shown composure in the pocket, the ability to feel, then move away from pressure. Broncos defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio said Friday he believes the Broncos have done good work in recent weeks against opposing quarterbacks, but Denver did not have a sack in their last two games -- a win in San Diego and a loss Monday in Cincinnati. Also, Von Miller has not had a sack in the last two games while DeMarcus Ware has not had a sack in the last three games.

Find themselves on offense: The Broncos have shown they can bust out the no-huddle, up-tempo look on offense as they did in a three-touchdown third quarter against the Bengals. And they've shown they can line up, dominate and leave bruises as they did in a 45-carry, 214-yard rushing day in the win at Kansas City to close out November. What they could really use on the doorstep to the playoffs is to show they can transition from one to the other in a game without losing their mojo. It's a lot to ask to be all things to all people, but it's a certainty as they move into the postseason opposing defenses are going to bank on the idea the Broncos aren't nearly as efficient going to Plan B in a game when Plan A doesn't work.

Protect the middle: After the Broncos shuffled their offensive front, they did a better job of closing down the middle of the formation and keeping defenses from getting a free rusher up into quarterback Peyton Manning's face. That is the most effective pressure against Manning as it limits his ability to stride into the throw, a must in his post-spinal fusion throwing motion, which is slightly more lower-body driven than he was earlier in his career. Manning needs that space to work in front of him and when the Broncos keep it clean, he is at his dominating best. When they don't, as they often didn't against the Bengals, bad things happen. Raiders rookie linebacker Khalil Mack has the look of a future Defensive Player of the Year and the Raiders did force the issue early in the Nov. 9 game, intercepting Manning twice and knocking down four passes before halftime.
video » Pro Bowl analysis: AFC | NFC » Complete roster


Peyton Manning, QB, 14th Pro Bowl selection: People have asked him about wobbly passes or if he’s hurt, and he had his first four-interception game since 2010. But at 38, Manning has led his team to 11 wins, he leads the league in touchdown passes with 39, and he is fourth in both passing yards (4,454) and passer rating (102.9). With a win Sunday, Manning and the Broncos will have the AFC’s No. 2 seed.

Whom he beat out: The Chargers' Philip Rivers, with former Broncos offensive coordinator Mike McCoy as his head coach, did not make the Pro Bowl cut, despite 31 touchdowns.

Demaryius Thomas, WR, Third Pro Bowl selection: Thomas is second in the league in receptions (103), third in receiving yards (1,504) and tied for seventh in touchdown receptions (11). He also became just the third receiver in league history with three consecutive seasons with at least 1,400 yards and at least 10 touchdown receptions.

Whom he beat out: There is no scenario that doesn't include Demaryius Thomas on the Pro Bowl roster, but Thomas' selection likely kept, for the most part, the Broncos' Emmanuel Sanders off the roster.

Julius Thomas, TE, Second Pro Bowl selection: Folks obviously gave Julius Thomas credit for his fast start. He had 12 touchdown receptions in the first nine games and led the league at that point. Since he injured his left ankle Nov. 16 against the St. Louis Rams, however, Thomas has not played in three games, and he had three catches combined in his past two games.

Whom he beat out: Thomas' back-to-back 12-touchdown seasons were part of the reason Antonio Gates didn't make it. Gates also has 12 touchdowns to go with 65 catches this season.

Ryan Clady, T, Fourth Pro Bowl selection: Clady has played through some lower-body injuries (groin and right thigh) this season, but he has often been the guy the Broncos have left singled-up in pass protection. Although this season’s injuries have affected him at times, especially as he continues to come back from last season’s foot surgery, Clady hasn’t had the consistency of previous years. But in a jumbled offensive line, Clady has been the guy the Broncos have consistently given the toughest jobs.

Whom he beat out: The Bengals' Andrew Whitworth will certainly make many snubbed lists, especially as the Bengals have pounded the ball in the run game in the season's second half.

DeMarcus Ware, DE, Eighth Pro Bowl selection: When Ware signed with the Broncos, John Elway said he liked to “sign Hall of Fame players with chips on their shoulders." Ware has 10 sacks through 15 games, and if he gets at least one more in the regular-season finale Sunday, he will, at age 30, have had his eighth career season with at least 11 sacks.

Whom he beat out: Three of the Buffalo Bills' defensive linemen made the Pro Bowl, but the one guy who didn't was Jerry Hughes, who has 9.5 sacks this season.

Von Miller, LB, Third Pro Bowl selection: Miller underwent ACL surgery last January and still rebounded with what might have been his best all-around season in terms of learning all facets of his job. He has 13 sacks (seventh in the league), leads the team in hits on the quarterback (27) and is second on the team in tackles for loss (14).

Whom he beat out: It's hard to remove Miller from the mix, but a player such as Oakland Raiders rookie Khalil Mack didn't have the sack numbers to get on the radar, though he has certainly played with down-to-down impact each week.

Aqib Talib, CB, Second Pro Bowl selection: Talib is tied for the team lead in interceptions with four and has been the physical presence at the position the Broncos wanted. He’s fourth on the team in tackles (59) and has consistently been active along the line of scrimmage, as well as being a reliable defender when matched up down the field.

Whom he beat out: The position didn't have the kind of snubs as some others, but there are guys with interceptions, such as Perrish Cox (five) and Leodis McKelvin (four).

Chris Harris Jr., CB, First Pro Bowl selection: After not finishing in the top 10 in fan voting at the position, Harris must have won the vote from players and coaches in a landslide. Harris has lined up all over the defensive formation this season -- he has taken snaps at both outside spots and in the slot on both sides of the formation -- which makes him one of the most versatile players at the position.

Whom he beat out: See above.

T.J. Ward, S, Second Pro Bowl selection: The Broncos signed three defensive players in free agency -- Talib, Ware and Ward -- and Ward’s selection to the Pro Bowl means all three players were selected for the all-star game. Ward has lined up at a traditional safety spot this season, has essentially played weakside linebacker in the specialty packages and played in coverage with the Broncos more than he was asked to do with the Cleveland Browns. He’s second on the Broncos in tackles (74), and the Broncos have spent much of the year as the league’s No. 2 run defense.

Whom he beat out: San Francisco 49ers safety Antoine Bethea played at a Pro Bowl level for a team that did not make the postseason.


Emmanuel Sanders, WR: Although it was Sanders who said when he signed with the Broncos last March that he was coming to “wide receiver heaven," the Broncos are thanking just as many lucky stars. Sanders is fifth in the league in receptions (95) and sixth in receiving yards (1,331) -- both career highs. He has also displayed remarkable toughness, as he has made impact plays lined up both on the outside in the formation and in the slot.

Whom he should have beaten out: It’s hard to bump anybody at receiver in these pass-happy times, and it's a little quirky to say a team that got nine Pro Bowl slots missed out on a couple, but Sanders’ ability all over the formation was worthy of a spot. Although it's difficult to say Calvin Johnson shouldn't be among the group, his injury-marred year wasn't to his usual standards.

Terrance Knighton, DT: Broncos linebacker Brandon Marshall was a snub on performance, given what he’s done as an every-down player to lead the Broncos in tackles, but Knighton makes what the Broncos do on early downs go and constantly surrenders his own opportunities at some statistics because his job is to clear the way for others.

Whom he should have beaten out: The Kansas City Chiefs are 28th in run defense and allow 128.3 yards per game, so Knighton's body of work is, according to several personnel executives, at a higher level than Dontari Poe's.
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- As DeMarcus Ware essentially dragged himself, willed himself really, through the 2013 season, his elbow hurt, his thigh hurt and sometimes his pride hurt.

"I just didn’t feel like myself," Ware said. "I tried to play, had some good moments, but the season didn’t go like I like seasons to go. I knew I had better in me."

So when the Dallas Cowboys released Ware last March, the profile was declining player coming off injury-filled season. But that is not what the Denver Broncos saw.

[+] EnlargeDeMarcus Ware
AP Photo/Jack DempseyDenver has limited pass-rusher DeMarcus Ware's workload this year, and he has responded with one of the best seasons of his career.
The Broncos looked down the road, projected a healed, managed, Ware into their defense, where the quality of the snap count would trump quantity. As executive vice president of football operations/general manager John Elway has put it; "We thought once he got healthy, and if we could put him in the situations where he could be his best, he had a lot of football left in him, a lot of football."

As the Broncos head down the stretch toward the postseason with Monday night’s game against the Cincinnati Bengals, the team has monitored how much football Ware plays and gotten his best because of it.

Fourteen games into the season, with what the Broncos hope are the biggest games still to be played, Ware has played 669 snaps on defense or 70.3 percent of the defensive plays. There are times on early downs, sometimes even on pass-rush downs, when Ware is on the sideline.

Quanterus Smith, who has played 279 snaps, or 29.3 percent of the defense’s plays thus far, is usually the one working in Ware’s defensive end spot as the Broncos pick their spots for their member of the 100-sack club.

The result has been that Ware, at 32 and in his 10th season, feels, and has played, as good as ever.

"I feel like this right here is probably at this time in my career the best I’ve ever felt," Ware said. "I don’t feel like there are any dings on my body where it’s prohibiting me from doing certain things. Every player gets out here and they’re sore or they’re tired -- that comes with football. But once you rehabilitate yourself and recoup during the week and feel 100 percent before each game, I’ve felt that way this year and it feels great."

The result has been 10 sacks to go with just the third interception of his career. The Broncos also hope it allows Ware to power his way down the stretch and in the playoffs.

Last season he had one sack over the Cowboys' last six games, and in 2012, when he finished with 11.5 sacks, he had 1.5 sacks over the last six games. Ware has one sack in the Broncos’ current four-game win streak -- it was against the Kansas City Chiefs.

"We use a lot of people," said defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio. "We want people to be in the best situations for us for what we need to get done ... We’re always going to have (Ware) in the best situations."

For Ware it’s all about playing in his first postseason game since the 2009 season, and all about trying to reach the title game for the first time in his career. Following the game in Cincinnati, the Broncos will close out the regular season in Denver against the Oakland Raiders, with Denver still clinging to a chance at home-field advantage in the AFC if the Broncos win both remaining regular-season games and the New England Patriots lose one of their last two games.

"Every game I feel like is a must-win game," Ware said. "You’ve got to think about it that way, because you want to go into the postseason on a high and motivated. You can look at a lot of teams around the league -- some of them are trying to get in, some of them are trying to get a berth or wild card or whatever it is. Every game you’ve got to play like it’s your last one."
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- In the end, Denver Broncos defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio sees it as simple math.

"In my mind you have two preferable ways to get the ball back for our offense," Del Rio said. "One is a turnover and we like turnovers. And the other is a three-and-out, and I like three-and-outs too. Those are my preferences, those are what I want to see, that's how we can get the ball back as many times as we can for Peyton [Manning] and our offense."

[+] EnlargeDeMarcus Ware, Von Miller
Kevin Terrell/AP ImagesDeMarcus Ware, Von Miller and the Broncos' defense have consistently forced opponents into second- and third-and-long situations.
And when it comes to turnovers this season, the Broncos have improved of late with a league-high eight takeaways over the last three games, but they are decidedly middle-of-the-road overall when it comes to their body of work in that department. Sixteen teams currently have more takeaways the Broncos do (21).

But three-and-outs? That's another matter entirely.

"I feel like we've had a lot," cornerback Chris Harris Jr. said. "I mean we always want more, but it feels like we've had a lot."

The Broncos can trust their feelings there. After 14 games the Broncos (11-3) have forced a three-and-out for a punt on 30.4 percent of possessions by opposing offenses. That total leads the league, as does the 52 three-and-outs to a punt the Broncos' defense has forced overall.

The docket includes 10 three-and-outs against the Arizona Cardinals (11-3), nine against the Oakland Raiders (2-12) and five in the Broncos' Nov. 30 win over the Kansas City Chiefs (8-6).

"You always want to get off the field," defensive tackle Terrance Knighton said. "It helps now that we're running the ball more on offense, because we're a little fresher when we get back out there. Maybe it hurts guys like Von [Miller] and DeMarcus [Ware] who, if we were on the field more, they'd probably be fighting for the sack lead ... But everybody on this defense wants to just win so for me, for everybody, let's get a three-and-out and get off the field."

The Broncos have certainly had their moments this season when they've let opposing offenses wriggle out third-and-long situations -- the Chiefs alone converted seven third downs in third-and-8 or longer in September -- but overall a run defense that is No. 2 in the league has consistently pushed offenses into second-and-long and third-and-long situations.

And, with some additional depth on defense as compared to last season, the Broncos have been able to move from their base defense on early downs, with Knighton and Sylvester Williams at defensive tackle to go with Derek Wolfe and Ware at defensive end, and then consistently hold the line when they go to some of their five-, six- and seven-defensive back looks.

In this past Sunday's win over the San Diego Chargers, the Broncos allowed one first-down rushing attempt for more than 5 yards in the game as eight of the Chargers' 12 first-down run plays in the game went for 3 or fewer yards.

Against the Buffalo Bills the week before, the Bills found a crease or two early in the game with first-down run plays of 7, 12 and 11 yards in the first quarter, but overall six of the 10 first-down rushing attempts in the game for the Bills went for 2 or fewer yards and after the first quarter the Bills only had one first down run of more than 2 yards.

"Those are the situations you want to keep putting offenses in," Harris said. "It's that one-dimensional thing. You stop the run, you make them throw and then we have the pass-rushers with Von and DeMarcus who are going to be waiting for their chances."

In all, the Broncos defense has allowed opposing offenses to gain an average of 4.75 yards per play, the lowest total in the league, just ahead of defensive heavyweights like Seattle (4.76 yards per play allowed), Detroit (4.89) and Buffalo (4.91). Those four teams are the only ones in the league allowing fewer than 5 yards per play on average.

"You're not going to do it, not going to force three-and-outs, limit what people do against you, if you're not pretty good on defense and we're pretty good on defense," Del Rio said. "But the time for looking at all those things comes later. Right now it's what's in front of you, how are you going to stop the next team. That's what I'm looking at. But that's not to say I'm not glad to hear all those things because I am glad to hear all those things. Now, we just need to be a little bit better each week."
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. – With the fan voting closed for the Pro Bowl as of Wednesday, Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning, defensive end DeMarcus Ware and linebacker Von Miller were among the leading vote-getters at their respective positions.

Manning finished second overall in the fan voting, to Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, with 1,013,739 votes. Rodgers had 1,015,004 vote. Manning and Rodgers were the only two players to receive more than one million votes.

Ware was second in voting at defensive end, behind J.J. Watt, with 380,659 votes and Miller led outside linebackers with 291,065 votes.

Players selected for the Pro Bowl will be announced Tuesday. The results from the fan voting as well as ballots from players and coaches in the league will be used to select the players. The Broncos players voted Monday and, by rule, could not vote for players on their own team.

Notable absences for the Broncos in the fan voting were cornerback Chris Harris Jr., who personnel executives around the league would rank among the best at his position, as well as linebacker Brandon Marshall. Harris Jr. did not finish among the top 10 at cornerback in the fan voting, while the Broncos other starting cornerback, Aqib Talib, did finish among the top 10 in the fan voting. Should Harris Jr. not make the game he will almost certainly, at least in NFL personnel circles, be considered one of the biggest snubs in the game.

Marshall, who leads the Broncos in tackles, was not among the top 10 in voting at linebacker. Defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio said in recent weeks Marshall was playing at a “Pro Bowl level.’’

On offense the Broncos’ Demaryius Thomas was third among wide receivers in fan voting, while Emmanuel Sanders was seventh. Tight end Julius Thomas was second among the top vote-getters at the position. Left tackle Ryan Clady was also among the top 10 in the fan voting at tackle while Louis Vasquez, who is currently starting at right tackle, was among the top vote-getters at guard, along with Orlando Franklin.

Special teams captain David Bruton Jr. was among the top five vote-getters for non-kickers on special teams as well.

Bills vs. Broncos preview

December, 5, 2014
Dec 5
When: 4:05 p.m. ET, Sunday Where: Sports Authority Field at Mile High, Denver TV: CBS

Denver Broncos cornerback Chris Harris pretty much spoke for any and all folks who still find themselves in the playoff conversation this week.

Asked what the Broncos (9-3) need to do over the last four games of the regular season, Harris said: "I've been saying, we need to treat every game like a playoff game because everybody we play is going to be looking at us like that. So, we need to be our best, play our best, because anybody we play is going to be doing that. You don't want to look back and think you let a game slip away."

The "fourth quarter" of the regular season, as Broncos coach John Fox calls it, starts with the Buffalo Bills' visit to Denver. The Bills (7-5) have designs on a playoff spot as well, and bring along a familiar face to Broncos fans in quarterback Kyle Orton.

Orton started 33 games for the Broncos before Denver's coaching staff benched him after the team's 1-4 start in 2011, replacing him with Tim Tebow. Orton won the most recent game he started against the Broncos -- a 7-3 Chiefs win to close out that '11 season after Denver had released him.

ESPN Bills reporter Mike Rodak and Broncos reporter Jeff Legwold take a look at Sunday's matchup.

Legwold: Mike, the Bills have had an ownership change this season, a home game in Detroit because of the enormous winter storm, and their share of injuries. How have they kept their balance, and do they feel like they are an ascending team?

Rodak: It definitely has been a season unlike any other for the Bills, especially when you consider their change at quarterback. From this perspective, players and coaches have shown poise throughout all of the bumps in the road. Buffalo's 38-3 win over the Jets at Ford Field two weeks ago was a good example of that: Despite the upheaval of its normal week of preparation, the team turned in its best all-around game of the season. Players have credited a long training camp (they stayed in dorms for nearly five weeks), an extra preseason trip to Canton, Ohio, and two days of joint practices with the Steelers on the road with helping the team bond. So when some of these outside factors have invaded, the team has responded well.

Jeff, I get the sense that Bills fans have some hope in this game after watching the Dolphins go into Denver a few weeks ago and nearly take down the Broncos. Between that game and Denver's loss to the Rams a week earlier, what made the Broncos so vulnerable?

Legwold: Denver's 22-7 loss to the Rams in St. Louis is certainly one that got most people's attention. So much so that this past Sunday, the Chiefs tried to run the same play the Rams used for a 63-yard scoring pass. It didn't work for the Chiefs, a small indication the Broncos learned at least some of their lessons from a bad outing in St. Louis. For the most part, the same formula gets the Broncos in trouble at times. They allow pressure on quarterback Peyton Manning in the middle of the field, they don't run the ball effectively enough to slow down opposing pass-rushers with play-action, and they don't defend the run well enough out of some of their specialty packages on defense. The hangover from the Rams loss lasted until almost halftime of the following week's game against the Dolphins, when the Broncos trailed Miami 21-10 with less than two minutes to go in the first half. But Manning and the Broncos put together an 80-yard touchdown drive before halftime, dominated the second half against the Dolphins, and overpowered the Chiefs this past Sunday. They've used a far more balanced look on offense -- 80 run plays over the past two games -- and it has settled things down on both sides of the ball.

Staying with the quarterbacks: Orton arrives to face his former employer with a team in the playoff mix. How has he played for the Bills?

Rodak: Orton has teetered between adequate and inadequate -- never truly great and never a disaster. His QBR since taking over the starting job is 44.1, which is ahead of only a handful of other quarterbacks, some of whom have lost their jobs. He's been worse over the past month than he was in his first month as the starter, losing some of his accuracy that made him an instant upgrade over EJ Manuel. Orton completed 67.4 percent of his passes and averaged eight yards per attempt over his first four starts. His completion percentage has dropped to 61.3 over his past four starts, while he's been averaging 5.81 yards per attempt. Yet it's still arguably better than what the Bills were getting from Manuel over the first four games -- a 58 percent completion rate and 6.4 yards per attempt -- so Orton remains the starter. As far as returning to Denver, Orton brushed off the notion of Sunday's game having any extra meaning when we asked him about it Wednesday. Of course, defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz also did that before the Bills' game in Detroit this year, and he ended up getting carried off the field, per his wishes. So you never know.

The strength of the Bills' defense is their line and its ability to create pressure, yet Manning is notorious for getting the ball out quickly. How well have opposing defenses been able to get pressure on Manning this season?

Legwold: The short answer is not very well overall. Manning, even with all of Denver's offensive line struggles, is still the least-sacked starter in the league (13 times). The Jets, 49ers and Rams are the only teams to have sacked him at least twice in a game. Those defenses that have some success usually have to do it with four rushers with the ability to drop seven players into coverage. Patriots coach Bill Belichick, who has had more success than most against Manning, routinely chooses coverage over pressure as he rushes three or four defenders at Manning much of the time. The pressure in the middle is the key since Manning tends to identify any potential pressure from the outside in his pre-snap work, and gets the ball out. Those teams that take away his ability to climb the pocket and step into his throws do far better against him. The Broncos, at least until the past two games, have surrendered more than their share of unblocked rushers in the A gaps. But as they have pounded out 201 and 214 yards rushing in the past two games, they slowed down the Dolphins' and Chiefs' fronts. The Raiders, Rams and Chiefs did bat down some of Manning's passes by making a conscious effort to get their hands up into the throwing lanes when they couldn't get to Manning.

In that vein, the Bills lead the league in sacks, and Marcell Dareus was a player the Broncos took a long look at in 2011 when they selected Von Miller. How aggressive do you think the Bills will be in coming after Manning?

Rodak: I wouldn't expect them to blitz much. First of all, that's not their forte; they've done an excellent job generating pressure just from their four-man line, which includes three Pro Bowlers and can be considered the best in the NFL. Because of their strength up front, they've blitzed on just 19.8 percent of plays, the third-lowest rate in the league. Second of all, I don't think blitzing Manning is the wisest idea, given his ability to diagnose defenses and get the ball out quickly. Manning averages 2.22 seconds before he passes, the quickest rate in the NFL. The better strategy from the Bills may be to drop more players into coverage. There aren't many weaknesses on this defense, but their secondary and linebackers have shown some vulnerability when their front four isn't as effective. Having the numbers advantage against the Broncos' receivers should help.

Opposing defenses have tried (and succeeded) in taking Sammy Watkins out of the Bills' most recent games, whether it's been by "rolling" coverage or putting a top cover man on the rookie. How well-equipped are the Broncos to do that?

Legwold: When all hands are in the lineup, the Broncos have two matchup cornerbacks in Aqib Talib and Harris. That gives them more flexibility than most in how they disperse their resources in coverage. Champ Bailey said last month that Harris is playing "the best of anybody at his position in the league," and the Broncos use Harris all over the formation since he has been the nickel cornerback early in his career, so he can play the outside spots or in the slot on either side of the formation with equal comfort. Rookie Bradley Roby has also played well enough. He should get at least some consideration for defensive rookie of the year. The Broncos do play more man coverage than most teams in the league, so there is always potential for a big play if a receiver can win the matchup down the field before Miller and DeMarcus Ware disrupt things up front. Miller and Ware are a key part of the coverage equation as well. Overall, the Broncos have surrendered just 11 pass plays of more than 25 yards, and no team has had more than two pass plays of more than 25 yards in any game against them this season. There are opportunities for offenses, it's just that when receivers have found some room to get open, Miller and Ware have closed the deal before the quarterback can deliver the ball.

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. – In a league that puts its franchise quarterbacks on the tallest of pedestals as indispensable, coveted, oh-so-rare pieces of the championship equation, most pass-rushers have a slightly different view as they try to tackle the glamour guys.

DeMarcus Ware is in his 10th season chasing quarterbacks ans is part of the 100-sack club (127 and counting, with 10 this season). Ware said a skittish quarterback has a certain, well, odor.

Talking about a near-sack or two in the Broncos' victory over the Kansas City Chiefs this past Sunday night, Ware said Thursday: “At least I felt the quarterback, smelled him a little bit."

Asked what a nervous quarterback smelled like, Ware offered:

“Like smelly socks, jersey that’s been sitting in his locker for a long time, little skittish, you see ghosts coming from him a little bit when you get close to him. But a quarterback is a quarterback."

And asked if that meant even Manning, a future Hall of Famer who seems to set a record every time he throws a pass, smells like smelly socks as well, Ware said, with a smile, “Sometimes he does; I’m not going to lie."

Ware’s 10 sacks in 12 games mean he has reached double digits for the eighth time in his career, but he also believes he should have added to the one sack he was credited for in Sunday’s win. Ware said he should have earned some credit -- a half-sack perhaps -- on a sack awarded to linebacker Brandon Marshall and another that was awarded to safety Quinton Carter.

“I was too low, maybe I was too fast -- maybe they didn’t see (No.) 94,’’ Ware said. “They didn’t see him by the quarterback when they had the ball. But I do have the pictures. So, I’m still going to turn them in and see if they change their minds. … On one of them, me and Brandon Marshall hit at the same time and … I twisted him and I know I’m on top of the quarterback, I know I got him, but no, they still gave it to Brandon. And then [Carter] came in on a blitz, and he hit him first, I hit him second, I took him down, still, gave it to Q."

It means Ware might add a little more post-play activity if he believes it would help his cause.

“I think I’m going to do that, the guy who gets up and celebrates [is] usually the guy they give the sack to," Ware said. “So, I’m going to start celebrating again … if I just tap him, I’m going to celebrate."
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Before each game, Denver Broncos defensive end DeMarcus Ware tapes his wrists and hands so tightly, and at such an angle, he has said, “I’m not sure I could even catch a ball if it dropped into my hands."

As Ware comes down the stretch toward what would be his first chance to play in a postseason game since 2009, he has answered questions about his health, how much he has left in the career tank and, now, the answer to the interception question. Ware reeled an Alex Smith pass deflected by defensive tackle Terrance Knighton in the third quarter of Sunday’s victory over the Kansas City Chiefs. It was Ware's third career interception.

“I lost the ball in the lights, and I’m like, 'Is it close enough for me to catch it?'" Ware said. “When it fell in my hands, I actually panicked. I turned around, it was like a 360 and I was like, 'Where is everybody?' And then I look and I seen like the red jerseys and I said, ‘Oh, I need to go this way,’ because all of [the Chiefs] were right there in front of me. That was a big play ... and I finally figured out where I was going."

[+] EnlargeDeMarcus Ware
AP Photo/Reed HoffmannBroncos defensive end DeMarcus Ware made his first interception since 2006 on Sunday against the Chiefs.
It was just one play, but it was yet another example that Broncos executive vice president of football operations/general manager John Elway’s mantra in free agency has worked out just fine. Elway, just after the Broncos signed both quarterback Peyton Manning in 2012 and Ware this past March, said, “I like to get Hall of Fame players with chips on their shoulders."

Manning has continued to pile up touchdown passes and wins, and Ware needs two more sacks to have his best season statistically since his 19.5 sacks in 2011. The Broncos took some financial risk in signing Ware, who was coming off a six-sack season in 2013 in which he missed the first three games of his career because of injuries. The Dallas Cowboys considered him a declining player.

While the contracts given to Aqib Taib, T.J. Ward and Emmanuel Sanders had significantly less salary-cap risk after the first seasons if things didn’t work out, Ware was the oldest player -- the only 30-something -- in the Broncos' initial spending binge this past March. And his three-year, $30 million deal had $16.5 million guaranteed as soon as Ware signed the deal and another $3.5 million that’s guaranteed on fifth day of the new league year next March.

But now, 12 games into Ware’s first season in Denver, it certainly looks like everybody got what they hoped to get.

“DeMarcus? DeMarcus has shown he’s still got it; everybody can see that," Broncos linebacker Von Miller said. “A lot of people were saying stuff about DeMarcus about his game. But his game is still at the top, and I think he’s just going to get better and better as we, you know, chase quarterbacks more and more."

Ware has 10 sacks, tied for eighth in the NFL. It's his eighth season with at least 10 sacks. And his presence has prevented offenses from piling too many blockers on Miller’s side of the formation as well. Miller has 12 sacks, tied for fourth in the league.

Ware signed with Denver in the hopes that the Broncos could lead him to the playoffs, that games in December and January would push him to the one in February.

In nine seasons with the Cowboys, Ware played in four playoff games, with appearances to close out the 2006, 2007 and 2009 seasons.

“I’ve been in December seasons where you are already in at 8-8," Ware said. “But now, being 9-3 and looking for some kind of playoff berth and make it to the end, where everybody wants to make it and that’s the Super Bowl. But you’ve got to take it one game at a time and just ... attack it each week."

Ware leads the Broncos with 14 tackles for loss and is second in sacks behind Miller, and his 34 tackles are already more than he had all of last season (24). In Sunday’s win over the Chiefs, Ware had a sack and two tackles for loss to go with the interception.

Asked Thursday whether it was his best game since he signed with the Broncos, Ware also gave the answer the Broncos want to hear as well.

“I think the best is yet to come."

Broncos want to finish strong

December, 3, 2014
Dec 3
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. – Since Peyton Manning signed with the Denver Broncos in March 2012, the team has been an AFC powerhouse. The Broncos closed the 2012 regular season with an 11-game winning streak and opened 2013 with a six-game winning streak.

Now they’re hoping to close out this season with what would be their longest winning streak of this season and keep themselves in the conversation for the AFC’s top seed.

After a wobbly lose-win-lose stretch against the New England Patriots, Oakland Raiders and St. Louis Rams, the Broncos have moved to 9-3 with back-to-back wins over the Miami Dolphins and Kansas City Chiefs. The two wins have also kept the Broncos in place to get a playoff bye and in the conversation for home-field advantage.

[+] EnlargeDemaryius Thomas
Peter Aiken/Getty ImagesGetting a decisive win in Kansas City was just what Denver needed as the Broncos try to go on another late-season run.
But for any of that to happen, they likely have to close out the season with four wins, starting with the Buffalo Bills in Denver on Sunday, followed by road games against the San Diego Chargers and the Cincinnati Bengals before closing at home with the Raiders.

Not that coach John Fox wants any part of the topic. Asked this week if he had addressed the potential of earning the AFC’s top seed for the third consecutive year, Fox said: “No, it just kind of diverts focus. Our focus is on us. We’re not doing that right now. We have four games remaining. We need to take care of our business, and we’ll just see where the chips fall."

But for many in the locker room, Sunday night’s win in Kansas City was what they were looking for at this point in the season.

“This was our best game on defense, maybe other than the San Francisco game [a 42-17 Broncos win in October]," defensive end DeMarcus Ware said. “And overall, offense, defense, the special teams, it showed what we can do across the board, how we need to play. Now it's on us not to do it once and leave it at that. We have to do it every week."

While the Rams loss was what Fox has repeatedly called a “wake-up call," two slug-it-out wins over the Dolphins and Chiefs, both of whom are ranked among the league’s top six in scoring defense, have created a somewhat different outlook. The Broncos have rushed for 201 and 214 yards, respectively, in those two games.

The win over the Chiefs was easily the Broncos' best road performance and the first time all season they defeated a winning team away from Denver.

“We needed to win," Manning said. “We’ve beaten two really good football teams. [St. Louis] was a disappointing loss where offensively we did not play well. We certainly answered the challenge the last two weeks against two really good opponents. I was kind of glad one was at home and one was on the road. We haven’t played particularly well on the road, so it was good to get this road victory [Sunday night] and keep that going the rest of the way."

That confidence comes at a welcome time, as Buffalo leads the league in sacks and San Diego, whom the Broncos play after the Bills, is right behind Denver in the AFC West standings.

“It’s important for us to get rolling, get into the playoffs and hopefully get that one seed depending on what happens the rest of the season," safety T.J. Ward said. “And if we continue to play the way we played [Sunday] night, that’s the type of performance we expect from ourselves and from every individual on the defense."

“It’s the perfect time to start peaking," cornerback Chris Harris Jr. said. “We’ve got some tough games left in the season, and we’ve got to approach every game like a playoff game from here on out."
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- If you were to make a list of the conditions the Denver Broncos didn't want in a football game, Sunday night included most of them.

The game was:
  • A. On the road.
  • B. Windy.
  • C. Frigid.
  • D. And quarterback Peyton Manning simply wasn't going to be in a position to carry them to the win.

Yet, in a rather tidy show of what Denver is going to need to be in the postseason, the Broncos flashed their playoff profile with a power-run game fueled by C.J. Anderson, a dominant defense and a variety of game-tilting special teams plays in a 29-16 victory over the Kansas City Chiefs.

"It has to be like that," defensive end DeMarcus Ware said. "Defensively, we have to stop the run. Offensively, they've got to come with that tenacity where they run the ball when we need to and like they did. The last two weeks, what, they rushed 200-some yards? That's very big. We have to play like that every week, and we showed people we can have that look."

The Chiefs, at least on paper, completed Job 1 against the Broncos. They kept Manning from beating them.

Manning finished with a season-low 179 yards passing, a season-low 17 completions and a season-low 50 percent completion percentage in a game that started with a windchill of 14 degrees and only got colder and windier as the night went on. Yet, the Broncos won by 13 points.

They did it with Anderson growing into a No. 1 running back right before the Broncos' eyes. Anderson, who suddenly finds himself as the team's workhorse back after injuries to Montee Ball and Ronnie Hillman, finished with 168 yards on 32 carries.

Last week, in the win over the Miami Dolphins, Anderson had 167 yards. He is the first back in the league since Adrian Peterson in the 2012 season to have back-to-back games of at least 150 yards rushing. The Broncos' 214 yards rushing yards gave them back-to-back games of at least 200 yards on the ground.

Asked about that balanced, grind-it-out look, Manning said: "I like it, I like it. I like winning games." He then added: "Our offensive line was awesome."

"We knew to give us a chance to win we had to stop the run," Chiefs linebacker Justin Houston said. "And we didn't do it."

The Broncos dove-tailed Anderson's work in the run game with a get-it-done defense, despite having two of their top four cornerbacks -- Aqib Talib (left hamstring) and Kayvon Webster (right shoulder) -- out of the lineup. The Chiefs had minus-10 yards to their credit at the end of the first quarter and wound up with a paltry 151 total yards. They finished with five drives that were three-and-outs, three in the opening quarter.

The Broncos registered six sacks for 43 yards plus 12 hits on Alex Smith. Denver cornerback Chris Harris Jr. shadowed Dwayne Bowe all over the formation and held him to two catches for 18 yards.

"It was a good day for us," linebacker Von Miller said. "We knew it was going to a tough kind of game. … We stopped a lot of stuff they were trying to do."

Toss in five field goals from Connor Barth, who has been a Broncos kicker since Tuesday, a fake punt that turned into a fourth-down conversion by safety David Bruton Jr. and Omar Bolden's recovery of a Broncos punt that bounced off Chiefs cornerback Marcus Cooper's left leg, and you have the full everything-but-Manning win many have wondered if Denver could pull off.

Two weeks ago in a dismal 22-7 loss to the St. Louis Rams, the Broncos had 10 rushing attempts, one of which was a kneel-down by Manning before halftime. In a Nov. 2 loss in New England, the Broncos' defense couldn't get the Patriots off the field, Brandon McManus missed a field goal and Denver looked out of sorts on a cold night.

The Broncos now have run the ball 80 times in their past two games, both wins. They've put themselves back in the conversation about the AFC's top seed, which they can earn if they win out and the Patriots stumble at least once.

"I think you need to be able to win different types of football games," Manning said.

"Sometimes, this is how it looks," Ware said. "You have to play in the cold. You have to win on the road. You have to be physical on both sides of the ball. We can do those things. We've shown we can do those things, and we want to be able to do whatever we need to do to win however we need to win. Those are the best teams."video

Dolphins vs. Broncos preview

November, 21, 2014
Nov 21
When: 4:25 p.m. ET Sunday Where: Sports Authority Field at Mile High, Denver TV: CBS

Earlier this month, the Denver Broncos (7-3) were poised to enter a stretch of three consecutive road games with their sights set squarely on the AFC’s No. 1 seed. After that road trip ended with a 1-2 record, including a surprising loss in St. Louis this past Sunday, the Broncos are now in a scrap just to win their division.

The Miami Dolphins (6-4) come to Denver having won four of their last five games. They have surrendered 56 points in those five games combined. ESPN Dolphins reporter James Walker and Broncos reporter Jeff Legwold discuss Sunday’s game.

Legwold: James, Ryan Tannehill was a player the Broncos took a long look at leading up to the 2012 draft as they looked for a quarterback prospect to pair on the roster with Peyton Manning. What’s been the key for his improvement this year and how he’s handled things?

Walker: Tannehill is on pace for a career year. I’ve watched all 42 career starts, and this is the most decisive I’ve seen him with the football. His play speed is better and offensive coordinator Bill Lazor has done a good job of accentuating what Tannehill does well and avoiding where he struggles. He’s posted four games with a triple-digit passer rating, including the most recent win over the Buffalo Bills. However, the Dolphins’ offense is getting away with a lot of short and intermediate passes, and I’m surprised defenses haven’t worked harder to take that away. The biggest issues with Tannehill are inconsistency and lack of a deep ball. These are areas that have haunted Tannehill for three seasons, and it doesn’t appear it will change anytime soon. Yet teams haven’t challenged Tannehill to consistently throw deep. I’m curious to see how Denver plays Tannehill.

The Broncos have lost two of three and both losses have come by a wide margin. What is the mood of the team heading into Sunday’s game?

Legwold: The mood from the Broncos players and coaches is, essentially, they got what they deserved in losses to the New England Patriots on Nov. 2 and to the St. Louis Rams this past Sunday. They've owned up to it and unveiled the usual vows to repair the mistakes. But perhaps most troubling, for a team that has designs on a Super Bowl trip, is they didn’t have a response after some early trouble in either of those losses. They simply didn’t show the kind of bounce-back capability on the road that any team is going to need if they want to go deep into the postseason. The Patriots had a 24-point second quarter filled with Broncos mistakes and the Rams went up 10-0 in the first quarter. In both cases, the Broncos were wobbly and stayed wobbly. They know they didn’t execute on offense. They let pressure get to Manning, and defensively the Broncos had moments, but never really slammed the door to get the team back in the game. And now with the Kansas City Chiefs at 7-3 as well –- the Broncos have a Week 2 win in hand, but go to Kansas City Nov. 30 –- the Broncos know every week matters as they pursue their fourth consecutive division title.

Keeping with one of the Broncos’ trouble spots of late, defenses have tried to rattle Manning in the middle of the formation. How aggressively do you think the Dolphins will rush Manning, and what’s that mean for Cameron Wake?

Walker: The Dolphins are definitely bringing the pressure. They’ve done that against every quarterback they’ve faced, whether it’s an elite talent such as Aaron Rodgers or a developmental rookie such as Blake Bortles. Manning’s constant audibles and adjustments at the line of scrimmage could provide reason for Miami’s defense not to dial up as many blitzes. But the team knows the best way to win is to get hits, sacks and pressures on Manning. Several players I spoke to were impressed with the way the Rams defended the Broncos’ offense last week. St. Louis provided a nice blueprint, especially with its defensive line. This will be a big game for Wake, Olivier Vernon, Jared Odrick and others on the defensive line to win those one-on-one matchups.

Miami’s pass protection has been an issue lately. What are your thoughts on the Dolphins’ offensive line pass protecting against the Broncos’ front seven?

Legwold: The Broncos are at their best in the pass rush when they move into a six-defensive back look -- a dime package that really plays more like the average five defensive back (nickel) package when safety T.J. Ward moves down and plays at a linebacker spot. They have speed all over the formation, with Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware moving around some. As a result, Miller is tied for fourth in the league with 10 sacks and Ware is tied for eighth with nine sacks. They use plenty of pre-snap movement, moving players toward and away from the line of scrimmage, to give the quarterback some indecisiveness, and it’s been a productive personnel grouping. However, some teams have found ways to convert some long third downs; the Chiefs converted seven third downs on third-and-8 or more, while the 49ers and Chargers each converted three times at third-and-6 or more and the Rams converted two third-and-10 situations this past Sunday. Tannehill can extend plays and that will be an issue for the Broncos to consider. But at home they play fast on defense as Ware and Miller have repeatedly caved in the edges of the pocket.

Overall, the Dolphins have had plenty of drama over the last year –- the Broncos had Richie Incognito in for a workout last week -– how has coach Joe Philbin done in the swirl?

Walker: This was a major storyline in the offseason and throughout training camp. But at this point in late November, more than a year since Jonathan Martin left the team and Incognito’s subsequent suspension, the Dolphins have moved on from the fiasco. Miami made the right call to remove both players from its locker room in the offseason. The team didn’t re-sign Incognito and traded Martin to the San Francisco 49ers. That set the tone for a better locker room culture to develop. This year’s team is together, and I think winning six of 10 games has helped. In some ways, earning a playoff spot would validate the thought that they learned from the situation and became better for it.

Denver suffered a lot of injuries last week against the Rams. What’s the latest update on tight end Julius Thomas, receiver Emmanuel Sanders and tailback Montee Ball?

Legwold: That’s been the dark cloud hanging over this team this past week. Sanders, who has been one of the best free-agent signings in the league, is the team’s second-leading receiver with 67 catches to go with 954 yards. He’s now under the guidelines of the league’s concussion protocol, so the Broncos have to simply wait until he is cleared to return. Ball re-injured his right groin as he played just four snaps against the Rams, an injury that kept him out of the previous five games. He is expected to miss, at minimum, two to three weeks. And Thomas suffered a sprained ankle in the first quarter against the Rams. While Thomas’ injury wasn't nearly as serious as the team initially feared at the stadium Sunday, he has had ankle troubles before in his career and will be watched closely. His impact in the offense is no small matter. Thomas played just 13 snaps against the Rams and he still leads the league in touchdown receptions with 12, or at least two more than any other player.

The Broncos don’t have a fullback on the roster, so they can’t simply go to a two-back look to cover for some injuries. Tight end Virgil Green and running back Ronnie Hillman were out last week and Hillman is expected to miss additional time. That means young players such as C.J. Anderson and rookie Juwan Thompson have to be ready to be the guys at running back and rookie wide receiver Cody Latimer should get some snaps in the offense as well.
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. -- Always be closing.

That’s what the Denver Broncos defense wants, from defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio all the way through the depth chart, the Broncos want to keep doing what they’ve been doing, but slam the door a little harder when they get the chance.

This past Sunday, the Broncos had held the Oakland Raiders to 125 total yards in 55 minutes, 30 seconds worth of football time. The Raiders had 11 three-and-outs and no Oakland possession had gone for more than 26 yards to that point as the Broncos were in the fast lane with a 41-10 lead.

[+] EnlargeChris Harris
Cary Edmondson/USA TODAY Sports"We want to always finish it out," Chris Harris, left, said. "We had a good day [against the Raiders], but we shouldn't allow somebody to go down the field like that."
And then the Raiders' rookie quarterback, Derek Carr, led an eight-play, 97-yard drive for a touchdown with 48 seconds left to play. In the big picture, the touchdown meant little beyond a first-year quarterback getting some game-speed snaps in an end-of-half situation. Carr was 7-of-7 passing on the drive for 89 of his 192 passing yards in the game.

The Broncos know a late-game score would sting plenty when the games get bigger and the Broncos' margin for error gets smaller.

“And that’s something we talk about a lot,’’ said cornerback Chris Harris Jr. “We want to always finish it out. We had a good day, but we shouldn’t allow somebody to go down the field like that.’’

“I never want to get to the point as a coach where I don’t enjoy the good,’’ Del Rio said. “I think if I do that it would be time to retire. So you need to enjoy the success, enjoy the good, appreciate the effort that’s being put forth. I think the preparation, the way we go after each opponent has been very strong. Even in the ‘miserable performance’ a couple weeks ago (in a 43-21 loss to the New England Patriots), per play it was pretty good. We just didn’t do as well in some key moments. So there is always something to look at. There are usually positives if you look and there are negatives always that you want to correct, so I don’t feel any differently.’’

And while Del Rio did enjoy what went right on defense that is still No. 1 in the league against the run, the Raiders’ last possession was still an irritant.

“I just let them know that over the first 14 drives, they had (125) yards and then they got 95, or whatever it was, on the last one,’’ Del Rio said. “So if you don’t like that, do something about it. I don’t like it.’’

Several Broncos players cited the Broncos' 35-21 victory over the San Diego Chargers as another example of not quite closing the deal the way they had hoped. In that game the Chargers had just 121 yards worth of offense on their first seven possessions.

San Diego then put together back-to-back 75-yard scoring drives to first close out the third quarter and open the fourth quarter to close the gap. It took a Rahim Moore interception at the Broncos’ 4-yard line with just under five minutes to play to stop the rally.

“Look at those last drives … we’ve really talked about it, you don’t want teams, even if you’re beating them, it’s that moral sort of victory of saying no matter what the situation is, no matter how far we are ahead of a team, we always have to keep the pedal to the metal on defense and close games,’’ said Broncos defensive end DeMarcus Ware. “We did better (Sunday) than we did against San Diego, but there’s always room for improvement.’’

The Rams have had just one fourth-quarter comeback this season -- their 19-17 victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Week 2 -- but they did score 10 points in fourth quarter of their 34-31 loss to the Dallas Cowboys and 14 points in the fourth quarter of their 34-28 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles.

“We always want to finish strong, we don’t want to be out there playing how we want to play for most of the game,’’ said Broncos linebacker Von Miller. “We want to play how we want to play for the whole game.’’

Midseason report: Denver Broncos

November, 5, 2014
Nov 5
» AFC Report: East | West | North | South » NFC: East | West | North | South | HOME

The Denver Broncos have arrived to the halfway point of their season with Super Bowl aspirations still in tow and having put their collective nose to the grindstone with a schedule unlike any of the league’s other front-runners.

The Broncos have wins over two division leaders in the Arizona Cardinals (7-1) and the Indianapolis Colts (5-3) to go with wins over the San Francisco 49ers (4-4), San Diego Chargers (5-4) and Kansas City Chiefs (5-3).

Of the Broncos' six victories, the only one that has come against a team with a losing record at the halfway point was the New York Jets. But the Broncos have also lost to the Seattle Seahawks and the New England Patriots, meaning they are 1-2 on the road this season.

As linebacker Von Miller put it: "We been good, and we've been not as good, and we need to be better. That's where we're at: We need to be better, I need to be better, we all need to be better."

Midseason MVP: The Broncos have many, with Miller playing at the level of a Defensive Player of the Year candidate not named J.J. Watt to go with Chris Harris Jr., Demaryius Thomas and linebacker Brandon Marshall, who is the team’s leading tackler, filling in for the injured Danny Trevathan.

But in the end, you can’t get past what Peyton Manning is doing at age 38 -- a tough Sunday night against the Patriots notwithstanding. He has 24 touchdown passes after eight games and is on pace for his third season with at least 48 TD passes. He has a completion percentage of 67.3 and had five games with at least three touchdown passes.

Biggest disappointment: The Broncos have shown plenty of precision and explosiveness on offense to go with high-end team speed and aggressiveness on defense. But there are a couple of things that still need attention.

The team has had little impact in the return game on special teams, especially on punt returns, and has left some potential quality field position on the table. But the biggest question mark when it comes to how things will go in the biggest games is in the offensive line.

Opposing personnel executives say an offense that is among the league’s best and highest-scoring might not have a Pro Bowl selection up front. The Broncos have already made a switch at right tackle, guard Louis Vasquez, an All-Pro last season, is playing like he’s hurting (he’s had back and rib issues this year), while Orlando Franklin has battled hard, but the switch to guard might have been more difficult than the Broncos expected. The Broncos have surrendered two sacks to the Jets and one to the Patriots on three-man rushes.

Best moment: The Broncos have piled up some double-take plays on both sides of the ball, but only one sent the football to the Hall of Fame: an 8-yard touchdown pass from Manning to Thomas on Oct. 19. The pass gave Manning 509 career touchdown passes, surpassing Brett Favre's mark for career TD passes.

It was one of four touchdown passes Manning threw in the Broncos’ 42-17 victory over the San Francisco 49ers. Manning achieved that piece of league history in his 246th career start, while Favre threw his 508 touchdown passes in 302 career starts.

Worst moment: On the second Broncos defensive play in the Oct. 12 game against the Jets, linebacker Trevathan suffered the second fracture in his left leg of the season.

Trevathan suffered what Broncos coach John Fox called “a crack," just above his left knee. It has been a star-crossed season for Trevathan, who was the Broncos’ leading tackler last season, since he suffered a crack at the top of his left tibia in a training camp practice Aug. 12.

Trevathan has returned to the practice field, on a limited basis, on the sixth week of his recovery. He returned in the fourth game of the season to play 55 of the defense’s 58 snaps in the 41-20 victory over the Cardinals.

Key to the second half: In the Super Bowl conversation for the third consecutive season, the Broncos have to find a way to walk the line between keeping their edge and maintaining at least some looseness.

This team has played tight at times in the past two postseasons, as it exited each without a title. It showed a little more of that big-game tightness in Sunday's loss to the Patriots when a Manning interception turned into a full-scale cave-in that resulted in a 24-point second quarter for New England. This Broncos team has more talent, top to bottom, than either of the previous two, so if they maintain their momentum and find a way to enjoy the ride, this season offers a quality chance at the title. But they can't keep making mistakes at the toughest times in the biggest games.
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Ordinarily, if a defense held an offense to 2.6 yards per carry in the run game and forced the quarterback to throw 20 incompletions, a defense would have had a little more to show for that than the Broncos did in the loss to the New England Patriots.

But then, again, Tom Brady is a galaxy away from an ordinary quarterback, and the Patriots consistently found the match-ups Sunday that stung the most.

With that in mind, and after a long look at the game video, here are some thoughts on the Broncos defense and special teams:
  • Beyond his next-level athleticism and power -- see: one-hand grab, ridiculous (with 14 minutes, 38 seconds to play in Sunday's game) -- Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski's feel for the soft spots in the coverage and the precision in this routes make him the toughest of covers. Sure, he's more physical at the top of the route than most -- he's not opposed to a chicken-wing shove with the elbow as he comes out of his break -- but he doesn't lose momentum in his cut, keeps his weight over his feet so he is consistently in position to receive the ball when finds his spot.
  • And when Gronkowski gets the mistake he consistently cashes in, an underappreciated trait of the successful. Following his one-handed snare to get the ball to the Broncos 1-yard line, the Patriots lined him up wide, where he was singled up on linebacker Von Miller with no help in sight. Miller is a top-end athlete as well, but in that situation Gronkowski holds all the cards. Tendencies would offer Gronkowski would have run the fade there if he had a safety on him, where he would have walled off the defender and reeled in the pass. But against an isolated Miller, Gronskowski simply ran a slant to the open area for the too-easy touchdown. “Actually there was another thing that should have happened in that situation that we didn't execute, something that we've seen a couple times,'' said Broncos head coach John Fox.
  • The game video showed the Patriots used a second blocker on DeMarcus Ware more often than they did on Miller -- Ware had the Broncos' only sack and Miller led the team with three hits on Brady. But the Patriots were aware of Miller's spin to the inside and at times a guard was ready and waiting to meet him even if Miller beat the tackle. When the Broncos flipped Miller from the defensive left to the right at times, he made things difficult for Patriots left tackle Nate Solder.
  • The Broncos surrendered their first punt return for a touchdown since Dec. 24, 2011 -- the Buffalo Bills' Leodis McKelvin brought one back 80 yards in Buffalo's 40-14 win that day -- when Julian Edelman took one back 84 yards Sunday. The play got off to a bad start when Britton Colquitt dropped the snap before getting the punt away. It didn't have the usual hang time because of the bobble and when Omar Bolden, the first coverage player to arrive, closed in he found himself off Edelman's right shoulder instead of squared up to Edelman. That's all the room Edelman needed to move up to field the ball on the run. The Broncos then lost containment along the Patriots' sideline and even if a potential block in the back by Tim Wright on Corey Nelson had been called, the Broncos' had surrendered far too much room on that side of the field.
  • It will bear watching if the Broncos change how they call things on offense with a potential field goal from 40 yards on out on the table given kicker Brandon McManus has three misses since the Broncos released Matt Prater. McManus clearly has an NFL leg, having shown rare power. But making field goals is a quirky business that gets done in a variety of conditions. Kicking into the jet stream that is the open end of Gillette Stadium is not for the faint of heart or faint of leg. And while McManus hit 10 in a row from a variety of distances into the wind in warm-ups Sunday before his first miss in pregame came from 47 yards on the right hashmark, he may have dented the right upright with his 41-yarder into the wind that bounced away in the second quarter, a live-and-learn moment for the young kicker. Patriots kicker Stephen Gostkowski later powered a 45-yarder through the uprights, into the same wind, in the third quarter, showing local knowledge and experience still count. But McManus has also missed two 53-yarders in Denver since the news he would stay and Prater would go. Those aren't chip shots, but kicks the Broncos expected him to make at altitude on good weather days. It's a confidence game from this point forward and the Broncos will need McManus to keep his, because history says they're going to all need a kick with the game on the line at some point.