- Jeff Legwold, ESPN Staff Writer
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It’s just what came before that will demand some attention from the Broncos, like the Dolphins’ 90 yards rushing in the first half to go with the Dolphins’ 5-for-5 performance in the red zone -- all touchdowns.
“We ended it good, but we still have a lot of things to work on," Broncos safety T.J. Ward said. “... We like how it ended, we’ll always take a win, but we have a lot of things to get done, we know that."
And after a long look at the game video, here are some thoughts on the Broncos’ defense and special teams:
The Dolphins made a concerted effort, particularly in the first half, to show the Broncos open formations with three wide receivers and a tight end spread sideline to sideline. They also made a concerted effort to run the ball early in the game, at least while the scoreboard allowed them to, against the Broncos' lighter defensive packages. The Dolphins pounded out 83 of their 90 first-half rushing yards against the Broncos' nickel (five defensive backs) and dime (six defensive backs) defenses. It allowed the Dolphins to put together three well-balanced touchdown drives in the first half. The Broncos adjusted and Denver’s offense got things cranked up enough the Dolphins were able to run the ball just six times in the second half. But with the Chiefs (No. 4 in rushing) and the Bengals (No. 7 in rushing) on the docket in the coming weeks, the issue is sure to come up again.
Within those runs against the Broncos' specialty packages, the Dolphins were effective using their tight ends to block on the edges of the formation, especially in the run game. Two of the best examples were when tight end Harold Hoskins sealed off Broncos defensive end Derek Wolfe on Lamar Miller's 22-yard run in the first quarter and Dion Sims locked on linebacker Von Miller on Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill's touchdown run in the second quarter.
In one of the oddest sequences anyone will ever see, the Broncos forced three fumbles on one second-quarter Dolphins possession and didn’t recover any of them. But that’s the way it’s gone for the Broncos all season, as the team has forced nine fumbles, but recovered just one – the fewest in the league. Broncos cornerback Aqib Talib knocked the ball free from Dolphins wide receiver Brandon Gibson and the ball rolled out of bounds; two plays later Chris Harris Jr. knocked the ball free from Gibson and the ball rolled out of bounds; and five plays after that Brandon Marshall knocked the ball free from Rishard Matthews only to see Miller pounce on it for the Dolphins. “We are still waiting for the ball to bounce right," Broncos head coach John Fox said. “... You just keep stressing it, our guys are working at it hard, someday, hopefully soon, they pop into our hands."
Opposing special teams coaches believe, and the game video has confirmed this week to week, the Broncos returners swing the ball away from their bodies as they run too often, and most teams are coming into the piles looking to knock the ball free because of it. The returners are not always carrying the ball in the outside hand andaren’t maintaining the three points of contact to carry the ball high and tight against the body. The Dolphins knocked one out of Isaiah Burse's hands that gave them the ball on the Broncos’ 12-yard line with 3:20 left in third quarter just after the Broncos defense had forced a punt following a missed field goal by Brandon McManus. “There’s a certain point in time where you’re kind of hemmed in, you don’t want to be doing spin moves and whatnot," Fox said. “You just kind of take your losses and get down. But again he’s young and if he had to do over again I think he would have done it differently, but all in all I think he’s done a pretty good job."
Omar Bolden, who has worked at both safety and cornerback in his career with the Broncos, showed he's been paying attention. With Talib's left hamstring injury to go with Kayvon Webster's right shoulder injury, Bolden ended up playing 16 snaps at cornerback Sunday. Bolden finished with two tackles on defense to go with another on special teams. Toss in Bolden's kickoff returns of 40 and 33 yards and it was just the kind of little-of-this, little-of-that game the Broncos needed.