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Broncos Rewind: Defense, special teams

9/23/2014

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- The Denver Broncos have faced Andrew Luck, Alex Smith and Russell Wilson over the course of their first three games.

They've had moments of the-future-is-bright dominance, and had some other moments "where we just didn't get ourselves where we need to be," said defensive tackle Terrance Knighton.

"We're still looking for that consistency," said cornerback Chris Harris Jr. "Where we do all the good things we're doing without any issues in between. That's what we want."

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

  • The last time the Broncos tried Nate Irving at middle linebacker -- in training camp in 2013 and some during the season -- they eventually moved Wesley Woodyard into the role instead because Woodyard was a more consistent tackler on the interior. But when Irving squared up Seattle Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch twice during a Seahawks' drive that followed a first-quarter Broncos fumble deep in Denver territory, it showed how far Irving has come to earn the playing time he has now. His second stop on the hard-charging Lynch came on a third-and-goal from the Broncos' 1-yard line and forced the Seahawks to kick a field goal. Defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio almost called the shot when he said; "On Nate, that was a question mark I got I don't know how many times in training camp. ‘Will Nate be able to do it?' Well, Nate can do it."

  • Linebacker Von Miller was consistently disruptive against the Seahawks and his 67 snaps in the game were his highest total of the season as he is just eight months removed from ACL surgery. Throughout the day Miller gave Seahawks rookie Justin Britt an uncomfortable look at what an athletic strong-side rusher can look like with power up the field and speed to the edge, all while playing with discipline that kept Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson hemmed in, at least until overtime. On Miller's first quarter sack, Miller simply pushed Britt into the backfield and then shed Britt to tackle Wilson as Wilson tried to escape the pressure. It was the kind of play Miller made only sporadically last season after he returned from his suspension, but not nearly as often as he made in his 18.5-sack season in 2012.

  • Interceptions can be more difficult to come by in man coverage when the defensive back is often facing away from the quarterback to play the receiver as opposed to zone looks when the defensive backs often face the quarterback. But Chris Harris Jr.'s interception was a result of Aqib Talib's instincts in man coverage, one of the top-shelf reasons the Broncos were so quick to sign Talib to a deal in the offseason. With the Broncos giving Wilson a steady diet of man coverage -- "all we played in man," Harris Jr. said -- Talib anticipated where Wilson was trying to put the ball and left his receiver on the outside to tip a ball intended for Harris Jr.'s receiver (Percy Harvin). Harris Jr. caught the deflection and five plays later the Broncos cut the Seahawks lead to 17-12 with 9 minutes, 20 seconds left in regulation. Overall the game showed the confidence level the Broncos have when fully staffed in the secondary as they matched up on Seahawks' receivers throughout the game and largely left Harris Jr. on Harvin out of the slot. It was Harris Jr.'s most extensive work in the slot this season as Talib and rookie Bradley Roby manned the outside spots in the nickel.

  • Rookie Isaiah Burse should take note of how he's carrying the ball when the Broncos return from their bye weekend because opposing special teams coaches are. Burse, who has let the ball get into his pads too often when fielding punts in training camp and the preseason, tends to swing the ball away from his body when running in the open field as well. Part of the reason Burse escaped for a 15-yard punt return in the first quarter was the Seahawks took a swipe or two at the ball as he went by. They didn't force a fumble this time, but Burse can expect others to try.

  • Rookie linebacker Lamin Barrow, who played 11 snaps on defense Sunday, has carved out a large role on special teams. Barrow was on the field for 29 special teams plays against the Seahawks. Only linebacker Steven Johnson, with 30 special teams plays, played more Sunday.