ENGLEWOOD, Colo. – With the injuries piling up, the Broncos almost breathed a sigh of relief when they concluded their business this past Sunday -- a 45-21 victory over the Washington Redskins -- and headed into their bye week.
They’ll do a little self-scouting this week and hope to get a little healthier across the board. But after a long look at the win over the Redskins, here are some thoughts on the Denver Broncos defense and special teams:
The Broncos coaching staff can be credited with dropping the read option as a legitimate NFL alternative when John Fox and his staff, which included current offensive coordinator Adam Gase as quarterbacks coach, put Tim Tebow in the offense during the 2011 season. So, it should be no surprise the Broncos have defended it well, against Michael Vick and Terrelle Pryor already this season to go with Robert Griffin III Sunday. Griffin finished with just seven yards rushing and 139 yards worth of total offense in the game. And the Broncos broke out a little 3-4 look on defense to do it. They have flashed a 3-4 look from time to time -- Fox routinely talks about how 4-3 defenses will use 3-4 fronts -- but Sunday’s win constituted the most the Broncos had done it in Fox’s tenure. It was the return of Von Miller for his second game back after a six-game suspension for violating the league’s substance-abuse policy to open the season that enabled to the Broncos to play it. They used Miller and Shaun Phillips as the outside linebackers, bracketing a three-man defensive line. Phillips had played outside linebacker in the Chargers’ 3-4 defense before signing with the Broncos this past offseason. The Broncos used it for 20 snaps in an effort to keep Griffin hemmed in and it worked well enough for them to have two of their three sacks out of it to go with an interception.
Defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio has routinely added players to the Broncos pass rush once the play is already underway and often those late additions find an open lane because the opposing offensive linemen didn’t account for them. They are most often the fifth player added to what starts out as a four-man rush and usually they have been one of the team’s linebackers. But the Redskins did slip a running back into the pass pattern in the space left behind from time to time, including a 14-yard reception by Redskins running back Roy Helu just before halftime. That’s something offenses with quality pass catchers will look in the coming weeks as well.
Cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie had a little-of-this, little-of-that day in the win. In the first quarter Rodgers-Cromartie tackled Redskins wide receiver Pierre Garcon for a 5-yard loss, one of his five tackles in the game. He also knocked down three passes. His fourth-quarter interception, his first since Sept. 30, 2012, was a highlight as well -- a high-stepping 75-yard touchdown return, as Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins gave chase. Rodgers-Cromartie's celebration during the play even had John Elway shaking his head when it was over. “I hadn’t had one in my hands for a while,’’ Rodgers-Cromartie said. Rodgers-Cromartie was also the 12th man in the formation when the Broncos were flagged on what would have been a Redskins field-goal attempt just before halftime. Instead Washington got a first down with the penalty yardage and scored a touchdown on the next play.
With two more penalties, a holding penalty that was declined to go with an ill-timed unnecessary roughness penalty run for running into Griffin, defensive tackle Kevin Vickerson is the most penalized Broncos player by a wide margin this season. Vickerson has now been flagged nine times this season (four of those penalties have been declined). Cornerback Tony Carter is second with five penalties, all in the season’s first four games. No other defensive player has been flagged more than three times this season.
Linebacker Wesley Woodyard can almost certainly expect a notice from the league office this week. Woodyard hit Kirk Cousins with the crown of his helmet under the chin on a fourth-quarter pass attempt. Similar hits around the league have routinely resulted in a fine.
Trindon Holliday has been an adventure fielding kickoffs and punts at times, even as he has piled up the touchdown returns in his time in Denver. Spending plenty of time catching kicks on his own, he has steadily earned Fox’s confidence. That is evidenced by where Holliday has been allowed to field punts in recent weeks. Previously Fox often took Holliday out when the Broncos were set to field a punt deep in their own territory. Last season Jim Leonhard would field those punts and Wes Welker took a turn early in the year, but had a muffed punt of his own in the season opener against Baltimore and hasn't fielded a punt since. Holliday has now fielded all of the Broncos punts in six of their games. Sunday, with Redskins punter Sav Rocca kicking it out of bounds four times to keep the ball away from him, Holliday fielded just one punt on the day -- a fair catch at the Broncos’ 10-yard line. "Trindon has done the work,'' is how special teams coordinator Jeff Rodgers had put it. "He has caught every chance he's had.''