ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Former long-time Broncos defensive coordinator Joe Collier, who happens to be one of the leading authorities on the 3-4 defense, once said the most important player in the formation is the player folks may talk about the least.
The player right in the middle of the action.
"You just can't play it with without the nose tackle," Collier has said. "Until you get that guy you're not going to be able to do all of the things you're going to need to do to stop people."
Kansas City Chiefs
The NFL's No. 1 scoring defense at the moment, the Kansas City Chiefs, have that guy and the Broncos are going to see Dontari Poe up close and personal Sunday night. And after a rookie season in 2012 when Poe occasionally flashed his immense talent, he has arrived this season and helped power the Chiefs through their 9-0 start.
"(I) noticed him last year, know he was still kind of learning that system as an NFL player," said Broncos offensive coordinator Adam Gase. "He's really made some strides, he's a tough matchup for our offensive line."
For a team that currently leads the league in scoring defense (12.3) and sacks (36) Poe has been one of the most disruptive, hard-to-handle players for opposing offenses because of his size/speed/quickness combination. He has five tackles for loss on the interior to go with 4.5 sacks. During his final season at the University of Memphis, people saw Poe's athleticism, his potential. But they also saw a player who had just one sack in 2011 and was 11th on his team in tackles.
But then Poe, at 6-4, 346 pounds went to the NFL's scouting combine in the week leading up to the 2012 draft and uncorked a 40-yard dash in 4.98 seconds on the electronic clock -- a run that was hand-timed by more than one scout at 4.99. He also powered up 225 pounds in the bench-press stop 44 times.
Now he is the anchor in the middle of the Chiefs' 3-4, the guy who demands attention in the heart of the formation so Kansas City's edge rushers can find more room to work. And work they have as outside linebacker Justin Houston leads the team with 11 sacks and outside linebacker Tamba Hali has 9.0 sacks to go with an interception return for a touchdown and a fumble return for a touchdown.
That consistent pressure up the middle, the kind Poe and the rest of the Chiefs three-man defensive front provides, is always a way to create turnovers and on the to-do list for a team like the Chiefs with five touchdowns on defense already this season.
Broncos center Manny Ramirez, who has played through a sore left knee of late, will battle Poe much of the time. Ramirez is a tough player who thrives in the power game. But to get anything going in the run game and to give quarterback Peyton Manning the room he needs to step up and throw, Ramirez will have to handle Poe.
The more help -- especially when the Broncos are in a three-wide receiver look with tight end Julius Thomas lined up in the slot or outside -- the Broncos have to give to Ramirez means the less help available against the Chiefs' edge rushers.
It will be a key tipping point in the game.