ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- There are instances when time is the chief concern for Jack Del Rio.
Times when the Denver Broncos interim head coach will see his defensive players moving a little too slowly, milling around a little too much and simply not ready enough for what’s to come. At that point, Del Rio will simply look at the scout team offense across from the group and shout “Don’t wait.’’
No, don’t wait, because you can't. He who hesitates first surrenders a pile of touchdowns and then is lost. And lost big.
“I think the amount of time offenses want you to play in space has been a development in recent seasons, sure, but the biggest may be the pace offenses force you to play right now in the league," Del Rio said. “Everybody wants to go fast. We know, we see it every day."
And Sunday night there is at least some chance, even as the New England Patriots continue to try to find their groove on offense, that they'll try to give the Broncos a little bit of what Denver has been dishing out all season. The Broncos have had their foot to the floor all season long on offense, working fast and piling up the points, leaving teams, especially those which have ventured to 5,280 feet to play in downtown Denver, more than a little wobbly on the way to 398 points after 10 games.
“I think it helps us to have worked against our offense in camp and in practice all the time,’’ Broncos linebacker Wesley Woodyard said. “ … And we know what happens if we don’t get ready to go, we’ve seen it.’’
That they have and Sunday they all return to the place where things really took off. Last Oct. 7 the Broncos arrived to Foxborough, Mass., at 2-2, still trying to settle into the idea they had Peyton Manning at quarterback.
And they arrived knowing that, sure, Patriots quarterback Tom Brady liked to run a no-huddle look at times, to play fast. But what they got was some kind of next-generation, just-had-five-Red Bulls, no-huddle offense. The Patriots overwhelmed the Broncos defense with their pace, rushing for 251 yards -- often with defenders still getting lined up at the snap. The Patriots went on to win, 31-21.
They ran 89 plays on offense in that game, the third-highest total a team has ever run against the Broncos. It amounted to the most plays an offense had run against the Broncos since the ’84 Bengals ran 92 against them.
“I think it definitely served as a little bit of a wake-up call,’’ Del Rio said. “There were some moments -- we have a prideful group -- [where] I think they got the best of us in a few situations and did a nice job from their standpoint. We didn’t handle it very well. So I think we grew from that point forward as a unit.”
What was a surprise then is simply a week-to-week fact of life in today's NFL. Chip Kelly has brought the fast-break attack he ran at the University of Oregon to the Philadelphia Eagles. And team after team in the NFL is now talking about picking up the pace on offense, about having the option to beat defenses with speed.
Still, it does come down to turnovers and execution. The Ravens ran 87 plays against the Broncos in this season’s opener, and Denver won by 22 points. The Broncos played fast, slowed it down and most everything in between as Manning threw seven touchdown passes and the Broncos piled up 510 yards worth of offense. The Broncos also broke even on turnovers -- each team had two -- against the Ravens while last October against the Patriots they were minus-2, including a late fumble by Willis McGahee that stifled any comeback attempt.
The Broncos held Baltimore to just 58 yards rushing in Week 1 even as the Ravens were forced to largely abandon those efforts in the wake of what Manning was doing to their defense. The Broncos were more prepared for whatever pacing they faced as the Ravens averaged 4.5 yards per play. Last season the Patriots averaged 5.0 yards per play in their barrage.
“Oh yeah, I think that game kind of made us realize we need to always make sure we’re ready to go, when the play’s over, get back and get ready,’’ said Broncos cornerback Chris Harris Jr. “Now, you’re not surprised, I think you just kind of assume everybody’s going to go fast … We just want to get fast stops then, get off the field, get our offense the ball so they can go fast too. Because I don’t think anybody can go fast like our offense right now.’’