- Jeff Legwold, ESPN Staff Writer
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ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- No Von Miller, no Champ Bailey and seven touchdown passes from their own quarterback, but after a long look at Thursday's win against the Ravens, here are some thoughts on the Denver Broncos' defense and special teams:
Much like last season, when the Broncos' nickel (five defensive backs) package was essentially the team's base formation on defense -- they were in it just over 60 percent of the time in 2012 -- the Broncos spent most of their time in the nickel Thursday night. And the totals will go higher against offenses that don’t play as much in two-back or two-tight end as the Ravens do. The Broncos spent 57 percent of their defensive snaps in the nickel against Baltimore, including a smattering of snaps in a three-linemen, three-linebacker nickel package, and were in the base defense for 22 snaps. The Broncos also showed a seven-defensive back look, for two snaps, during the game as well.
Defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio used a variety pack of things in the pass rush, including some zone blitz looks that put the likes of defensive ends Robert Ayers and Shaun Phillips in pass coverage. At one point, in shadowing Dallas Clark, Ayers went for a diving interception and instead surrendered a 31-yard completion. Later in the game, however, Phillips showed some veteran savvy by dropping away from the line of scrimmage to shadow a late arriving player in the pass pattern. Overall, though, the Broncos spent the majority of the night rushing four at Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco -- 77 percent of the time -- but they were exceedingly disruptive when they rushed five. On eight snaps when they rushed five all the way upfield, they had two sacks while also surrendering one of Flacco’s two touchdown passes. The Broncos’ other two sacks came out of four-man efforts.
Cornerback Chris Harris, who has the last two interceptions against Flacco, including one last December in Baltimore, got his pick Thursday night when the Broncos were in the dime (six defensive backs). The Broncos also had one of their four sacks in the game out of the dime -- by Phillips.
The Broncos kept 11 defensive backs on the roster when they made the cut to 53, in large part because they use those players plenty on special teams. It is a move league-wide to now use smaller, faster defensive backs for some special teams duties that used to go to linebackers or running backs. And of the nine players who were used at least 20 snaps on special teams against the Ravens, five were defensive backs. Safety David Bruton led the way with 34 special teams snaps, a total that included a game-changing blocked punt. Linebacker Steven Johnson also had 34 special teams snaps.
Punter Britton Colquitt had a 40.9 net average on his seven punts, but he showed his value on the only effort of the night that didn’t go at least 42 yards. He had a 29-yard punt in the first quarter, but pinned the Ravens at their own 10-yard line with it, forcing Lardarius Webb to fair catch.