Defense’s vintage performance led by D-line depth and a ‘priority to win’

Dec 10, 2017; Denver, CO, USA; Denver Broncos defensive end Shelby Harris (96) celebrates his sack on New York Jets quarterback Josh McCown (15) (bottom) in the first half at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

The last time the Denver Broncos registered a shutout victory was in 2005 —  a 27-0 victory over the New York Jets. The 2005 team would finish 13-3 and win the West as the AFC’s no. 2 seed.

On Sunday, the Broncos’ defense once again pitched a shutout against the Jets in the Broncos’ 23-0 victory in front of a home crowd at Mile High Stadium. At 4-9, this year’s team won’t be playing playoff football in January like their 2005 counterpart. However, there was something different during this game that propelled this team to a shutout — something not even the vaunted Super Bowl-winning defense of 2015 managed.

Scrutinized all season for allowing multiple blowout victories, the defense finally seemed to turn a corner on Sunday. Head coach Vance Joseph pointed to the play of the defensive line, which has started to come together in recent weeks, even with injuries affecting the position group: “I haven’t watched the tape, but I thought [DE] Shelby [Harris] played really well in his role. [DE Adam] Gotsis played really well. [DE Zach] Kerr was very solid. But I haven’t watched. The run defense was very stout and the pass rush was efficient today.”

Harris, in particular, has come on strong in the latter part of the season. Filling in for defensive end Derek Wolfe, who is out for the remainder of the season with a neck injury,  he’s recorded back-to-back sacks in the previous two games. Gotsis also recovered a fumble caused by inside linebacker Brandon Marshall to go with two tackles on the game.

Harris shared his head coach’s praise for the defensive line, echoing the play of the unit and preaching the “next man up” mentality: “We have a bunch of dogs on the defensive line, like my boys [DE] Adam [Gotsis], [DE] Zach [Kerr], [NT] Kyle Peko and [DE] DeMarcus [Walker]. Everyone is out here grinding. Everyone steps up when they need to.”

Regarding the line’s injuries (starting nose tackle Domata Peko missed the game, and end Jared Crick has missed the entire season), Harris said that he and his teammates all understand that it’s part of the game. “At the end of the day, it is unfortunate people get hurt. But with the ‘next man up’ mentality, we have five or six guys on the defensive line that could start anywhere in the league.”

Alongside the stellar play on the defensive line, the rest of the Broncos’ defense seemed to be in near-perfect sync with one another. Between the consistent pass rush on the Jets’ quarterbacks, shutting down the opposing running game and seeing vintage “No-Fly Zone” play in the secondary, this Sunday’s win showed a different style of play for the defense.

Inside linebacker Todd Davis commented on the team’s focused mindset in preparation for the game: “We weren’t going out without a win today. We definitely made that a priority today. It’s a priority every week, but there was something special about this week in the way we prepared and the way we worked. I knew we were going to come out and get this win.” Davis finished the game with five total tackles — three of them solo — and two assists.

The Broncos don’t have long to celebrate their first win in nearly two months, as they travel to Indianapolis to take on the 3-10 Colts on Thursday Night Football. Davis was asked about the opportunity to get two win in five days, after going eight straight weeks without a victory: “That’s amazing. Going from losing eight straight to having two great victories in five days is huge. That’s definitely what we’re shooting for and we’re definitely going to get after it.”

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