One Big Thing: Broncos defense finally forces turnovers, plays right in first win

Kareem Jackson, Todd Davis and Alexander Johnson celebrate Johnson's huge interception with teammates. Credit: Robert Hanashiro, USA TODAY Sports.
Kareem Jackson, Todd Davis and Alexander Johnson celebrate Johnson's huge interception with teammates. Credit: Robert Hanashiro, USA TODAY Sports.

The Denver Broncos defense…is who we thought they were! And they didn’t let the Chargers off the hook.

Finally, Denver got off the schnide and won, 20-13 over the rival Los Angeles Chargers.

For the first time all season, Denver’s defense played the kind of football we all expected from the get-go. Von Miller rushed Philip Rivers well, forcing him to step up and hurry a pass which turned into the Broncos first forced turnover of the year. They were the last team to earn a turnover in the league, somehow going four entire games without one.

Speaking of Miller, he did a little of everything in this game. He stuffed Melvin Gordon on one outside run, and on a third down Miller pushed through the tight end who was trying to block him, making Gordon go backwards where Malik Reed tackled him for a loss. He even earned a half a sack when he and Demarcus Walker met at Rivers.

Miller might have not even been the best player on Denver’s defense, though, that was likely safety Kareem Jackson. Jackson, a big-time free agent signing this offseason, was all over the field making tackles — eight all told — including the hit on Austin Ekeler which kept the ball out of the end zone to end the first half. The second forced turnover of the day simultaneously wiped six points off the board; it was a game-changer.

Denver led 17-0 not only into the break, but after it as well. It was only on special teams, a punt return touchdown, in which that shutout was ended. Even when Joe Flacco’s pass was tipped and picked off, deep in Broncos’ territory, the defense came up with a huge interception in the end zone. That turnover, the third of the game, not only kept the Broncos ahead by 10 points but it was the biggest play of young Alexander Johnson’s career.

Then, after Brandon McManus hooked a field goal wide left and the Chargers had all the momentum, the Broncos defense allowed only a field goal to hold the touchdown lead early in the fourth quarter.

Maybe most impressive by the Broncos was the way they limited the run attack by both Ekeler and Melvin Gordon. Denver was gashed on the ground by Leonard Fournette in their loss to Jacksonville and came into Sunday’s game No. 30 in the NFL in both total yards allowed and yards per carry (5.1). But, in the win over the Chargers, Denver only gave up 35 rushing yards, which was 114.5 yards better than they averaged in the first four weeks of this dismal season.

Finally, this defense with Miller — who played one of his best games of the season — Chris Harris and today a superb Jackson all balled out. Even Shelby Harris, who’s been quiet this year, played well with two passes defended at the line. The Broncos have the talent to be one of the better defenses in the league, but couldn’t manufacture pressures on opposing quarterbacks nor force turnovers until lately.

And one of the best plays the defense called all day was the “all-out pressure” look in which three linebackers actually dropped back into coverage. It was on the key third down with 3:40 left in the game, a throw in which Rivers missed Gordon on a screen, but it wouldn’t have mattered if it was complete or not.

Regularly, a screen is a perfect call against an all-out blitz, but when Johnson and other backers dropped into coverage, it looked clear they would’ve been able to corral Gordon even if that pass was completed.

For Fangio, this was a signature first win as a head coach.

The defensive master, a great coordinator for years, finally got his chance to be the Broncos head man. And while the first four games were mostly forgettable, he’ll always remember this defensive win.

Three turnovers forced, only six points allowed by the defense, and Philip Rivers under constant duress all game long. This was a defensive-led, defensive-first win, one Fangio and all of Broncos Country can be proud of.

For the first time all year, Denver’s defense finally looked like itself once again. Here’s hoping they can continue to do so for the foreseeable future.