Top-ranked Broncos defense is still looking to improve

Oct 18, 2015; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Browns quarterback Josh McCown (13) is sacked by Denver Broncos linebacker Shaquil Barrett (48), Denver Broncos defensive end Antonio Smith (90) and Denver Broncos defensive end Malik Jackson (97) during the second half at FirstEnergy Stadium. The Broncos won 26-23. Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

With the Denver Broncos bye week finally here, every NFL offense can take a sigh of relief. None of them will have to worry about Von Miller sacking and ripping the ball away from them or Aqib Talib intercepting a pass and smiling as he trots into their end zone. The bad news for opposing defenses is the Broncos are getting their rest at the perfect time, and to them, despite historically great statistics through six games, they feel they have yet to play their best football.

The defense so far is other-worldly, ranking in the top five in yards per game (2nd), yards per play (1st), rushing yards per game (5th), passing net yards per game (3rd), sacks per pass play (2nd), third down efficiency (2nd), points per game (4th) and lastly takeaways (1st).

Through six weeks the Broncos are 6-0 and have relied heavily on the defense to win games. While the offense enters the bye searching for the right formula, the defense is simply daring people to beat their talented lineup. Chris Harris Jr. attributes much of their success to defensive coordinator Wade Phillips and how he has used the talent on defense.

“Adding coach Wade, man he has been on point every game with his play calling, Harris says. “There hasn’t been a point in a game where I’m like, ‘man why are we running this?’ I’ve never had that at all with coach Wade. There has been some times in games where I’m like, ‘this is the perfect time to call this coverage,’ and he calls it. He has been on point.

“He’s calling the same stuff he has been calling the whole season. We aren’t changing anything. We are trying to be the bully, bringing the heat and you have to get open on us.”

Through six weeks, every game has come down to a big defensive stop that has secured the win in one way or another. Road games in Kansas City and Cleveland quickly come to mind. And despite their opponents combined losing record, Harris knows what the accomplishment means in the NFL.

“We had a great start,” he says. “People don’t realize, winning four games on the road in your first six games is really hard in the NFL. So, we had a very tough task. That shows a lot from this team to be able to do that.”

On a defense that is already so acclaimed through six weeks there is a glaring problem the entire unit wants to clean up.

“Penalties. Mainly just penalties and then penalties again and then penalties. Penalties—the timing of them is just bad,” Von Miller said Tuesday. “That’s really the only way that we’re getting beat right now. If we can knock that down—it sounds easier than what it really is—but if we can knock that down, we should see everything else get a little bit better.”

Penalties can be cleaned up, and as Miller said, this already impressive defense could become even more unstoppable. Harris echoed his teammate’s sentiments.

“We keep having dumb penalties, bailing people out all the time when we could be really straight, completely dominate the whole game. Until we do that we won’t be satisfied because we know how great we can be.”

How great they can be is already taking form. They have eight fumble recoveries, nine interceptions and 23 sacks already. Each level of the defense has Pro Bowl-caliber talent. It adds to each individual’s confidence and undoubtedly frustrates the opposition.

“There is not one point where an offense can attack and we aren’t prepared or able to make a big play,” T.J. Ward stated Tuesday.

That evaluation can be seen on an individual level, as well. According to Pro Football Focus, not only is the Broncos defense the highest rated, the individuals are playing superbly as well. In the 3-4 defense the Broncos have seven players ranked in the top ten at their positions. Brandon Marshall, Harris and Miller are in the top three. Their remarkable play has been fun to watch but they are surely going to rest, but not on their early accomplishments.

“We need this bye week. We need to refocus for the tough run coming up. To get his bye week right now is huge,” Harris declared.

After several seasons of a lopsided offense carrying an up-and-coming defense, the tables have turned. The defense continues to show faith in Peyton Manning and the offense and their lofty goals certainly haven’t changed after the 6-0 start. Harris, who has been on the Broncos since 2011, knows the great defenses in NFL history and understands that they have one thing in common.

“Those legendary defenses you name, I pretty sure they won a Super Bowl. You can have the top numbers all through the year but if we don’t win a Super Bowl we aren’t legendary. That’s what it’s about.”

It is hard to imagine that the stifling, remarkable defense of the Broncos could get any better but a week of rest for the talented team could be just what they need to make that leap to “legendary”. One thing is for sure, the rest of the NFL will be happy the Broncos defense has the week off.

*All stats provided by the Denver Broncos Media Relations unless otherwise noted


Email Sam at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @SamCowhick

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