Through its first two series on Monday Night Football, the Denver defense looked utterly helpless. Cincinnati scored touchdowns on each of its first two drives, going 80 yards in 15 plays on the first drive and 90 yards in 13 plays on the second. Both series ate up more than seven-and-a-half minutes of game time.
But then a funny thing happened: The Bengals stopped scoring. In fact, they mustered just three points in the final 40+ minutes of action and turned the ball over on the final play of the game, as Denver eventually found its defensive mojo.
The Broncos have now held opponents to 17 points or fewer in four of their last six games. What makes this unit so strong?
“The strength of this defense, I think, is just their confidence in themselves,” former NFL linebacker and current Broncos television reporter Chad Brown said on CBS Sports Radio’s After Hours with Amy Lawrence. “They have two corners with Aqib Talib and Chris Harris Jr. who aren’t afraid to go man-to-man with some of the best receivers in the league. They’ve got a couple of other corners – (Bradley) Roby and other guys like that – and they’ve got a thumper safety with T.J. Ward. The linebackers, Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware, set the edge and get after the quarterback, and they’ve got an underrated front as well. So it’s not just one particular position group. It’s that confidence they all play with. And when you talk about that confidence, it really comes (back) to Wade Phillips. (They have) very similar personnel to what they had last year under Jack Del Rio, but they’re playing with a much higher level of confidence and a much higher level of aggressiveness.”
The offense, meanwhile, did just enough in Monday’s 20-17 overtime win. Brock Osweiler finished an efficient 27-of-39 for 299 yards and a touchdown.
“He has the ability to make plays with his feet,” Brown said. “He’s not going to run like a lot of running quarterbacks, but he can buy time in the pocket – and when you run this Gary Kubiak offense and the running game is beginning to have success, then the bootlegs and all those play-action things really work out. I think that’s what really makes a difference between him and Peyton Manning. Peyton Manning couldn’t play under center, which hampered the running game, and then if the running game isn’t working effectively, then it really limits the amount of bootlegs and play-action passing you can do – and that’s a really big part of Gary Kubiak’s offense.”
C.J. Anderson led Denver with nine carries for 73 yards, including a 39-yard touchdown run that gave Denver its first lead of the game – 17-14 – with 11:17 to go in the fourth quarter. As a team, Denver averaged 5.4 yards per carry, which usually doesn’t happen with Peyton Manning in shotgun.
It’ll be interesting to see what Denver does with its quarterback situation come playoff time – and interesting to see how fans respond. Broncos fans love Manning, but they also love winning.
“The NFL is always said to be a week-to-week proposition,” Brown said. “Here in Denver, if you’re taking the temperature on this quarterback thing, that’s also very week-to-week. How did Brock play? How did the offense do? What kind of news reports have we gotten about Peyton’s injury? It’s always up and down. I think the fans would really love to see Peyton get the all-time wins record for a quarterback next week against San Diego. But I think most fans, if you really ask them who gives the Broncos the best chance for success in the playoffs, would say Brock Osweiler.”
The Broncos can lock up the AFC West and secure a first-round bye with a win over San Diego this Sunday. Kickoff is at 4:25 p.m. ET.