DENVER – This story starts like a “30 for 30.”
What if I told you, the worst moment in Broncos defensive history was the best thing that happened to them? That sometimes it takes bottoming out to see a way up? That no one believed expect those in the mirror and the man providing a lighthouse in the storm?
The Dolphins Debacle will forever leave a stain on the Broncos after allowing a franchise-record 70 points on 10 touchdowns. It dropped Denver to the abyss in every statistical measure. Then something funny happened. Defensive coordinator Vance Joseph remained calm as a lagoon, refusing to assign blame, while telling players they were close to figuring it out.
“That gave us confidence,” outside linebacker Baron Browning said.
The rebound has been as stunning as it has been jarring. The Broncos boast a 6-1 record over their last seven games, tied for the best in the league. Denver is playing complementary football, but this run, which has the Broncos squarely in the playoff mix, centers on a relentless defense.
Linebacker Alex Singleton explained that the Broncos are no longer reacting to the opponent, but making the opponent react to them. Joseph deserves credit. He inserted Ja’Quan McMillian at nickel corner after the Miami game, moved Mike Purcell inside to bolster the rush defense and played off the strengths of returning healthy players Justin Simmons and Baron Browning.
The result? The Broncos have posted 14 sacks over their past three games. The pressure assaults the quarterback’s senses. McMillian is the first Broncos cornerback to post sacks in back-to-back games since Ray Crockett in 1996.
“Vance let me know early in the week that he was going to let me blitz the quarterback more. I made some plays. Other guys made some plays,” said McMillian, who is one of two NFL players this season with multiple sacks, interceptions, forced fumbles and fumble recoveries. “It was a good thing.”
P.J. Locke netted a strip sack on Sunday. He became the first Broncos safety in team history to record a sack in three consecutive games.
Against the Chargers, the six sacks came from six different players.
“I think we had the resolve the whole time. Those first six weeks were obviously sloppy. It’s a mature group. We’ve done a good job of taking it one play at a time. That’s what good teams do. Bad things happen, but it’s how you respond,” said defensive end Zach Allen, who has five sacks and tied a career-high with 20 quarterback hits.
“Everyone is competing to make plays. Rather than survival, you are looking to excel which is the way defense is meant to be played. VJ is calling a great game. He gives everyone opportunities. It’s fun to be part of, and it’s the best defense I have ever been part of.”
The Broncos sit plus-10 in the turnover margin during this seven-game stretch. The Broncos offense has made just enough plays, recognizing that if they do not give the ball away they will find a way to win.
Broncos captain Kareem Jackson continued his terrific work in the community this holiday season. Monday, he hosted 50 kids (ages 6-17) from the Boys & Girls Club of Denver for his annual “JackaClaus Shopping Spree” holiday shopping event at Walmart tonight, with each child receiving $100. He was joined by teammates Delarrin Turner-Yell, McMillian, and Locke. Jackson’s four-game suspension runs through the Detroit game. Jackson recently met with commissioner Roger Goodell about his discipline. “For me it was about going and being able to voice how I feel. I feel a lot better leaving, being able to express myself. I was told I am responsible for the offensive guy’s protection. So, I am not really sure how I protect myself, make plays and protect him as well. That was what I was told. I am not really sure what I do moving forward as far as playing this game, but hopefully I will figure it out.” …
Right guard Quinn Meinerz returned to Denver on Monday night after being held overnight in a local Los Angeles hospital as a precaution for an irregular heartbeat.