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Take it away now. Broncos' defense needs more big plays

Denver ranks 29th in takeways
Posted at 1:21 PM, Oct 09, 2020
and last updated 2020-10-09 16:18:50-04

ENGLEWOOD — Eight days ago, the Broncos hustled into their locker room at Met Life Stadium to celebrate their first win since last December. During this long odyssey — a new offensive coordinator, no offseason practices, and injuries to Von Miller, Courtland Sutton, Jurrell Casey, A.J. Bouye — the Broncos have faced a series of humiliations.

There was a clock-mangled loss to the Titans, a heart-in-a-blender defeat to the Steelers, and a punch-in-the-face by the Buccaneers. So, the celebration and sigh of relief were merited. Nothing provides a soothing balm on the forehead like a victory. Even against the Jets.

Now, the hard part. Can they make it two straight?

Take it away now. Broncos' defense needs more big plays

It will be challenging, with Brett Rypien expected to face Cam Newton on Monday at 3 p.m. on ESPN. This week has been defined by change — fair or not to the Broncos and it's not equitable, but it is the reality. Broncos coach Vic Fangio addressed the issue Friday morning.

"From the start of this season — all the way back to when training camp started — we all knew that the NFL would not go clean with no positive tests for the entire season. We knew there would be some positive tests and that those positive tests would cause some inconveniences and change of schedules and adjustments," Fangio said. "And it just so happens now that we’re part of the adjustments because New England is our opponent this week — they’ve had some positive tests — so, it’s on us to be able to adjust, adapt and improvise and be ready to play the game on Monday night. I’m confident that we will do that.”

While the week has been shrouded in uncertainty, one thing is clear: The Broncos defense will need to deliver its best game to pull off the upset. It starts with producing more takeaways. Denver has two, ranking 29th in the league. That will not work. Not against a good team like the Patriots.

"Yeah, absolutely, and I take full responsibility for that. We had a tough month; it wasn’t good and it wasn’t what we wanted," defensive coordinator Ed Donatell said Thursday. "But really, the only thing that matters is what we do this week to help our team win. The major emphasis is that we have to catch the ball. We had a couple balls in our hands, a couple tips that we’ve got to come down with, we’ve got to attack runners. But that’s a point of emphasis, we need to do it and we want to set up our offense for points. They put up a lot of points last week without us even helping them. If we help them, good things are going to happen.”

The Broncos have dreams, but they will dissolve without a more dynamic defense. They lost the turnover battle against the Jets, failing to secure an interception or fumble, and won. Consider it an anomaly. The Patriots' defense has delivered eight takeaways, second most in the league. The team that wins that category will triumph Monday.

What is different this week is the swag. The Broncos feel good after finally closing out a game, stifling the Jets twice in the fourth quarter.

"That’s the biggest thing, right. I kept saying, ‘It doesn’t matter, we found a way to win.’ We were minus three in the turnover battle, which is a huge factor. We talk about it all the time. Takeaways are huge part of winning football games. Setting your offense up with shorter fields and momentum swings. We lost that battle, but we found a way to win the game, which is a huge confidence boost for our team," safety Justin Simmons said.

"Knowing our offense can put up the points to win a football game like that and knowing defensively that we weren’t playing at our best. We didn’t get any takeaways and we still found a way to close out the game when it mattered. That’s a lot of momentum going into the rest of the season, and we have to make sure we’re capitalizing on things like that. We just have to find ways to do it. At the end of the day, no one cares what’s happening to you injury-wise."

A year ago, the Broncos' struggled with takeaways, finishing 25th overall with 17. However, those all came over the final 12 games, stirring optimism about the second year in coach Fangio's defense this season.

Could the Broncos have found a better fit this year with the improvement of linebacker Josey Jewell and return of De'Vante Bausby? A year ago, the Broncos inserted Mike Purcell and Alexander Johnson into the lineup and held eight of their next 12 opponents to 20 points or less. Jewell produced 10 tackles and two sacks against the Jets, showing acumen on blitzes. And Bausby won his one-on-one matchups in nickel coverage, allowing Bryce Callahan to move inside to the slot, were he remains terrific.

Newton presents unique challenges. He can run — he has rushed for 149 yards on 35 carries with four touchdowns. He only has two touchdown passes, but has shown improved accuracy and health compared to his final two seasons in Carolina. The Patriots will be playing with limited practice -- perhaps only walkthroughs -- but they remain undefeated at home.

Beating them requires big plays. And takeaways.

"Really, we just need to start thinking about some turnovers, that’s one thing that we haven’t gotten a lot of yet and we’re working on it day by day," said Jewell, whose Broncos underwent COVID-19 testing Friday, but did not practice as a result of the schedule change. "Hopefully that’s going to be better, but that’s just one big thing that we’re trying to accomplish here in these next couple of games.”

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