NFL Team Report - Denver Broncos - INSIDE SLANT
Early in the third quarter Sunday at Sports Authority Field at Mile High, the Broncos trailed Washington, 21-7. The home fans were stunned.
Denver's former coach, Mike Shanahan, was clad in a burgundy polo shirt and high-fiving an assistant coach, celebrating a run of 21 points in 13 plays from scrimmage.
Denver's defense was playing well, but still dogged by the anvil it carried on its back coming into the game: a pass defense that was dead last in the league and on pace to allow a league-record passing-yardage total.
"We've got too much talent to be 32nd in the league in pass (defense)," cornerback Chris Harris said.
This was the point when the Broncos as a team, and the maligned defense in particular, said: "Enough."
That Denver scored 38 unanswered points to power a 45-21 rout was one thing; that was largely about the offense resuming its normal consistent service after fits of scattershot play in the previous eight quarters.
But the noteworthy development for the Broncos that should aid them later is the defense's role in the surge.
Playing with Von Miller and Wesley Woodyard on the field together for the first time, the Broncos had enough speed to corral Washington quarterback Robert Griffin III while not sacrificing resources in coverage.
As the Denver offense marched to scores on four consecutive possessions and five of six, the defense contracted, holding Washington to 17 yards on its next 16 plays over five possessions.
In that span, the Broncos had as many takeaways as first downs allowed, two.
Much of that was due to a pass rush that sacked Griffin three times and hit him 13 times overall.
Miller's presence in particular freed up Denver's other defensive linemen to attack Griffin, allowing the Broncos to get pressure without over-committing to blitzes.
"I feel like we're finally starting to get that feel of what we can be, because we can be a championship defense," said defensive tackle Terrance Knighton, who had a sack Sunday and knocked Griffin from the game with a jarring hit as he threw his final pass.
"I feel like we should be the best team in NFL statistically, and that's what we're working towards. It felt good to finally get that feeling."
Knighton was not with the Broncos last year, when pressure was the bedrock upon which the team built the No. 2 defense in the NFL. It's unlikely the Broncos can reach that height again this year; they're ranked 24th overall at the season's midpoint.
But the struggles of the defense haven't dealt a mortal blow to the Broncos' hopes, and if it can come close to recapturing its 2013 form, the suddenly turnover-prone offense can make a few mistakes and not cost the Broncos any more wins.
"It's unbelievable; it's really great when your defense is part of it, when your defense is one of the main reasons why you won," defensive lineman Derek Wolfe said.
"I'm really happy with the way we all played together and the way we stuck together and didn't let turnovers and stuff get in our head or get to us."?
NFL Team Report - Denver Broncos - NOTES, QUOTES
--The lone blight on the offense in its second-half blitz of Washington's defense was turnovers. Peyton Manning lost a fumble after being sacked by Ryan Kerrigan on the Broncos' first second-half series, and threw three interceptions thereafter.
Of the three, only one could clearly be attributed to the quarterback: a pass down the seam to Wes Welker that was short and into double coverage, setting up a Jordan Pugh interception.
The others came when Demaryius Thomas lost his balance against a pressing DeAngelo Hall and when Hall took the football away from Thomas on a pass up the left sideline.
But no matter the cause, Manning was a bit rankled over the mistakes.
"Well, it's disappointing," Manning said. "There's no question, because you feel like you put your defense in a tough spot. Those guys had a great game plan and executed it, and all of the sudden we're down, 21-7.
"We really put our team in a tough spot."
A week earlier, an interception and two fumbles -- one of which was not technically lost, but bounced out of the end zone for a safety -- led to 12 Indianapolis points.
Another seven came off the board for Denver on a goal-to-go fumble by Ronnie Hillman. Against Washington, the miscues led directly to two of the three touchdowns Denver allowed.
"I don't think frustrated is the word," Manning said. "I think determined is the word, to overcome those mistakes. And you don't do it by pressing and forcing things, you do it by going about your business and doing your job."
--A week after being called for three 15-yard penalties -- two of which were accepted by the Colts -- DT tackle Kevin Vickerson drew another unnecessary roughness penalty when he bumped into Robert Griffin III after a pass.
The infraction drew the ire of Broncos coach John Fox, who was seen vociferously talking to Vickerson during the next play, which he watched from the sideline. A day later, Fox was measured in his assessment.
"I looked at the tape and sometimes those guys back there maybe are a little more athletic than the guys chasing them," Fox said. But we've got to do a better job of avoiding any sort of contact."
Vickerson called himself "a marked man" in the wake of the spate of penalties.
"(The officials) are looking for me; they're looking for anything I do," he said. "I think I came off on a field goal and the guy told me something. It is what it is. I'm a marked guy. I've got to stay away from it and make better decisions coming out of the stack."
--LB/DE Von Miller was not in court at a Monday hearing on traffic offenses, but showed up later and plead guilty to the charges. Miller was a no-show when his case came on the docket at 10:30 a.m. His attorney, Abraham Hutt, was there.
"He was just going on his attorney's advice," Broncos coach John Fox said. "He was all good to go. He did everything right on his part."
According to the Denver Post, judge Christina Apostoli was not amused, declaring it "rather ridiculous" that Miller did not appear in the Arapahoe County, Colo., courtroom. The courts are less than 300 yards away from Broncos headquarters.
Miller subsequently arrived approximately 100 minutes after the scheduled time and entered the guilty plea. He was sentenced to 24 hours of community service and to complete a Level 1 driving class. If he does both, then further action regarding his previous missed court appearances will be dropped.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "No, never panic, because that's when things get worse. We made sure to tell everybody to focus on your individual job, worry about what you have to do personally and get it done. I think that was the overall message and you could kind of see that's what happened." -- RB Montee Ball, on how the Broncos responded when trailing Washington, 21-7, in the third quarter.
NFL Team Report - Denver Broncos - STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
--RB C.J. Anderson was active for the first time as a pro and finished with 22 yards on three carries. Anderson, the Broncos' heaviest back, replaced fumble-prone Ronnie Hillman on the game-day active roster.
--LB/DE Von Miller recorded his first sack since his suspension, jumping on Washington QB Robert Griffin III to force a fumble. Miller finished with five tackles.
--CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie capped the Broncos' scoring with a 75-yard interception return on Kirk Cousins' pass in the fourth quarter. Rodgers-Cromartie led the Broncos with three passes defensed, and also logged five tackles.
--RB Montee Ball's four-yard barge through a scrum of Washington and Denver players gave him the first regular-season touchdown of his career. Ball finished with 37 yards on 11 carries, but also dropped a pass.
--RB Knowshon Moreno finished with 133 yards from scrimmage and a touchdown on a 35-yard screen pass. His 89 receiving yards led the Broncos. He is on pace for over 1,400 yards from scrimmage, which would make him the first Broncos running back since Reuben Droughns in 2004 to hit that mark.
--G Louis Vasquez returned to right guard after starting the previous game at right tackle because of Orlando Franklin's ankle injury.
--S Mike Adams played extensively in place of Duke Ihenacho on Sunday against Washington. Adams, a starter last season, is the Broncos' primary backup safety this year, but filled in when Ihenacho sprained an ankle.
--T Orlando Franklin returned after missing the Indianapolis game because of sprains in his left knee and ankle, sustained on Oct. 13 against Jacksonville. He appeared to be laboring as the game went on and tweeted a picture of himself wearing a boot on his left ankle a day later.
--TE Julius Thomas injured an ankle Sunday, but tweeted a day later that an MRI exam showed that he did not suffer a high ankle sprain. Thomas dealt with complications from a slow-to-heal high ankle sprain for nearly two full seasons before finally getting healthy late last year.
--S Duke Ihenacho sustained an ankle injury in the first half Sunday and was seen in the locker room wearing a walking boot. He did not return from the injury and was replaced by Mike Adams.
--QB Peyton Manning threw four touchdown passes and three interceptions Sunday. Manning missed practice four days earlier because of an ankle injury. ESPN reported that Manning suffered two separate ankle injuries two weeks earlier against Jacksonville.
--CB Champ Bailey missed Sunday's game after aggravating his sprained left foot in the second quarter against the Colts on Oct. 20. He first injured his foot Aug. 17 at Seattle. He said this recurrence was not as severe as the first injury and has targeted the San Diego game on Nov. 10 for his return.
--C J.D. Walton is nearly two weeks into the three-week window of practice during which the Broncos must decide whether to place him on injured reserve or restore him to the 53-man roster. Walton was on the physically-unable-to-perform list following a second surgery to repair a broken ankle, but began practicing Oct. 16.
--LB Wesley Woodyard played Sunday after missing two games because of a neck injury suffered against Dallas on Oct. 6.
--RG Chris Kuper was inactive after being limited in practice the previous week because of an ankle injury. Kuper started the Week 7 loss at Indianapolis as the offensive line shuffled to compensate for Orlando Franklin's injury.
REPORT CARD VS. REDSKINS
PASSING OFFENSE: B -- Peyton Manning threw four touchdown passes, spread the ball around among his top targets and shredded a Washington defense that was without its two starting safeties. But pass protection broke down at times on the flanks, resulting in two sacks, one of which led to a Manning fumble. The timing between the quarterback and WR Demaryius Thomas also appears shaky; Thomas was the intended target on two of Manning's three interceptions, falling down on one and losing a tug-of-war for the football with DeAngelo Hall on the other.
RUSHING OFFENSE: B-minus -- The absence of fumbles was a pleasant change for the ground game. Rookie C.J. Anderson replaced Ronnie Hillman in the three-man rotation and picked up 22 of the 103 yards that Anderson, Knowshon Moreno and fellow rookie Montee Ball accumulated on 29 carries. Ball ran with the power and decisiveness he lacked in some previous appearances, and Anderson showed a nice explosive burst. If all three stay healthy, Hillman might be riding the bench a while.
PASS DEFENSE: A -- It took a week, but Von Miller made his presence felt with a flourish, with a strip-sack fumble that led to a field goal in the fourth quarter. Miller's re-emergence after a six-game suspension opened up lanes for his fellow pass rushers; collectively they hit Robert Griffin III 13 times and never let him get comfortable. Opportunistic work by the secondary helped Denver fully capitalize off the pressure, resulting in three of the four interceptions, with DE Shaun Phillips grabbing the other.
RUSH DEFENSE: B-minus -- Washington's Alfred Morris came within seven yards of posting the first 100-yard rushing game against the Broncos this season, and the wide-open lanes he often had allowed him to average 5.5 yards per carry. But while Morris flourished, QB Robert Griffin III struggled, and the Broncos successfully shadowed him, closing his lanes and limiting him to seven yards on five carries.
SPECIAL TEAMS: C -- The Broncos caught a break when Sav Rocca shanked a punt in the fourth quarter; it went 15 yards and set up the Broncos for a 35-yard touchdown one play later. Matt Prater was perfect, but Trindon Holliday had few return chances and Washington's Josh Morgan reeled off a 34-yard punt return thanks to four missed Broncos tackles.
COACHING: A-minus -- The mid-week practice decision to rest a handful of key players like Manning, Wes Welker and Eric Decker paid off; all of them played Sunday, and Welker caught a touchdown pass. Denver's coaches did well in their mid-game adjustments, particularly in offensive coordinator Adam Gase's second-half emphasis on screen passes. This took the punch out of Washington's edge pass rush led directly to two touchdowns that turned a tight game into a rout.