Denver Broncos Defense

Before a question regarding Denver's defense could be answered completely, Broncos safety Omar Bolden interjected.

"Best DBs in the league," Bolden barked emphatically from his locker room stall.

The Broncos defense may be boastful, but the story line involving Denver's quarterback play has received the most attention. Somewhat lost amid the talk of Peyton Manning's decline is the ascension of Denver's defense -- particularly the pass D -- into the NFL's best unit.

Denver Broncos

"Definitely the best defense in the league," cornerback Aqib Talib said. "We pride ourselves on being the best cornerbacks in the world, the best secondary, the best defense period."

The stats back up Talib's declaration.

Heading into Week 11, the Broncos ranked first in the NFL, allowing just 277.3 yards per game. With defending the pass as its forte, Denver was an impressive 20 yards per game better than Seattle, the NFL's next best pass D, and the Broncos led the NFL in sacks.

And they've made clutch, game-winning plays on a nearly weekly basis.

  • With 28 seconds left and the Ravens at the Denver 16, safety Darian Stewart intercepted Joe Flacco's pass to seal the 19-13 victory in Week 1.
  • The following week linebacker Brandon Marshall stripped running back Jamaal Charles, and cornerback Bradley Roby returned the fumble 21 yards for a touchdown with 27 seconds remaining to defeat the Chiefs 31-24.
  • In Week 4 the Vikings trailed by three with 35 seconds left when safety T.J. Ward sacked and stripped quarterback Teddy Bridgewater.
  • Chris Harris Jr. was the hero the following week with a 75-yard Pick 6 in the fourth quarter of Denver's 16-10 win at Oakland, and then his fellow cornerback, Talib, had a 63-yard Pick 6 during their next contest, an overtime victory against the Browns.
  • In Week 11 the Broncos preserved their 17-15 lead when Ward stuffed Bears running back Jeremy Langford on the two-point conversion with 29 seconds left.

"When everything's on the line," Roby said, "we expect that we're going to make plays."

Broncos Sack Rodgers

The Denver D truly showed it's the top unit in Week 8, holding Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers to 76 passing yards -- the lowest total of any start in his career -- by smothering his receivers.

The Broncos are physical and intimidating, but sometimes they take it too far. During Denver's Week 2 victory against the Chiefs, the defense committed three unnecessary-roughness penalties and one roughing-the-passer penalty during the first half. Talib was suspended one game for an eye gouge on Colts tight end Dwayne Allen on Nov. 8, and the next week, Ward was ejected for punching Chiefs receiver Jeremy Maclin.

"That's the way they play, and you can't take that away from them. It's the aggression, and you play right up to the whistle and sometimes you play through," Chiefs offensive coordinator Doug Pederson said. "You just have to know that going into those ballgames. And that cliché term, 'keep your head on a swivel,' well, you have to kind of keep your eyes moving and protect yourself that way."


Recently acquired Denver tight end Vernon Davis compared the way the Broncos fly to the ball to the defense of the 49ers team, which reached Super Bowl XLVII.

Broncos Defense

Another former player on that Super Bowl team, Alex Smith, now quarterbacks the Chiefs and has faced the Denver defense twice this year.

"They're really good, very, very, very good," Smith said. "They're very good up front, they get after the passer, they're physical, they're good at the linebacker level and really good on the back end."

Denver's D is well-rounded, but the success of its superlative pass defense starts with its aggressive cornerbacks.

"Ain't no better corners than me and 'Lib out there," Harris said. "Big receivers, small receiver, it doesn't matter."

In the past couple of years, Denver had mixed zone and man coverages, but under new defensive coordinator Wade Phillips, the Broncos have played man coverage more than 80 percent of the time, and the cornerbacks rarely have help, freeing up other players to blitz.

Wade Phillips

"A lot of teams can't trust their corners to play man like us," Harris said. "Coach Wade puts a lot of responsibility on us to be able to do that."

At 6-1 and 205 pounds, Talib has the size to play man against the biggest targets. When Talib was in New England, Bill Belichick used to him shadow then-Saints tight end Jimmy Graham, and Phillips had him cover 6-5, 237-pound Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson one-on-one for much of the Week 3 game.

Talib, who led the league, heading into Week 11, in interception yardage with 123 while also scoring two touchdowns, was Harris' college teammate at Kansas, and the duo have a special chemistry.

"It makes communication out there so much easier," Harris said.

Though the Buccaneers drafted Talib in the first round of the 2008 draft, Harris joined the Broncos as an undrafted free agent in 2011. Last year he didn't allow a single touchdown reception en route to his first Pro Bowl season and in 2015 he has two interceptions and one touchdown.

Harris and Talib are supplemented by the 23-year-old Roby, the team's first-round pick in 2014.

Denver Broncos

"We're all good and we're deep," Roby said. "The (No.) 2s would be starters on other teams."

That depth extends to the safety position, which includes David Bruton Jr., Bolden and Stewart and is led by Ward. The third defensive back -- along with Talib and Harris -- to make the Pro Bowl last season, Ward can cover like a defensive back or hit like a linebacker, having forced two fumbles and recorded two sacks this year.

Ward's versatility was on display during the second quarter of the victory against the Bears. Two plays after covering wide receiver Marquess Wilson, he broke up a pass to tight end Martellus Bennett and then hit quarterback Jay Cutler off a blitz on third and long.

The stellar back end is aided by a great pass rush.

Miller And Ware

"We complement each other well," said defensive end Antonio Smith. "If you ain't got them boys covering for you, you ain't gonna get no sacks. And if you ain't rushing the quarterback, eventually guys get open."

Phillips, hired as the defensive coordinator after the Raiders named Jack Del Rio their head coach, implemented a 3-4 defense, which suits two of its edge rushers -- DeMarcus Ware and Von Miller -- even better than last year's 4-3.

While playing in that same scheme for Phillips from 2007 to 2010 in Dallas, Ware had 60.5 sacks.

A prototypical 3-4 outside linebacker with a power/speed blend, Miller (55 sacks in 66 games) has drawn comparisons to his idol and Hall of Famer Derrick Thomas, whose rookie card is displayed in his locker, with his style of play.

Denver Defense

The 33-year-old Ware leads the team with sacks with 6.5 but has been suffering from back issues. Though his health is a major concern, the Broncos have depth at his position.

They traded up in the first round of the 2015 NFL draft to select Shane Ray, who led the SEC in sacks and tackles for loss in 2014.

They also have second-year Shaquil Barrett, who went undrafted out of Colorado State after recording a body fat percentage of 24. After improving his diet -- he used to add seven sugar packets to his spaghetti dinners in college -- Barrett has become a force. While starting for the injured Ware against the Browns, he recorded nine tackles, 1.5 sacks, three tackles for loss, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery.


Two years ago the Broncos reached the Super Bowl largely on the strength of their offensive attack.

Manning threw for 55 touchdowns while leading Denver to an NFL record 606 points.

Denver Defense

In his first start for Manning, Brock Osweiler looked more than competent -- completing 20 of 27 passes for 250 yards and two touchdowns against the Bears -- and agile, deftly executing the bootleg plays, which are a staple of Gary Kubiak's offense. Most importantly, he avoided the costly error, as the Broncos did not throw an interception in a game for the first time all season.

"Very impressive performance," Antonio Smith said, "it won him a nickname. They call him 'The Brockweiler' now. So you know you're doing something right when you get a nickname."

Whether Osweiler did enough to earn the starting job or Manning can improve his play once he becomes healthy, remains to be seen. But the Broncos definitely will continue to rely on their attacking defensive players, who act like the baddest dogs on the block.

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