The reason why the Broncos defense has improved

Oct 19, 2023, 3:25 AM

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — The Broncos defense wasn’t just lousy in most of the first four weeks of the season. It was confused. And it started before the snap.

Opponents went into motion. And Denver’s defense often found itself struggling as a collective unit to respond. So, just as the offense shortened its playcalls to try to make its pre-snap process more efficient, the defense simplified things, too.

Instead of focusing on an offense being practiced in the art of deception, coordinator Vance Joseph’s defense focused on itself.

“That’s the whole point of it, yeah,” inside linebacker Alex Singleton said. “If you have two or three calls, and some stuff you’re supposed to check, some stuff you’re not supposed to check. … Half the field’s getting it, half the field’s not.

“Instead, just forget that. Let’s play our game of football, and let them figure it out instead of us.”

And while the Broncos haven’t cut trimmed the yardage down just yet, they’ve slammed the door shut in the red zone. And while bend-but-don’t-break isn’t the perfect philosophy, it gives the Broncos a chance.


As cornerback Pat Surtain II noted, Joseph made things easier for the defense.

“You know, he simplified the calls some. Make us fly around,” Surtain explained. “Just being in the right positions and the right time and making plays.

“When you know what you’re doing on the defensive side of the ball, that’s what helps guys fly around and be more confident. Just shortening up the playcalls helped a lot.”

The change happened prior to the Broncos’ game against the New York Jets. And a defense that accounted for 20 touchdowns allowed in Weeks 1-4 has yielded just two since then.

“It was during the Jets (week) where we simplified some things, but also going into the Chiefs week, we ain’t trying to do anything too dynamic,” Surtain said.

And that meant sticking to the call.

“Not having too many adjustments. I think a lot of the times, you can have two or three calls. And instead, let’s play on our terms. Make one call, and we’re going to play that call better than whatever they’re going to do,” Singleton said.

“And when you’re able to do that, you can just execute faster. It might not be the right call at the time for what they run. But if your guys are playing faster, you can usually correct that better than you can (if) half the guys are playing one coverage, and half the guys are playing another. Because then, it’s just not good.”

Indeed, that sort of confusion would help explain the degree to which matters went awry for the Broncos defense, particularly during a shambolic 10-quarter stretch that began against Washington Sept. 17 and ended in Chicago a fortnight later. Denver’s defense allowed 18 touchdowns in that span — an average of 7.2 touchdowns per 60 minutes.

In the following nine quarters, Denver’s defense allowed just two touchdowns.

“[Joseph] just allowed us to play, and be where our feet are and work toward our strength,” Surtain said. “And we played well.”

The task for the Broncos is to make sure it lasts. But by simplifying things, Joseph and his struggling unit stopped the bleeding.



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