In offseason, Vance Joseph simplified Broncos defense even more

Jul 3, 2024, 1:19 AM

It was when Vance Joseph simplified the defensive calls last year that the Broncos defense, a wreck through the first four games of the 2023 season, finally began to round into form.

There were fewer potential adjustments. Instead of breaking the huddle with two or three possibilities, the Broncos had one call and they focused on executing it. By the end of October, Joseph had an opportunistic, aggressive unit barely recognizable from the one that allowed a 70-point howler in Miami.

That didn’t mean it was perfect. The Week 15 slaughter at the paws of the Detroit Lions showed that the Broncos still had issues with teams that had better-than-average speed and quickness at multiple skill-position spots. But it gave the Broncos some foundation for the offseason.

Further, the defensive rankings after simplifying matters in Week 5 were evidence of the wisdom of the changes after having the league’s worst defense in Weeks 1-4:

  • Total defense: 17
  • Scoring defense: 11
  • First downs allowed: 15
  • Third-down percentage allowed: 1
  • Touchdowns allowed: T-5
  • Passing defense: 17
  • Passer rating allowed: 14
  • Rushing defense: 28

So, when players returned for OTAs this spring, Vance Joseph had something up his sleeve: making that simplified scheme even simpler.

“A little bit more film study, a little less in the playbook, stuff like that,” defensive end Matt Henningsen explained.

“It’s essentially just trying to make the playbook as simple as possible where every single guy can pick it up, learn it, understand it, and then just go play — go play football. That’s it.”

Defensive end Zach Allen — who has played his entire career under Joseph, with four seasons in Arizona before coming to Denver as a free agent in March 2023 — recognizes it better than almost anyone.

“Awesome. It’s the best,” Allen said. “We play now an attack style. Simple. Only a few calls. And that’s all you can ask for — especially as a guy up front. My successful years in Arizona with ‘VJ,’ that’s kind of how we played, and that’s the way I think that football is meant to be played.

“So, the fact that we’ve been making these steps is awesome.”


And if you’re going to have anyone on board, No. 2 — who is No. 1 in the hearts of the Broncos and beyond essential to the team’s hopes of shocking the pigskin pundit class — is a good place to start.

“It’s great,” Surtain said last month.

“Vance, obviously, he’s set a great example for us, just believing in us with his playcalls, but also he’s simplifyifng it even more, so we can play faster, feel comfortable, and that’s a main thing you want in a defense.

“We’ve got the utmost belief in Vance, and I know Vance has got the utmost belief in us. It goes hand in hand.”

And sink or swim, it’s no longer a defense that attempts to incorporate echoes of prior schemes.

“Now, it’s fully VJ’s (defense),” Allen said. “Everyone’s comfortable with each other, and everyone understands it. So, we’re in a really good spot.”


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