|10-14-2005, 07:25 AM||#1|
Never say Always
Join Date: Jan 2003
Defense is Broncos Horsepower
Defense is Broncos' horsepower
By Tom Weir, USA TODAY
DENVER — For a fourth consecutive season, the Denver Broncos are off to a 4-1 start. But none of the previous three 4-1 teams won a playoff game or finished with a record better than 10-6.
Broncos lineman Trevor Pryce and the rest of the defense have been carrying the load so far this season.
By Jack Dempsey, AP
The best indication of whether this is a different Denver team that can avoid a late-season slide perhaps will come Sunday, when the Broncos host the defending Super Bowl champion New England Patriots.
But Denver already is showing it's unlike most Broncos teams during head coach Mike Shanahan's tenure. Though Shanahan helped pioneer the West Coast offense, Denver quarterback Jake Plummer is averaging only 175.8 passing yards a game and the Broncos often have resorted to offensive sets with two and three tight ends.
And on a team that traditionally wins by piling up points, it's the defense that has forged the 4-1 mark, averaging 13.2 points allowed since a season-opening 34-10 blowout loss to the Miami Dolphins.
"Points will come. Yards will come," Shanahan said this week. "I think we've proven over history that we can move the football. Maybe someday we'll get some yards and some more points."
Against the previously unbeaten Washington Redskins last Sunday, the Broncos amassed 190 fewer yards than the Redskins, had 7:38 less possession time and won by virtue of a blocked field goal, a reversed safety call and a two-point conversion attempt by Washington that was slapped away by linebacker Ian Gold with 1:09 left.
What Denver has done well on offense is avoid a turnover in its last 13 quarters and efficiently implement a running-back-by-committee attack.
So far three running backs have keyed victories.
Mike Anderson sparked a 30-10 win against the Kansas City Chiefs with a 44-yard touchdown run. Ron Dayne came off the bench for 39 crucial yards in the final drive of a 20-17 victory against the San Diego Chargers. And against Washington, second-year running back Tatum Bell had touchdown runs of 55 and 34 yards while totaling 127 yards on 12 carries.
For Denver, Bell's career-high day provided validation of its 2004 trade of running back Clinton Portis to Washington for cornerback Champ Bailey. Bell was taken with the draft pick Denver picked up in the trade and wears the No. 26 Portis had in Denver while turning in two 1,500-yard rushing seasons.
"He's very physical — not afraid to put his face in there," Shanahan says of Bell. "He keeps getting better and better. He's not afraid to block linebackers and defensive linemen. He has toughness. It's really just getting him the opportunity and staying healthy."
Shanahan says he'll stick with the group running plan to keep his backfield fresh, particularly Bell.
"When he touches the ball, he can go the distance," Shanahan says. "When you have a guy like that, you don't want to overwork him because he's playing special teams as well."
Defensive coordinator Larry Coyer doesn't expect his unit to have to carry the load all season.
"I think, offensively, that before this is over they're going to be what they always are," Coyer says. "They're going to do it."
Coyer's unit has held in part because of the surprise emergence of two rookie cornerbacks, Domonique Foxworth and Darrent Williams. Their dependability has been especially important with Bailey sidelined by a hamstring injury.
Second-round pick Williams wasn't expected to contribute much beyond returning kicks this year but wedged his way into the starting lineup with some big hits during preseason games.
"I'm used to seeing Denver putting up a lot of points, but it's the defense that's shutting them down," says Williams, the 56th overall draft pick out of Oklahoma State. "I think a lot of the guys think we're not respected around the league as one of the best defenses. They want to be known."
Williams also quickly has become aware of attention to the letdown factor from the previous three seasons.
"Everybody around here is saying we always start off good like this, then we kind of taper off," Williams says.
"If we win this one, I think a lot of people will look at us differently."