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Dominating Defense Fuels Win Streak

Posted Dec 21, 2012

The Broncos defense has emerged as the league's top unit during the team's current win streak.

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- With the Broncos back in orange jerseys this year, it’s easy to harken back to the Orange Crush days of the franchise.

But it's more than just the uniforms, it's the performance on the field.

CATEGORYWKS 1-5WKS 6-15
Record 2-3 9-0
QB Rtg. 94.7 (2) 72.9 (4)
Rushing Yards 120.2 (21) 74.8 (1)
Rushing TDs 4 (T-18) 1 (1)
10 yard Rushes 13 (T-15) 13 (1)
Yards per Carry 3.8 (11) 3.4 (1)
Points Allowed 22.8 (19) 17.8 (3)
Scrimmage Yards 356.0 (14) 313.9 (2)
Sacks 14 (T-9) 28 (1)
Interceptions 2 (25) 14 (2)
Third-down Pct. 46.7 (T-14) 20.9 (1)

While the offense has gotten plenty of attention during the Broncos’ current nine-game win streak, the defense has emerged as one of the best units in the league.

Invigorated by the top rushing defense in the NFL since the streak began, the Broncos have allowed just 17.8 points per game, which is third best in the league.

“We’ve had a nasty taste in our mouths,” linebacker Wesley Woodyard said. “We’ve got to continue to stay focused and locked in, and not let anybody get anything. That’s the way our defense has been taught. That’s the way we need to start playing and continue to play.”

Since Week 6, the defense has also scored 32 points of its own on four pick-sixes, one fumble returned for a touchdown and one safety. In an adjusted statistic of points allowed minus points scored, the Broncos are giving up just 14.2 points per game, which is tops in the league.

The success has started up front with a stout run defense. Opponents' leading rushers have gained just 36.0 yards per game against the Broncos in the span of the streak, which is about half what they have averaged against all other teams.

“We’re all trying to be there for the guy next to us,” defensive tackle Kevin Vickerson said of the run defense. “Being responsible for what’s yours, and trying to play fast at the same time. Playing a hard knocks game of defense, the way we play defense, it’s time to go at it.”

The only two players to gain more yards against the Broncos than their average in other games since the streak started have been Chargers running back Ryan Mathews and Saints running back Pierre Thomas, who ran for 74 and 43 yards respectively against Denver.

Only Kansas City's Jamaal Charles has topped the 100-yard mark, but his 107 yards against the Broncos were still shy of his average against other teams this season.

Tampa Bay running back Doug Martin averages 91.8 yards per game against other teams this season, but managed just 52 against Denver. The Broncos held running back Ray Rice to half his season average, carrying 12 times for 38 yards in last week’s Broncos win at Baltimore.

“That’s one of the points of emphasis,” Woodyard said. “Stop the run. We’ve had a bunch of good challenges going up against a lot of top running backs, and that’s what we hang our hat on. We want to be one of the best run defenses in the NFL.”

The Broncos have allowed only one rushing touchdown since the win streak began – a 2-yard carry by Bengals running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis in the fourth quarter of the team’s victory at Cincinnati. No other team has allowed fewer than three in that span.

The defense has also limited explosive, momentum-building plays on the ground. Opponents have picked up 10-plus-yard runs just 13 times in the span of the streak. No other team has allowed fewer than 19 of those big plays.

“Stopping the run is just an attitude,” said Champ Bailey, who is one of the team’s defensive captains. “You can be in the right gaps but you’ve got to make the tackles. We pride ourselves on being a good tackling football team.”

Another key to the defense’s success has been getting off the field.

The team’s highest statistical jump since the beginning of the win streak has been in third-down conversions. During the first five games of the season, opponents were successful on 46.7 percent of their third-down attempts, which ranked 29th out of the 32 NFL teams. Since then, that number has plummeted to 20.9, which is best in the league -- 6.3 percentage points ahead of the second-place San Francisco 49ers.

“We definitely have to bear down on third downs,” linebacker Von Miller said. “(That’s) what we’ve been banking on all season – getting off the field on third downs and just playing solid defense.”

That “solid defense” has shot up the NFL leaderboard and turned into one of the league’s most imposing units.

“We just want to be Broncos,” said Elvis Dumervil, who joins Bailey as a defensive captain. “If anything, the Orange Crush.”