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Shutout Built on Practice Prowess

Posted Aug 17, 2014

At times, the Broncos' offense and defense stymie each other. Those rigorous daily tests made a 34-0 preseason beatdown of the 49ers seem almost routine.

SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- Practice doesn't make perfect; perfect practice makes perfect. So the cliche' goes. But the Broncos' offense and defense haven't been perfect in training camp -- primarily because they have been so effective most days in training camp that each can neutralize the other.

The 34-0 shellacking of the San Francisco 49ers in the NFL christening of Levi's Stadium could not have been easily forecast. The new venue throbbed with energy at kickoff, and when the 49ers began marching downfield on their first possession, the building bulged with buzz. If there was a moment prior to the regular season in which the NFC's winningest team the last three years would play to that pedigree, this would be it.

Then the Broncos began doing to the 49ers what they had done to each other: dominating with speed, power, physical play and precision. A third-down stop that saw T.J. Ward blitz from inside the box, forcing a throw that barely missed Brandon Lloyd, began establishing the tenor.

It was much like what the Broncos' units had done to each other in practice -- except at a different pace.

"It was slow, actually," linebacker Brandon Marshall said. "It was actually faster in practice. Going up against our offense is a challenge in itself every practice. So going up against other offenses, I'm not going to say it's cake, but it's a little slower."

It works the other way, too.

"Going against (the Broncos defense) every day slows the game down. It makes the game more fun, and easier," said rookie wide receiver Cody Latimer. "So it's like, we go out there, we know what we're doing. We can play physical."

The tempo at which the offense operates in practice dictates the speed that games rarely match. So does Peyton Manning, who, in his 17th year, is savvier than ever at keeping a defense guessing -- which he did again Sunday in completing 12 of 14 passes, including his last eight in succession. It was typical Manning: efficient, deceptive to the defense, taking what the 49ers yielded. Death by paper cuts.

"It's frustrating in practice how efficient he is," said Ward, "because he knows what he's doing, he knows what you're doing."

But it is also a symbiotic relationship.

"(Manning) is only making me better," continued Ward. "He doesn't even know he's teaching me some of the things he's teaching me in practice.

"It's his looks. It's kind of like a timing thing with him. Timing, the way he looks you off, and he knows where he's going, and he'll look you this way the whole time, knowing that he's coming back. So you definitely learn to be patient going against Peyton."

By learning when to strike, when to lurk, and how to do each with the same physical intensity, the defense has forced the offense to react, as well. So when Latimer delivers a crushing block on a run, he's showing how he and the offense adapted to the physical force with which the aggressive defense attacks on a daily basis.

"We're getting that from our defense," Latimer said. "It's a good defense that we're going up against every day, getting good looks from them. They're helping us be physical."

The offense has learned how to fight the defense's force with a show of its own. That's something the Broncos hope opponents learn the hard way.

"They don't even know what they're in for on defense. That's all I'm going to say," said Ward.

"It's working both ways. They're making us better, and we're making them better. That's what a team is all about: getting each other better."

Nothing close to perfection will come on the practice field when these units grapple. But thanks to each other, it just might come on Sundays, when it matters.

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