ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Defensive lineman Mike Purcell and linebacker Alexander Johnson each saw their first extended action of the season on Sunday against the Chargers.
And after the way they performed, Head Coach Vic Fangio said more playing time is headed their way.
"They both played well enough to continue [playing]," Fangio said.
Purcell recorded a tackle and a quarterback hit in the center of the Broncos' defensive line, and Denver allowed just 35 rushing yards after giving up 269 against the Jaguars in Week 4.
"Just maybe add a little pass rush in there every now and then and expand his range down the line," said Fangio when asked how Purcell can improve, "but I think Mike played about the way we thought he would play."
Johnson tallied nine tackles, two passes defensed and an interception in his first career start.
"He's a young guy who needs to master his craft a little bit better, meaning assignment-wise and details," Fangio said. "But I always knew he was eventually going to get in there, somehow, someway, because he does have talent. But the worst thing you can sometimes do with a guy like that is get him in there too early, for a lot of reasons. One, he might not be ready and he might think he has it made. He needed to earn some stripes on special teams and improve there. I had a feeling he would go in and play well yesterday. Now, was he perfect? You saw a lot of good plays, but plays you didn't notice, there were some accidents waiting to happen that didn't get exploited. He needs to clean those up, and that's part of the reason — not the only reason — that he hadn't played much earlier."
As the Broncos try to grab another win this weekend against Tennessee, it seems both Johnson and Purcell will be part of Denver's game plan.
'A BLACK MARK ON THE DAY'
Denver's shutout ended late in the third quarter when Chargers defensive back Desmond King returned a Colby Wadman punt 68 yards for a touchdown.
The Broncos hadn't allowed a return touchdown this season, but King's return sparked a 10-0 run for the Chargers.
"Any time you give up a touchdown, that's not a good day for the special teams overall," Fangio said. "The punt was a little too low. We didn't have much hang time. There was too much separation between the returner when he caught it and our guys covering. But we could've covered it better. They still would've got some decent yards, but we could've covered it better than we did. Any time on special teams [that] we give up a touchdown like that, it's a black mark on the day, much like for a lot of positions. You may have a good day overall, but when you have that big one [or] bad one, it's a downer."
Returner Diontae Spencer also decided to catch punts inside the team's 10-yard line on three occasions. On the first, he was able to return the ball 12 yards to the Denver 19-yard line, but he wasn't as successful on the other two attempts.
Spencer called a fair catch at the 9-yard line early in the third quarter and then tried to return a punt from the 4-yard line later in the quarter.
The Broncos' offense went three-and-out and turned the ball over on those two possessions, respectively.
Fangio said he was not OK with Spencer catching the ball in that position and that both he and Special Teams Coordinator Tom McMahon talked with the returner.
"He's not doing what he's been coached to do there," Fangio said.
IMPROVING THE PASS RUSH
In the Broncos' first game without Bradley Chubb, Fangio said the team's pass rush "wasn't awful, but it wasn't good enough, either."
Denver did not sack Philip Rivers on Sunday, but the Broncos were able to pressure him into incompletions and a costly intentional-grounding penalty in the second quarter that led to a missed field goal.
"It was spotty," Fangio said. "There [were] some times as you noticed there, particularly some third downs, we only rushed three. We felt we needed to give our coverage a little extra help."
Rookie Malik Reed started his first game and played 62 defensive snaps, finishing with a pair of tackles.
"Overall, he did decent," Fangio said. "… That's a lot of plays for a guy that hadn't been playing that much. He's still on a special teams unit or two. I thought he did fine, and I expect him to keep improving. It didn't seem like the game was too big for him and [he] played hard — which he always does — and the game's important to him, so overall [I'm] pleased."
All-Pro Von Miller, meanwhile, was "close a few times" to recording a sack, according to Fangio.
"I thought his rush was OK," Fangio said. "I think he's capable of better, but he was coming free some and did help the pass defense in that way. Run defense was up and down a little bit. [He] made some good plays, [but] a lot of stuff was away from him. It was kind of uneventful."