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As defense returns to form, Knighton's play key


KANSAS CITY, Mo. —**Despite being one of the most visible Broncos, much of what Terrance Knighton does often goes under the radar. He won't get a lot of tackles or flashy numbers, but what Knighton does well is open up opportunities for everyone to succeed: for Brandon Marshall to find the holes to stop running backs, for DeMarcus Ware and Von Miller to pin their ears back to get to the quarterback, for the secondary to focus on defending the pass.

Though his impact usually isn't seen on the stat sheet, he's been especially visible in the past couple weeks.

A week ago, he had a monster sack, chasing down Ryan Tannehill for a 12-yard loss, and later made the slightest of pass deflections as the ball grazed his shoulder pad before then bouncing off Jarvis Landry's hands into T.J. Ward's.

Fast forward one week, and Knighton again made a key deflection, in addition to helping the rushing defense return to their complete form. He once again instinctively lifted his arms, deflecting an Alex Smith pass straight up. On its earth-bound decline, the ball fell into Ware's hands, which would lead to a Broncos field goal.

And don't forget: Knighton's long arms have come up big already this season against the Chiefs, back in Week 2 when Kansas City drove to the Broncos' 2-yard line looking for a game-tying touchdown, only to have their fourth-down pass attempt knocked to the ground by Knighton at the line of scrimmage.

Knighton's initial theory on how he's been able to make these plays was simple: "I think I've got a lot of body to throw around," he said with a chuckle. "We know [Smith] likes a lot of short passes, and they go over the middle. I just got my hands up."

Look through the best moments captured on film from Sunday night's big divisional win at Arrowhead Stadium.

However, Ware went a bit deeper in picking apart how Knighton manages to get his mitts on the ball.

"Well, you know what the thing is — he pushes the pocket and by the time he gets to the quarterback, yeah, maybe he's not getting a sack, but he's right there, batting the ball down and creating big plays like he did tonight."

In these instances of standout impact plays, Knighton is at his most visible, but as he's had these moments — particularly recently — the rushing defense has also visibly shaped up back to the level of play we've become accustomed to.

Jamaal Charles, the Chiefs' explosive running back, had left early with an injury in the previous iteration of the Broncos-Chiefs divisional rivalry in Week 2, but was poised to make noise with an average of 120 yards rushing in the previous couple weeks. Instead, he gained just 35 yards on the ground, though Charles did have 24 receiving yards and a touchdown catch.

"All week that was the main guy," Knighton said. "He does a good job receiving the ball, running the ball, he's a good blocker and they do a lot of things with him. So everywhere he lined up on the field, everyone knew, pre-snap. We wanted to eliminate him from the game and we knew if we eliminated him from the game, it'll be tough for them to move the ball on us, and that's exactly what happened."

To that point, the Chiefs struggled mightily to keep the chains moving, converting just 1-of-9 third-down attempts and totalling about half as many first downs as the Broncos.

It was a defensive performance that hearkened back to those that came often in the first couple months, going back to complementary football, with the offense and defense fueling one another.

"Sometimes when the teams get behind, it makes them one-dimensional," Ware said. "We were able to stop the run and we went into the game saying 'Hey, we have to stop [Charles] to be effective in the pass rush.' So once it got to the point to where we got high enough, we were able to make them one-dimensional and get to the quarterback."

And get to the quarterback they did, planting Smith into the turf six times by six players.

From the opening kick to the closing whistle, the defense turned in one of its more complete performances in weeks after a couple road losses took them out of their normal zone.

"We came together. It's that chemistry that we needed," Chris Harris Jr. said. "We just needed to come together, have fun together and we had a great week of practice and we've just got to keep that same chemistry up, momentum up for the rest of the season."

In a game where controlling the trenches powered the Broncos offense, so did their dominance in the trenches on defense power the team on the other side of the ball.

"It started up front," Harris said. "The O-line and D-line dominated and we followed their lead. As long as we can continue to dominate the trenches like that, we're going to be tough to beat."

And with the man known as Pot Roast and the rest of the rushing defense, starting from the line and extending to every arm of the defense, the Broncos entire defense had returned to the foundation of what made facing them so challenging.

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