ENGLEWOOD, Colo. --No one's going to sit here and say the Broncos' defense is perfect -- least of all, Denver's defenders themselves. They consistently insist that they can do better, no matter how dominant their week-to-week performances are.
But in the last month, the defense solved a major problem: it cut its penalties, particularly the infractions borne out of pre-snap aggression and intensity that carried over beyond the whistle.
These are the preventable mistakes. And in the last few weeks, they've largely vanished.
After drawing at least one 15-yard penalty for unnecessary roughness, unsportsmanlike conduct or roughing the passer in eight consecutive games and 10 of 11 from Week 2 through the Patriots game, Denver's defense has avoided all discipline penalties in the last 2 weeks, and overall in the last three weeks have been assessed just six penalties for 40 yards.
That 40-yard total is notable, since the defense had more penalty yardage than that in six of its first 10 games this year.
Penalty-free football hasn't kept the Broncos from being their usual aggressive -- and effective -- selves. In their last nine quarters -- plus an overtime series -- the Broncos have allowed just two touchdowns, and one of those came on an 11-yard drive.
How did it happen?
"We just kept hounding," Defensive Coordinator Wade Phillips said. "I said it before, I thought that we were going to cut down on them and we have.
"We're still going to be aggressive and there are going to be some penalties, obviously, but we're trying not to have any post-play or pre-play penalties and we've done better in that area."
Added inside linebacker Brandon Marshall: "They hammered it in our heads, and us as a defense, we said, 'OK, let's not hurt the team, and let's not hurt ourselves. Let's not keep extending the drives for no reason.'"
Of course, it might be something else.
"I think we're just having more friendly refs, I guess," Harris said. "We're still playing the same exact way. There's nothing that's changed. It's just that the refs are calling it more on our side."
Still, the Broncos have given the officials less room for doubt. From Weeks 9-11, the Broncos racked up five penalties for unnecessary roughness or unsportsmanlike conduct, and overall had 10 such penalties in their first 10 games. They've had none since then.
"It's just making guys aware that these things hurt the defense, they hurt the team. You can't have those things," said Phillips. "I think the message has been sent and acknowledged."
And there's another aspect to the message: the team that has been most likely to beat the Broncos so far this season, is, well, the Broncos. Whether it was penalties or giveaways, the Broncos can point to themselves as the reason why they haven't run the table to this point.
"I still feel that way to this day: The only team that can beat us is us," Marshall said. "That's been happening. That had happened a couple of times.
Of course, as defensive penalties have been reduced, other problems arose.
"Some of the problems have moved to some other areas that we've got to get better at, but that's a part of football," Kubiak said. "We've got that one a little bit cleaned up."