ENGLEWOOD, Colo. --If you watched CBS' broadcast of the Broncos' 26-23 win over the Browns last Sunday, you probably noticed all the shots and mentions of pigeons taking up residence at various points on FirstEnergy Stadium's field.
Their gentle grazing presented a jarring contrast early in the third quarter, when the truck immediately cut from the birds to one of Malik Jackson's more violent run stuffs. Jackson dodged Joe Thomas' move to the second level to attack and pounce on Robert Turbin for a 1-yard loss.
It wasn't anything spectacular for Jackson, but it begged the question: if you're going to leave one defensive lineman unblocked in an attempt to steer the flow of the play away from him, why would it be Jackson?
And as with the entire defense, Jackson stepped forward when it mattered most. On David Bruton Jr.'s last-minute interception, Jacksons stunted behind the thicket of linemen and then roared through a gap to the left of Browns quarterback Josh McCown, forcing him to step up and away and into the reach of blitzing linebacker Danny Trevathan.
Jackson eventually dove for McCown and just missed, but that helped set up the errant throw that Bruton intercepted to give the offense one more crack at a game-winning drive before the end of regulation.
But on the three-and-out to start overtime, Jackson truly stepped up. On first down, he drew a double-team, which freed Shaquil Barrett into a one-on-one off the edge, and when rookie fullback Malcolm Johnson went low in an attempt to cut Barrett off, he stepped out of the attempt and easily engulfed Turbin.
On second down, Jackson makes another stunt and catches Alex Mack off guard. Jackson sprints around Sylvester Williams, who was occupied by Mack and the left guard. By the time Mack reacts, it's too late, and Jackson clobbers McCown in the backfield. That's a situation where Mack would have been better served by taking a holding penalty;instead the Browns faced third-and-21.
A final sack finished off the three-and-out. It began when encountered a double team, freeing up Barrett and Antonio Smith to get to McCown first. On all of these plays, the Browns appeared to not know where the rush would originate.
"They don't know," Jackson said. "We have the players, and Coach Wade [Phillips] does a great job of mixing it up. He'll let the D-linemen go, or he'll bring somebody off the edge, or a linebacker. We don't even know what he's going to do next, he's so sporadic.
Such bursts are becoming the norm for Jackson, whose long limbs, brute strength and quick, devastating strikes call to mind the titular villain of Alien.
"I think Malik is just now tapping into his potential, because you see him getting better every week," said defensive end Antonio Smith.
"And he's one of those kids that doesn't really know the attributes he has -- those long arms, powerful, big body. These are things that make defensive linemen lots of money. If you've got long arms, these offensive linemen can't get into your body.
"They (players like Jackson) have those long limbs that can get in the cracks and get around people, but they have enough weight in their body, so when offensive linemen try to weigh on them, they can't move."
All that kept him from a second sack was a 15-yard penalty called after his right hand tugged at McCown's face mask, negating a third-down sack.
"You've got ones you can control, and ones you don't," Jackson said of the penalties that have dogged him this season. "When the ones you do control come your way, you've just got to be smart."
And if Jackson can curb the penalties, he'll be a truly unstoppable force, because right now, the only player who occasionally stops him is himself.