DENVER --This was the defense the Broncos hoped they would have.
In the last five games of the 2014 regular season, Denver began with a capital D, underlined and in bold face. They cut their average points allowed per game from 23 to 16, allowed 24.9 fewer yards per game and 0.1 fewer yards per play, and cut the percentage of plays that resulted in a first down from 27.5 to 25.8.
With those numbers, an offense that is still cranking out 27.2 points a game, as it did in that five-game span, will have more than enough cushion to win more often than not.
The late-season defensive surge helped the Broncos finish first in the AFC in total yardage allowed and yards per play allowed, and third and second in the league-wide rankings, respectively.
"We wanted to be the No. 2-ranked defense," said Chris Harris Jr., and by a key metric, they were.
A dominant performance in Sunday's 47-14 rout of the Oakland Raiders capped the surge. Oakland's offense accounted for just 7 points, 10 first downs and 199 yards. And even those modest numbers bothered the defense.
"I wanted (less than) 100 yards passing, so I'm kind of mad that they got that," Harris said.
But they didn't get much more: 132 yards on 39 pass plays, including three sacks for 26 yards. Seven of Oakland's 13 possessions went three-and-out. Another two ended in turnovers.
For a defense that was without two key starters (Brandon Marshall and T.J. Ward), it was a necessary performance, and a confidence-builder.
"We wanted to come out and be dominant and get that juice going into the playoffs," said defensive tackle Terrance Knighton. "It'll be a while before we step back onto the field, so we absolutely wanted to leave the field with a good mindset, and not thinking about how bad we played for two weeks; we want to think about how good we played for two weeks."
And now, a look back at the pregame Three Keys:
1. CONTAIN THE RAIDERS' GROUND GAME.
A quick start for the offense, which built leads of 10-0 in the first quarter and 27-7 by early in the third, helped force the Raiders out of the ground-and-pound attack they would have preferred to mount. Oakland ran on 31.6 percent of their snaps, well below the magic 40 percent figure that the Raiders hit in their wins.
- NEUTRALIZE OAKLAND'S PASS RUSH.**
One week after Raiders linebacker Khalil Mack took up semi-permanent residence in the Bills' backfield, the Broncos contained the star rookie, limiting to two tackles, neither of which were behind the line of scrimmage. Defensive end Justin Tuck was the only Raider to disrupt Peyton Manning, working around and back behind Louis Vasquez to trip up the quarterback for a sack. But aside from that, Manning usually had time to throw.
3. USE TEMPO TO KEEP THE RAIDERS OFF-BALANCE.
The Raiders were off-balance, but it wasn't through tempo. The Broncos did incorporate some no-huddle looks, and drove to a field goal late in the second quarter via a successful two-minute drill to extend their lead to 20-7.
What worked for the Broncos was when they ran out of three-wide receiver, shotgun formations and passed out of the six-offensive lineman package. These were important tendency-busting calls to give whoever faces the Broncos in January more to ponder in their game-planning.
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Check out the action from an explosive second half in Denver, where the Broncos coasted to a 47-14 win.