ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Last week’s effort against the Jets’ running game wasn’t up to the Broncos’ standards.
Players will tell you as much.
Immediately after the game, nose tackle Domata Peko Sr., the most veteran player on the roster, called the effort “embarrassing.”
Fellow defensive lineman Derek Wolfe was simply “upset.”
Outside linebacker Shane Ray vowed, “This is not who we are.”
That performance — in which the Broncos surrendered 323 rushing yards, fifth-most in franchise history — is over, though. As Chris Harris Jr. said after practice Wednesday, the focus must be on this weekend’s challenge and proving Ray’s words true.
“We just had a bad game,” Harris said. “It just happens. Unfortunately, you don’t want to go on the road, look like that and play that bad. … We don’t want the Jets to beat us twice. They can beat us twice by us not bouncing back this week, not getting our mind right for the Rams and be stuck in that hole. We don’t want them to beat us twice. We’re trying to get over that.”
In order to ensure the bad taste left from the loss in East Rutherford doesn’t linger into Sunday’s matchup with the Rams, the Broncos must focus on another difficult challenge: Rams running back Todd Gurley. The reigning AP Offensive Player of the Year is off to another fast start this year with a league-leading nine touchdowns from scrimmage.
“You can’t say enough about Todd,” Rams head coach Sean McVay said Wednesday. “You talk about a complete back — a guy that has the ability to do everything. He’s a phenomenal runner who has a great feel. You can really utilize him in any scheme. He’s go the ability to get the tough, hard-earned yards and then you’ve got the explosiveness and the speed to be able to finish the long plays. He’s got a great feel in the pass game, and then he’s excellent in protection.”
Gurley’s multi-faceted skill set is what makes him so difficult to defend. Last year, Gurley not only registered 1,305 yards on the ground, but he also had a team-high 64 receptions. He has 19 catches through five games this season.
Slowing down Gurley starts with the fundamentals: better tackling in space, something the Broncos struggled to do against Jets rushers Isaiah Crowell and Bilal Powell, especially when they bounced runs to the outside.
“We definitely do [need to tackle better],” Harris said. “They had a great scheme, trying to bounce everything and the guy was coming full speed a lot of the times. So, it’s a tough tackle for our corners, but we’ve changed some stuff up to make it an easier tackle.”
Though the defensive backs are instrumental in stopping players once they reach the second level, the first line of defense is the front seven, a group that has shouldered the responsibility for the poor performance and is determined to turn it around.
“You don’t try to do too much, because that’s when the gaps get opened,” Shelby Harris said Wednesday. “You want to sit there and you just want to play sound gap football. And if we do that, we’ll be able to rally to everything else.”
Defensive end Adam Gotsis, who forced and recovered a fumble against the Jets last week, agrees with Harris. The easiest way for the unit to get back on track is to make sure every player plays within himself and follows the play call, rather than trying to make a play as an individual. Each individual breakdown adds up.
“We were in good shape early in the game, and then I think we started pressing trying to make too many plays, and guys were not doing their job and trying to do a little too much just to push to get an extra play,” Gotsis said Thursday. “You can’t fault too many dudes for that, but we’ve just got to play our defense and everyone do their job. All 11 guys executing the defense and we’ll be all right.”
Broncos defenders know they have a difficult task ahead of them — the Rams’ offense leads the league in yards and is third in points — and it’s coming off one of their worst performances of the year. While Sunday will be a challenge, it is also an opportunity to right the ship and prove last week was an outlier rather than an indicator.
“We knew that Jets game wasn’t the best we’ve played this year,” outside linebacker Bradley Chubb said Wednesday. “And we want to go out here and just change the narrative on us. We’re a hard-playing defense with a lot of great talent. We know we are. We just want to prove to everyone else that we are.”