As defense gains praise, Phillips shrugs off acclaim for now**
Five games into the season, the Broncos defense has thrust itself atop numerous statistical categories and highlights packages. With 22 sacks, seven interceptions, 10 forced fumbles and three defensive touchdowns, it has naturally gained plenty of recognition.
Browns head coach Mike Pettine even remarked that he mistook their defensive 11-personnel film cut-up for a sack reel.
The Broncos returned to the practice field for day two of Browns preparation.
However, Defensive Coordinator Wade Phillips demurred when he was asked about if that attention resounds with him.
"It's not about me, it's about these guys," Phillips said. "And it's not only them, it's the position coaches that really coach them. I don't do a whole lot, so it's those guys that work with them every day and get them better as a player, and it's the players themselves. We try to put them in position, yes, to make plays, but they're the guys making the plays."
It would be easy to get caught up in the noise, but Phillips said he'll wait for the season's end before basking in any accomplishments.
"When the season's over, those things will come out, I think," Phillips concluded. "I mean, in preseason we were playing really, really well, got a lot of sacks, made a lot of plays, and everybody said, 'Well, it's only preseason. Now it's five games in and it's, 'Well, it's only five games in.' So we'll see. I think it's an exceptional group that way, but we've got a lot of games to play."
The next step for the defense will be facing Browns quarterback Josh McCown, who just broke the Browns' franchise record for single-game passing yards with 457 against Baltimore in Week 5.
"He's on a tremendous roll throwing the football. It's going to be obviously a big, big challenge for us," Phillips said. "They've got a lot of speed at receiver. They make a lot of big plays, and that's what we try to keep teams from doing, is making big plays, whether they're a big-play team with Johnson the running back and the tight end's played great. Their whole group is a challenge to cover, but the speed of the outside receivers gives you some problems, obviously."
DeCamillis seeing buy-in on special teams leading to success
The Broncos have also been able to get significant plays from its special teams units, with two blocked kick attempts, great coverage and a kicker who's hit each field goal he's attempted so far.
But it isn't just the reserves who have been making plays. Defensive starters have been able to extend their impact beyond just the one phase.
The blocked kicks have been instrumental, especially in helping stem opponents' momentum. Cornerback Aqib Talib blocked the first, a PAT attempt by Detroit, which put the Lions in a tough trailing position once the Broncos scored again to put the Lions down two possessions when it could have been one. Nose tackle Sylvester Williams blocked the second, which prevented the Raiders from getting an early lead.
"I think really it's just effort and the buy-in of those guys," Special Teams Coordinator Joe DeCamillis said. "It's helped because [Defensive Line Coach Bill] Kollar is such a good coach as far as getting effort out of them, so the d-line has just bought in every week. Having those outside guys giving the kind of effort that they do, it's been really good, and hopefully it continues. It's definitely affected the two games we got them in, so we need to continue to do that."
Much has been made of the defense's depth and their penchant for rotating at any position when needed, and that has helped DeCamillis with his ability to utilize starters on the limited special teams plays.
"Because of substitutions, a lot of those guys are going to be out there anyway," DeCamillis said. "At least that's the way I've always done it. Like I said before, [Head] Coach [Gary] Kubiak supported it and those guys are giving great effort."
Dennison focused on committment to the run game
Running the ball has been quite the endeavor for the Broncos through five games. The offense flashed its potential against the Vikings, but fell back in their succeeding game against the Raiders with just 43 rushing yards.
"There are a lot of factors involved there," Offensive Coordinator Rick Dennison said. "Probably way too many to go into, but we have to be committed to the run and we will be. You see some creases here and there, and we just have to take advantage of them. We will. For one factor or another, there's a bunch of guys at the line, this happens, that happens. We just have to get our breakouts and we have to make it happen."
Dennison feels the weight of the struggles, and he knows that the entire unit, from the players to the coaching must all respond to find a solution.
"We each have to do our job better. Coaches and players, everybody has to," Dennison said. "I think that each guy has to do his job better. We could see that when we watch the film and put our guys in the best positions to move the ball. We've had our ups and downs moving the ball. We have to stay on the field better, longer third downs have not been good and we haven't scored enough points. We've scored enough points to win, obviously, with the defense playing so well, but not as much as we expect."
Phillips. Texas. Tomatoes.
There's no doubt that Phillips loves the Lone Star State. In almost any media availability, he has a knack for finding a Texas connection, and Thursday was no different.
This week Phillips discussed Browns quarterback Josh McCown and his recent success with the team after breaking franchise passing records– which is great, but really not the most important thing.
"[McCown] is on a tremendous roll throwing the football. It's going to be obviously a big, big challenge for us. Besides that, he's from Texas," Phillips said.
Specifically, McCown is from Jacksonville, Texas, a town located in East Texas between Houston and Dallas with a population of just over 14,000.
"He played in the Tomato Bowl there," said Phillips. "I'm familiar with the Tomato Bowl—that's their home stadium—because my dad [Bum Phillips] coached in Jacksonville when I was young and I played peewee ball in the Tomato Bowl there."
"They've got great tomatoes in Jacksonville if anybody wants some."