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Defense aims to fix communication issues

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. --A defense that ranks second in yardage allowed per play and pass play and third in yards per rush would seem to be in need if little more than a maintenance tweak here or there.

But after the Patriots gashed the Broncos for 398 yards -- the most allowed since Week 1 -- and kept them off balance with quick snaps that often came with 20 to 25 seconds remaining on the play clock, Week 10 became a time for candid reflection.

Take a photographic trip through the series history between the Broncos and the Raiders.

That New England pushed the tempo Sunday came as no surprise. In three regular-season games against the Broncos since 2012, the Patriots averaged 78.3 snaps per 60 minutes, well above the average of 64.2 offensive plays per 60 minutes for all other opponents in that time frame.

But it was a surprise -- and a disappointment to the Broncos -- that their pre-snap communication lagged to the point where they were caught off guard and with gaps in their coverage, particularly underneath, where free releases allowed targets like tight end Rob Gronkowski to gobble up yardage.

"We just didn't communicate at all," said cornerback Chris Harris Jr.

Ensuring that a statement like that will never be made again by the 2014 defense became the top priority this week.

"When it comes down to communication, it always starts in the meetings," said defensive end DeMarcus Ware. "We've already corrected what we needed to correct from last game. Every scheme that we go into every week is the best scheme for us and we're doing the same thing this week. We're just ready for whatever comes at us this week."

Practice and meetings help, but the Broncos won't know about their progress until they see it again.

"There's nothing like that game experience," said Defensive Coordinator Jack Del Rio. "We'll be better next time we face that type of attack."

"Next time" might be a while in coming. It would be a surprise if the Raiders accelerated the tempo this week, and the following week's opponent, the St. Louis Rams, have a first-year quarterback in Austin Davis still finding his way.

Nevetherless, the Broncos know that other teams may attempt to set the same kind of pace the Patriots did. But few offenses, if any, are as adept as New England's.

"Yeah, they'll try," Knighton said. "But it's different when it's a Tom Brady doing it, and Gronkowski and Bill Belichick."

But every snap in which the defense must get set under duress can help the defense be better prepared if another chance at the Patriots comes their way in January.

"Hopefully, if we see New England down the road, when they do hurry-up, maybe we'll have a call that we just go to, so everybody's on the same page, and everybody can communicate, because it's hard with an offense like that, that tempos you, and a quarterback that's trying to window-dress everything," said Knighton.

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