ARLINGTON, Texas -- For a team that set so many offensive records in 2013, the Broncos' defense has been very impressive during a convicing collection of preseason performances.
Thursday night was no different.
With the starters watching from the sideline, the rest of the roster showed its talent and depth in the preseason finale, a 27-3 rout of the Cowboys in AT&T Stadium.
"We had a lot of young guys, down the depth chart, that stepped up," Mitch Unrein said. "We played the way we're supposed to play. We go out there, everyone doing your assignment, and flying around to the ball."
While holding the Cowboys to a lone field goal, Denver's D allowed just 165 yards and 3.2 yards per play, chipping in four sacks, two other tackles for loss and an interception.
The Broncos' three points allowed in Dallas brought their preseason total to 37 through four games. Even as the offense cracked 30 points just once in four games -- after doing so 13 times in the 2013 regular season -- Denver racked up a point differential of 62 during the preseason, the best of any NFL team.
They finished the exhibition slate having led for 173:14 of the 240:00 minutes played (72.2 percent of the time), and trailing for just 17:21.
"I mentioned that when we started our off-season going into our OTA's and even into camp that it was probably our best roster to date," Head Coach John Fox said after the game. "I still feel that."
Perhaps the deepest part of the roster is the front four, which featured spurts of dominance from a few different players against Dallas. Kevin Vickerson racked up five tackles including one for a 3-yard loss, while Unrein had a sack for a near-safety and Marvin Austin and Sione Fua made frequent trips into the backfield.
"(The competition) brings out the best in all of us," Vickerson said. "A lot of good plays made by our defensive line today."
"Everybody played hard. That's all you can ask for at the end of the day is play hard and lay it all on the line."
The depth at that position, and at several other spots on the team, will make looming roster decisions increasingly difficult, but as they say, those are good decisions to have to make. In Denver's fourth year with Fox and Executive Vice President of Football Operations/General Manager John Elway at the helm, the progress that has been made from when the duo took over is obvious.
"It's the strongest we've been in our tenure here," Fox said. "John Elway and his staff have done a tremendous job building that depth. Now it's just a matter of starting the regular season and staying healthy throughout."
Even with the impressive preseason performances, Chris Harris Jr. isn't making any conclusions yet about what the 2014 Broncos defense can do. He's eyeing his return to the field for Week 1 against the Colts on September 7, which is when he expects more revealing results to surface.
"It's too early to tell," Harris said when asked if the defense has gelled this early in the season. "These regular season games are totally different than preseason games."
"Those will be the first real test for us. Hopefully when you ask me after the game next week, I'll be able to say yes."