DENVER -- **If an image is worth a thousand words, the grass stains that coated the white jersey of Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III at the conclusion of the Broncos' 45-21 win on Sunday spoke volumes about the tenacious effort of a Denver defense that harassed the quarterback all afternoon long.
On a day when the Broncos totaled three sacks and 13 quarterback hits – while forcing five Washington turnovers and limiting the Redskins to 266 total yards – it was apparent that a defense that had challenged itself to get better throughout the week had taken steps in the right direction against the Redskins.
"I think, without a doubt, that was our best defensive outing," Head Coach John Fox said after the game. "We challenged our guys all week, we had a great week of preparation. The Washington Redskins came in here with the No. 4 offense in the National Football League, so we knew they were explosive both running the ball and some big plays over the top that they'd done earlier in the game review. So I thought (the defense) responded great."
For defensive tackle Kevin Vickerson, the performance evoked memories of the 2012 edition of the Broncos defense – a unit that finished ranked second in the NFL in yards per game yielded.
"Three picks, four sacks, less than 300 yards total offense -- that's top-five defense," Vickerson said. "That's what we were doing all last year, man, getting off the field on third downs and winning our battles, man. It's a building block."
"I feel like we're finally starting to get that feel of what we can be, because we can be a championship defense," defensive tackle Terrance Knighton added. "We should be the best team in NFL statistically, I feel like, and that's what we're working towards. It felt good to finally get that feeling."
On Sunday, the defense was especially stout when it mattered most, shutting out the Redskins offense for the game's final 26 minutes and forcing four turnovers in the fourth quarter.
The first of those fourth quarter turnovers came when linebacker Von Miller!(/team/roster/von-miller/036470c3-df00-47e4-a936-86200f2c88dc/ "Von Miller") sacked Griffin III from behind, forcing a fumble that defensive end Derek Wolfe recovered at the Washington 24 with 13:15 to play and setting up the offense with excellent field position.
"It just happened," Miller said. "Trent Williams is a great tackle and I was able to get by, sneak past him and (was) able to get the ball out. We had great coverage on that play too. There was no way if he was throwing it quick I would be able to get the ball out. So shout out to the secondary."
It was Miller's first sack of the season, in addition to five tackles and one tackle for loss, and the linebacker noted after the game that he felt back to the same form as in 2012, when he registered a franchise record 18.5 sacks.
"It was great. It was the same Von Miller there was last year, like I said, production just came my way today," Miller said. "I was able to capitalize on the plays that came my way. We had a great team effort and I'm more proud of that than anything."
"Von does what Von does, that's being a playmaker," linebacker Wesley Woodyard added. "He goes out there and you can just see his maturity level has continued to grow every year and I'm just proud of him continuing to fight the way he does. I'm really proud of him."
Miller was just one of many Broncos who made life difficult for Griffin III, however, as the Broncos applied pressure from all over the defense.
"We were getting in his face and hitting him," cornerback Chris Harris Jr. said. "Quarterbacks don't like that. They're not comfortable like that. We were able to do that early and really continued to do that the whole game. We played a lot smarter and we were able to just confuse the quarterbacks in the secondary, and it really worked out better."
And while the Broncos harassed Griffin up front, the secondary also chipped in its share of plays. Denver held Griffin III just 132 passing yards and a pair of interceptions, and intercepted his backup, Kirk Cousins, twice in the game's closing moments – including cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie's 75-yard interception return for a touchdown. "I'm just glad we brought it together today," Harris Jr. said. "We have too much talent to be last in the league in pass. We really took ownership of that as a defense, and we said, 'We don't want to be the group that lets this team fall short of its goals.'"
But although the performance was impressive, it was hardly enough to sate the expectations of a defense that is intent on getting better each week.
"There is something for us to chase," Wolfe said. "You never want to be satisfied. Like I always say and Coach Fox always says and we always say as a team – either you're getting better or you're getting worse. You can't stay the same so we have to keep getting better every week." "I know we can definitely get better," Miller added. "I don't think we've remotely scratched the surface of what we can be and I know if we keep taking it one day at a time, stick with the same mentality that we have, we'll be able to get there."