ENGLEWOOD, Colo. --The Broncos are halfway through the season, which makes this a good time to take stock of the impact of moving the touchback spot after kickoffs from the 20 to the 25-yard line.
1. TOUCHBACKS UP
When the league passed the rule moving the drive-start position following kickoff touchbacks to the 25, it did so believing it would boost touchbacks by increasing the field-position incentive to take a knee in the end zone.
The counter-move to this was an increase in the number of kicks boomed high and aimed outside the numbers and inside the 10-yard line. It was thought that this would actually result in a reduction of touchbacks, thus ensuring the rule change would fail in creating its intended result.
Through eight weeks, that proved incorrect. Touchbacks are actually up -- from 55.9 percent last year to 60.9 percent this season.
So what's happening?
"One of the things that comes into play is kind of like what I talked about last week -- it's that it's hard [for kickers] to control the ball flight a lot of times," Special Teams Coordinator Joe DeCamillis said. "It's harder for those guys to put the ball three or four [yards] ahead of the goal line, rather than inside the goal line."
And when the ball does get to the end zone, it's not often returned. Opponents have returned just 156 of 900 kickoffs (17.3 percent) that went at least one yard into the end zone after being kicked from the 35-yard line, according to pro-football-reference.com.
Last year, teams returned 43.8 percent of kickoffs that got into the end zone.
Clearly, the additional five yards has made all the difference league-wide.
"There's such a big incentive to leave the ball in the end zone," DeCamillis said. "If it ends up in there, you're talking an extra five yards every time. So I think that's part of it."
2. WADE PHILLIPS HEADED UPSTAIRS?
It's possible after he suffered a fractured rib when Chargers running back Melvin Gordon ran over him in the second quarter on Sunday.
Phillips has coached from the sideline most of his career since becoming a coordinator in New Orleans 35 years ago, only going up to the coaches' box in 2011 after undergoing surgery.
But the biggest change to a defensive coordinator's style of work on game days is the one that makes going upstairs more palatable: the ability to send the playcall directly to the field from the booth. ILB Brandon Marshall has the radio receiver in his helmet, and Phillips can speak to him directly. If Marshall's hamstring injury keeps him out, Corey Nelson would receive the calls, as he did last Sunday.
"That's an important thing," Phillips said. "Rather than relaying it down and then somebody else relaying it to the signal caller, I can go straight to him so it makes it easier for the guy and the box. They changed that, which is better than the last time I was in the box."
"Having Wade out there, you get to see him, you get to high-five and stuff, but that's not the important thing," OLB Von Miller said. "The important thing is getting the calls, making sure that he's out of harm's way."
3. WARE READY TO GET BACK TO HIS USUAL SELF
OLB DeMarcus Ware returned to the lineup last Sunday and was able to pressure Philip Rivers four times, but for the first time in his three games played this season, didn't record a sack.
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It was a promising return after sitting out five games because of a fractured forearm. He was fresh, agile and quick -- and in the weeks to come, he should have the full array of pass-rush moves that he didn't have last Sunday because his forearm was only at 70 percent.
"The moves that I did were more speed-type moves, just bending, ripping, going around the corner, trying to get to the quarterback and not using that arm when it came to power moves," Ware said. "Now, I can."
According to ProFootballFocus.com, Ware has six quarterback hurries in 71 snaps so far -- a rate of one every 11.8 snaps that would be the best of his career.
4. IF TALIB IS OUT AGAIN, BRONCOS "NOT CHANGING ANYTHING"
Although Head Coach Gary Kubiak did not dismiss the idea of Aqib Talib being ready to play Sunday, the lower-back issue that sent him to California for a second opinion Thursday could sideline him once again. With Kayvon Webster still dealing with a hamstring strain, the onus could again fall on Bradley Roby and Lorenzo Doss to assume larger roles.
No problem, says Von Miller.
"I'm not worried about any of those guys," he said."We've got the best secondary in the National Football League, not because of the guys out there, not because of our two starting cornerbacks, [but] because of the depth that we have."
And for the rest of the defense, it's status quo even without Talib. "It doesn't change anything at all because a guy like Talib, he's just like me -- a mentor that taught the guys behind him how to play," Ware said. "When he's out of the game, he's still that mental guy that tries to get in there and teach guys like [CB Bradley] Roby.
"We're not changing anything. Those guys are just going to step up and take his place."
5. WARE'S RETURN DOESN'T MEAN BARRETT AND RAY WILL SEE LESS WORK
Shane Ray continued to start in place of Ware, but Phillips doesn't plan to limit the work for Ray and Shaquil Barrett even with Ware back in the rotation.
"He'll play," Phillips said Barrett. "I have always believed that if you have guys that are good enough to play and they work hard at it, find something for them to do. You can put more guys in the game if you have to.
"DeMarcus deserves to play, but those other two guys [Ray and Barrett] deserve to play. You don't sit them on the bench the whole game so find some opportunities for them to play. We believe in that."