ENGLEWOOD, Colo. --As was witnessed in Super Bowl 50, a potent pass rush can make all the difference against Cam Newton.
Although his career quarterback rating when blitzed is 10.3 points higher than when he's not, pressure and blitzing are not one and the same. When he's under pressure, his career rating drops to 61.8, according to data compiled by ProFootballFocus.com.
A key to getting pressure will be finding the right workload for DeMarcus Ware that allows him to be effective while not jeopardizing his health. That's where today's Need to Know begins.
- HOW WARE PLANS TO MAKE THE MOST OF HIS SNAPS**
As a competitor, Ware itches to play. He'd go every snap if he could. But he knows the reality of the situation and what his back issues of the last 11 months dictate.
So instead of focusing on the play count, he's focused on making his plays count.
"You've got to put that play count behind you and say, 'How effective can I be with the plays that I do have while [I'm] out there?'" Ware said.
It changes how he'll try to play opposing blockers. Instead of setting them up for a big play later and pacing himself, he has the freedom to attack with fury on every snap without worrying about conserving his strength.
"That sort of puts a little bit of extra fire under you, too, because if you know you're playing a 60-play game, you can set guys up. It's that chess match. You can set them up for those third-down plays. But every single play that I'm out there, I feel like it's a big play, so I'm going to take it as that."
- HOW WARE AND SHANE RAY WILL PLAY OFF OF EACH OTHER**
Ware might not be able to play the "chess match" as he did in his younger years, but with Shane Ray spelling him for stretches at the weak-side outside linebacker spot, the two can play off each other, exchange notes and be each other's extra pair of eyes.
"While I'm out of the game, I'm going to be watching the tackles and what they're doing and how they're attacking, and [he'll do] the same thing," Ware said.
Ray's increased strength and maturation in his second pro season have defined his offseason. As a mentor to the 2015 first-round pick, Ware has noticed Ray's growth more than anyone in the locker room.
Monday, Ware said he told Ray that his expectations for the young edge rusher reflect that progress.
"I went to him today and I said, 'There's nothing that I accept other than greatness from you -- when you're out there, and when you're not out there,'" Ware said. "And he looks at me in my eyes and tells me, 'You know what? I feel the same way.'"
A generation of football -- 11 years -- separates Ware and Ray. But despite their gap, they appear to be in perfect sync to pass the pass-rushing baton back and forth.
- "I THINK VON IS BETTER RIGHT NOW THAN HE WAS AT THIS TIME LAST YEAR"**
Despite OLB Von Miller missing the offseason because of his unsigned franchise tender, he has been his usual dominant self during training camp and the preseason, and Phillips sees a player who has managed to pick up where he left off from a 5-sack postseason.
"He came back really more focused than he started last year," Phillips said. "Maybe it's just the comfort in the defense, but I think he wanted to prove to everybody that maybe he's the defensive player of the year. He was the MVP in the Super Bowl, but I think his next goal is to be the Defensive Player of the Year."
Miller has talked about sustaining the momentum from his postseason and applying it to a full year. Last year, his early-season sack total was behind his usual pace -- just 0.5 sacks per game from Weeks 1-6. He more than doubled that pace from that point onward, and his 1.23-sacks-per-game rate would have given him 20 over the course of a 16-game season.
That pace would give him a career high and a Broncos record if he plays all 16 games. It's one of many goals within his sights.
"He seems to be more comfortable in everything. He's really focused," Phillips said. "It seems to be where he was at the last [part] of last year."
Said Miller: "It's a different type of Von, a different focus than I had last year."
That's a sentiment that makes quarterbacks' ankles wobble.
- DIXON KICKS ON**
Quarterback isn't the only position where the Broncos will go into the season with limited regular-season experience in their starting lineup. At four key spots on special teams -- punter, holder, long snapper and kickoff returner -- the Broncos will have a player with little to no regular-season work on his resume.
Riley Dixon is responsible for two of those positions as the punter and holder on Brandon McManus' placekicks. After earning the job following the release of Britton Colquitt last week, Dixon struggled at Arizona; he had an 18-yard punt and his net and gross averages of 37.4 yards were his lowest of the preseason. Special Teams Coordinator Joe DeCamillis noted that Dixon's issues were in part tied to some experimental punting tactics that coaches asked him to try last week.
"Obviously, I don't think he's prepared for those, as most young punters aren't at that time," DeCamillis said, adding that another part of a punter's adjustment from college involves different kinds of punt formations than seen at the lower level.
DeCamillis added that McManus' missed field-goal attempt did not stem from any issues with Dixon's hold.
"I think you're going to be a little bit apprehensive with young guys all the time. But we think [Dixon] has got a real bright future in the league, and that's why we made the decision that we did."
What DeCamillis wants to see is more work like Dixon had against the Los Angeles Rams, when he punted the entire game and posted a net average of 40.9 yards while dropping one punt inside the Los Angeles 20-yard line.
"We want to get him right where he was in the Rams game, which was a real winning performance," DeCamillis said.
- SANDERS KEEPING THE FOCUS ON THE FIELD**
Although the ongoing contract negotiations between his representation and the Broncos remain a lingering issue that is always a discussion topic at his question-and-answer sessions, WR Emmanuel Sanders' focus is on the field, and getting extra repetitions with QB Trevor Siemian to hone their timing.
"I've been trying to stay after practice and catch balls with him, and just walk up and let him understand what I'm thinking when I'm out there, and where I'm going to be," Sanders said.
"I think that we've got good chemistry, and it's only going to get better."
Sanders said his agent calls him with updates, but "as far as that contract situation, I just go out every single day and work my butt off, and I'm just looking forward to the season and making plays."
The Broncos spent their Labor Day laboring away in preparing for the Panthers in the season opener. (photos by Eric Bakke)