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'It's at the front of our minds': Broncos dedicated to forcing turnovers as they prepare to head to Pittsburgh

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — In the third quarter of the Broncos' Week 1 game, rookie cornerback Michael Ojemudia stayed stride for stride with Titans receiver Kalif Raymond before jumping a deep comeback route to the sideline.

It was a heads-up play by the 2020 third-round pick, who read Ryan Tannehill's eyes to make a play that gave Denver possession early in the second half.

It also didn't count, as an unnecessary roughness penalty on Alexander Johnson wiped out the interception.

The Broncos had just one other true chance at forcing a turnover in their 16-14 loss, as Justin Simmons nearly made a diving catch for a takeaway in Tennessee territory.

As Denver heads to Pittsburgh for a Week 2 matchup against the Steelers, the Broncos know they'll have to find a way to win the turnover battle.

"Justin had a chance," Head Coach Vic Fangio said Thursday. "He had his hands on a ball at one point in the game near our sideline but couldn't come up with it. We had two opportunities — that one and the one you mentioned. We have to do a better job of searching for the ball on defense. Knock a ball out or create some fumbles. It's something we emphasize, and we have to keep emphasizing. We have to get better at it."

The Broncos didn't force a turnover until Week 5 last season, but they fought back to have a positive turnover differential as they recorded 10 interceptions and seven fumble recoveries.

The Steelers lost one fumble in Week 1, and Denver will look to punch the ball out again.

"It's at the front of our minds," Defensive Coordinator Ed Donatell said. "We look at that game and our D-line tipped two passes. We got really close to them. Justin Simmons, it was inches and he had a pick on a crossing route. Then we have one nullified by a penalty. We need those, because those turn games. If we had done that in that game, we could have had a different outcome. We want to work on that. When a runner has that many rushes against us, [you need a takeaway]. You can't say enough about how hard our players played in that game how well they fit the run. They minimized big plays, but if we get that many people swarming the ball, we have to have the ball. That's where we'd like to improve."

The encouraging news for the Broncos' secondary is that Ben Roethlisberger should give them more chances to make plays than Tannehill in Week 1.

"Going into the Tennessee week, we didn't expect [Tannehill] to throw it as much as he did, but even with that, he didn't take very many shots," safety Kareem Jackson said. "Pretty much everything was quick or right around the sticks. Going into this game, we all know Big Ben's going to throw it around the yard quite a bit. We should definitely have some opportunities to get our hands on some balls. He's a big-time quarterback in this league. They're going to let him run the show as he has done for the last decade. For us it's all about being in the right place at the right time, executing as a defense and for us just going out and training ourselves to make those extra plays that we need to be successful as a defense."


With A.J. Bouye on injured reserve, the Broncos will turn to a cornerback lineup that features a pair of rookies in Ojemudia and Essang Bassey. Fangio said earlier this week he expects the Broncos to use the same lineup they did late in Monday's game, which featured Ojemudia and Bryce Callahan on the outside and Bassey in the slot.

Donatell said he thought Ojemudia and Bassey played "pretty well" in their debut, and that the team must be prepared if Roethlisberger looks their way often.

"Ben's really tough," Donatell said. "There's no question. They have a great group of weapons at receiver too. We're just going to have to play well. They've got so many good guys. There's no question you have to earn your stripes against stud quarterbacks. Ben is one of them. We're going to have to make some plays. There's no way around it."


Whenever a rookie starts his first game, Offensive Coordinator Pat Shurmur wonders if the moment will be too big for him. That certainly wasn't the case for center Lloyd Cushenberry III, who Shurmur said handled himself "extremely well." There were a few plays when Cushenberry lost the physical matchup, Shurmur said, but he didn't make mental mistakes.

Guard Graham Glasgow, who plays to Cushenberry's right, had a similar review.

"I thought Lloyd did awesome," Glasgow said. "On the actual mental side of things, the things the center needs to get done and needs to call, all that stuff, I thought that he played almost a perfect game mentally. When you can do that, I think that the physical will come along with it, the more experience he has. That's something that's really, really exciting for me as the guy that plays next to him. Over time, I think that him and I and [G] Dalton [Risner] need to develop a consistency that we can all kind of get used to, and accustomed to and from there we can get better."


When KJ Hamler returns, Broncos fans should expect him to be used only in certain packages.

"He'll probably start with certain plays that we like for him to be in there — both run and pass — and keep expanding as we go," Fangio said.

No matter when he's used, his speed should make him an alluring option for Denver.

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