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Mile High Morning: Denver defense best in the NFL after three weeks, according to PFF

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The Lead

The Broncos defense has played lights-out football over the first three weeks of the NFL season, holding opponents to only 26 total points, including a shutout of the New York Jets in Week 3. The defense has racked up eight total sacks through three weeks, and held opposing offenses out of the red zone for the duration of the last two matchups.

The stellar play from the Broncos defense has earned them the No. 1 overall spot in Pro Football Focus' defensive rankings. PFF ranks the Broncos third overall in expected points allowed per play, ranking 15th against the run and first against the pass. Their success against the passing game is largely thanks to major investments in the secondary during the offseason.

"Head coach Vic Fangio's defensive scheme is at the forefront of where the NFL is going, and he got a massive personnel upgrade this past offseason," PFF's Sam Monson said. "… First-round cornerback Patrick Surtain II has already been making plays, and the Broncos can now go four deep at the position with Bryce Callahan, Ronald Darby and Kyle Fuller once Darby returns from injury," Monson said.

In addition to an improved group of defensive backs, the Broncos also got powerhouse OLB Von Miller back after he missed the duration of 2020 with an ankle injury. And as Monson writes, Miller hasn't missed a step in the process.

"Von Miller is back and looking like one of the best pass-rushers in the league once again, racking up 15 total pressures across three games," Monson said.

Miller has also recorded four sacks through three games, putting him on pace for more than 20 this season. The pressure Denver has been able to put on opposing QBs, combined with the secondary's solid coverage, has landed Denver atop the pass-defense rankings.

"Denver's defense is allowing just a 60.6 passer rating, the best mark in the league," Monson said.

As the Broncos look to make their first postseason appearance since 2015, they will need their defense to continue to dominate opponents like it has through Week 3. If its play so far has been any indication, it seems that the Broncos defense is definitely up to the task.

Below the Fold

In Week 3, Caden Sterns joined Pat Surtain II among Broncos rookies to record interceptions early this season. Sterns picked off Jets quarterback Zach Wilson late in the game and returned the interception 46 yards. 

The fifth-round pick out of Texas has been asked to do a lot already in his first NFL season, including learning a new position in his short time with the Broncos.

"I'm playing with obviously some really good guys who have helped me around," Sterns said. "I'm still kind of getting used to dime — I started learning it only 2 1/2-3 weeks ago."

But Sterns' versatility is part of what drew the Broncos to him — he has been asked to play different roles and step up in big moments since college.

"Sterns was a freshman star for the Longhorns, starting 13 games and totaling 62 tackles and four interceptions," The Denver Post's Ryan O'Halloran said. "The way Sterns was deployed by defensive coordinator Todd Orlando — safeties were interchangeable — would end up helping him with the Broncos. On some plays, he would line up at free safety, but rotate down to cover the slot receiver, much as he could be asked to do against Baltimore."

Despite learning a new position and being thrown into the fire under the bright lights of the NFL, Sterns is not putting too much pressure on his performance. He wants to be great in this unexpected opportunity, but he's not going to beat himself up when he stumbles.

 "I expect a lot out of myself, for sure, but I also understood I was going to make mistakes and I couldn't harp on them," he said. "The biggest thing was trusting myself."

The Unclassifieds

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