DENVER – The Broncos entered Sunday's game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers determined not to let rookie running back Doug Martin beat them.
Stopping Martin, who entered the game ranked fourth in the NFL in rushing, was the focal point of the defense's gameplan. A big reason the Bucs arrived in Denver with four wins in their last five games was the success of Martin, who had averaged 128 yards per game during that span.
That put slowing down Martin at the top of the Broncos' defensive priorities.
"It was huge," defensive end Elvis Dumervil said. "He is a big part of what they do. He is a good player. For a guy that's a rookie, it's incredible. He does a good job in pass protection and running the ball."
All the defensive attention focused on Martin didn't stop him from picking up 31 yards on eight carries in the first quarter. At 5-9, 223, the Muscle Hamster quickly made it clear that it was going to take more than one defender to get him to the ground.
"Obviously he's a tough guy," defensive end Derek Wolfe said. "He's got a lot of leg drive. He finds his little seams and he takes them and he drives his legs when he's running. When you tackle him, you have to gang-tackle him because the first tackle a lot of times isn't going to get him because he's so tough."
But the Broncos quickly adjusted in a big way, limiting Martin to just 25 yards on 10 carries over the game's final three quarters. Knowing the danger Martin presented in one-on-one situations, the Denver defense came at him in waves, turning in a stifling collective effort on the evening.
"(It took) all 11 (players), because he was getting to the second levels," defensive tackle Kevin Vickerson said. "They were coming downhill and he was trying to find that hole. All 11 today, it was all 11, it was not one guy, one front seven. Everybody, it was the whole unit."
The defense's strong pursuit in the running game coupled with an offensive outburst in the third quarter gave way to a common theme throughout what is now a seven-game winning streak: an imposing pass rush. Although the Broncos, the NFL's team leader in total sacks through the first 11 games of the season, sacked Freeman only once, their pressure remained a factor.
"Number one is the run, and then everything else, we make them one-dimensional, it's passing now," Vickerson said. "The guys we have coming off the edge rushing the passer, it's a no-brainer right now."
Freeman completed just 18 of 39 passes and his only turnover came as a direct result of heavy pressure from defensive tackle Mitch Unrein. The hurried throw sailed right to linebacker Von Miller, who raced into the end zone for a pick-six that made it 28-10. Miller's score was a snapshot of what the Broncos once again showed they can do when they stop the run on the early downs and tee off in passing situations.
"That's what we want to do for them guys," Vickerson said. "I eat by stopping the run and they eat by rushing the passer. One hand washing the other right there."