ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Sunday's game at Sports Authority Field at Mile High will feature strength versus strength.
The Broncos second-ranked run defense will go head to head with a running back that has emerged as one of the league's best - Cleveland's Trent Richardson.
Denver's body of work is impressive, ranking near the top of the league in all run defense categories after facing backs like Arian Foster, Michael Turner, Darren McFadden (twice), Doug Martin, Jamaal Charles and Ray Rice.
But Richardson is a different type of beast. Linebacker Wesley Woodyard, Denver's tackling leader, described him as a combination of McFadden and Martin because he has skills that each of those backs bring to the table.
"Speed, athletic, power," Woodyard said. "Watching him in college, I was a big fan of him. He's a workhorse. I say that he can carry the ball 30, 40 times a game, and carry the last snap like it's his first snap."
After a recent stretch of six touchdowns in four games, the rookie from Alabama has racked up 11 rushing touchdowns on the year. Only one running back - Houston's Foster - has topped that.
The stout Denver run 'D' has allowed only five rushing touchdowns all season. Only the Texans defense boasts a better mark.
While Woodyard compared the Browns' rookie sensation to a pair of current running backs, defensive tackle Kevin Vickerson had to go back into the NFL history books to find a back with a similar skillset to Richardson's.
"I want to say a ground-and-pound guy, like a Herschel Walker type," Vickerson said. "A big lower body, strong legs, he never goes down after the first hit. He is a tough runner."
Denver's success in run defense has come with first-year Defensive Coordinator Jack Del Rio, who has made it a priority since training camp to squash opponents' rushing attacks without getting help from the defensive backfield. The players have approached each game with that mentality. Defensive end Elvis Dumervil has used the term "rat-pack," describing how the unit swarms the football.
In 2012, Denver's rush defense has held Turner, Martin and Rice - all power backs and downhill runners, similar to Richardson's style - to just 136 rushing yards on 47 carries between the three of them. That's an average of 2.9 yards per carry. None of those backs have reached 60 yards on the ground, and only Turner found paydirt.
"I think it's been an excellent job by our staff, and I think by our players executing their techniques." Head Coach John Fox said. "This scheme is all about guys doing their job, being in the right place and how they fit different runs. They've worked very hard in the preparation part, and it's carrying over to their performance on Sundays."
Richardson is used to the sort of treatment that the Broncos will give him on Sunday. All season, defenses have made it a priority to stop him. He enters every game expecting a loaded line of scrimmage and when that's the case, he looks to help the offense take advantage of other opportunities that are created.
"You'll see -- if I'm not on a run, I'm catching the ball or blocking or doing something to help us win the game," Richardson said. "People are going to try to stop the run game and are going to try to stop me. With all the hype coming into the game, for what people said about me, I run hard or whatever, they are going to do that. Like I said, our O-line has been able to manage that really well this year with people just stacking the box. Teams will stack eight, nine in the box and it will be crazy. It'll look like you're out there in college or high school again."
The offensive line that Richardson complimented has earned the respect of the Denver defense, as well. It's one more element thrown into Sunday's battle of the trenches that makes it one of the most exciting matchups of the contest.
"They're a physical offensive line," Woodyard said. "It's going to be a good challenge to make sure we take the physicality to them."