ENGLEWOOD, Colo. --The perfect partner to an offense as prolific as Denver's is a defense that specializes in big plays: sacks and takeaways. These are better indicators of success than total yardage allowed, since the offense usually allows the defense to play from ahead, and yards can come in clumps when the opponent is down two scores and is in comeback, risk-taking mode.
"When you have a team that's scoring like this offense does, it kind of makes the other teams one-dimensional because they have to try to keep up," said safety T. J. Ward. So you know the passes are going to come. They've got to throw the ball downfield just to try to keep up, and that allows us to make more plays on the back end and get more sacks and turnovers."
It's up to the defense to capitalize on this and force these plays. In the past two years, Denver has finished tied for 16th in takeaways forced each year -- 24 in 2012, 26 in 2013. But their rate of interceptions dropped -- from one every 38.2 pass plays in 2012 (13th in the league) to one every 38.5 pass plays (16th), and their sack ratio plunged from one every 11.8 pass plays (second) to one every 16.0 pass plays (17th).
But one common point of frustration has been the inability to recover fumbles. Only six teams pounced on fewer opposing fumbles than Denver did the last two years (17), and the Broncos were one of just four teams to recover less than 10 opponents' fumbles in each of the last two seasons. They ranked 24th in this category in 2012 and tied for 21st last year.
The suspension of Von Miller and proliferation of defensive injuries affected the 2013 pass rush. But the comparable takeaway rates reveal that a remedy might lie as much in practice as personnel upgrades.
"Just swarm defense -- one guy getting a hat on the ball and the other guy coming in stripping and getting the ball out," said defensive lineman Malik Jackson.
This has already been a point hammered home by the coaches.
"We have been watching our techniques these last few days as far as what we wanted to do last year good and bad. Takeaways is a big part of that," Jackson said. "Coach Del Rio is really big on those, so we're going to work on that."
But much of the work will not come until organized team activities begin next month. The meetings during this phase of the offseason are about diagnosing the problem; the on-field sessions will revolve around solving it.
"I think you've got to work at turnovers," Ward said. "You know, it comes -- sometimes turnovers just happen, but in practice, stripping the ball, tackling, getting pressure to the quarterback, making errant throws, things like that"
The Broncos hope Ward's arrival helps lead to more takeaways. The aggressive safety has been a part of seven takeaways in the last two seasons: three forced fumbles, three interceptions and a fumble recovery. That doesn't include the plays his presence altered.
The manner in which Ward plays will help. But it's only a starting point.
"I think getting in that habit of just working the ball in practice, and interceptions -- like I said, they (opposing defenses) are going to come with pressure on the quarterback and good coverage," he said. "Fumbles and things like that, you've got to work at during practice."