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'The system fits Justin': How Simmons has thrived in Fangio's system

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — On Oct. 6, Justin Simmons helped the Broncos achieve what they both desperately needed and expected from a Vic Fangio defense: a divisional victory marked by several takeaways.

Starting with the Week 5 20-13 win over the Los Angeles Chargers, the Broncos have won three of their last five games, and the Broncos' defense has become increasingly reliable.

During that stretch, Simmons has shown why he's a reliable and crucial part of the Broncos' secondary. Through nine weeks, Simmons is Pro Football Focus' top-rated safety.

"Honestly, I don't pay too much attention to it," Simmons said when asked Tuesday about the ranking. "I know a lot of people are really into the stats and all that stuff. I'm not saying it's a good or bad thing. … It's definitely a cool thing to be a part of, but I don't pay too much attention to it."

Fellow defensive back Kareem Jackson is ranked two spots lower, and Simmons says the two regularly discuss how they want to improve game-to-game and, now, in the second half of the season.

The ability to have those discussions with each other and the rest of the Broncos' secondary gives them the freedom to make adjustments during the week and in-game. That, Simmons said, is the key to the team's success and his personal growth.

"I think the biggest thing is [Head Coach] Vic's [Fangio] defense is so elaborate," Simmons said. "There are so many different levels to it so you put in one defense, but in that one defense [there] are so many different calls that you can use that are in your toolbox."

Cornerback Chris Harris Jr. echoed Simmons' self-assessment.

"This system fits Justin," Harris said on Tuesday. "When you have a system like Fangio has, it just allows him to play free. A little bit of coverage, but other than that, he's playing free, he's roaming. He gets to see where the quarterback is going and that fits Justin perfectly."

The system has set Simmons on a track to have his best season since entering the league in 2016. Through just nine games, Simmons has two interceptions, which is one shy of his career-best. His first pick of the season – the one against the Chargers – was the Broncos' first takeaway of the season. Simmons has also broken up nine passes – his previous career-best was five PBUs – and he garnered Fangio's attention.

"I don't remember, but I do like him now," said Fangio on Nov. 4 when asked what he thought of Simmons ahead of the 2016 NFL Draft. "I've liked him early on from getting here. I do like Justin. I think he's a really good player and I see a bright future for him in a Broncos uniform."

The fourth-year safety has reliably donned his Broncos uniform. Dubbed an iron man of sorts, Simmons has played 1,582 consecutive snaps, a streak that dates back to the start of the 2018 season and is the longest active streak among defenders.

Simmons' consistency and experience is welcome on a defense that has lost key players to injury, and he has helped the Broncos' to rank fourth in total defense and sixth in scoring defense.

"That's with a bunch of guys coming in that I'm sure not a lot of people knew their names or knew what they were capable of," Simmons said of the team's defensive rankings. It's just exciting, [that] guys [are] rallying around each other and trying to find ways to get it done on Sundays."

Simmons is ready for the next challenge. He said he's excited to play four of the Broncos' next five on the road, as he's ready to quiet opposing fans.

"Everyone knows it's so tough to win on the road," Simmons said. "In order to win, you have to pack your defense. That has to be the strongpoint in those games and making sure you're giving you offense a short field [and] stealing momentum away from the home crowd."

If the Broncos are to accomplish that feat, they'll need Simmons to play like he has all season. Perhaps Denver could even use a bit more from the potential Pro Bowler.

"I've done a lot of things well," Simmons said. "There are a lot of things that I think that I've missed and could definitely make plays on just looking at the midseason film and moving forward like what are things I need to work on to help our football team be better."

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