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'We can play cleaner and better': Denver defense raises standard for Week 7 meeting with Packers

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Defensive Coordinator Vance Joseph was pleased with his unit's strong showing on "Thursday Night Football" against the Kansas City Chiefs, but the outing still didn't meet his standard.

After practice on Thursday, Joseph said the performance — in which Denver held the Chiefs and quarterback Patrick Mahomes to 19 points and a single touchdown — was both a step in the right direction and full of areas of improvement. And yet, Joseph and the Broncos' defense expects more.

"That felt good because of our improvement, but winning is the ultimate goal," Joseph said. "Not winning the football game is still disappointing for us, and it's not where I want it to be defensively, anyway. In my mind, we can do a lot better; we've given away too many plays the last two weeks.

"… My standard is a little bit higher than that. It was better Thursday, but we can play cleaner and better, in my opinion."

When the Broncos' defensive players talked about their approach to maintaining their success from recent weeks against the Packers on Sunday, continued improvement was a common theme.

"That's what we expect each and every week on the defensive side of the ball, making it tough for opponents and just being a bend-don't-break defense, and that's what we establish[ed] these past two weeks," cornerback Pat Surtain II said on Wednesday. "We're still not satisfied. There's still room to improve, but it's a good start."

One aspect that Denver defenders highlighted was their strong play in the red zone. The Chiefs converted only one of their five red-zone trips into a touchdown, and the Broncos held Kansas City to a 4-for-13 conversion rate on third down, well below the Chiefs' season average of 48.2 percent.

Inside linebacker Alex Singleton said the Broncos' impressive play in high-leverage situations is evidence of defensive improvement.

"The best defenses are best on third down and [in the] red zone because teams can drive the ball and do stuff," Singleton said on Wednesday. "… If you can win red zone and win third downs, you'll be a good defense, so that's what we're focusing on."

Surtain and Singleton both discussed the impact of simplified play calls on the defensive improvement, as well.

"[Simplified calls made] us fly around," Surtain said. "[It helps] just being in the right positions at the right time and making plays. When you know what you're doing on the defensive side of the ball, that's what helps guys fly around and be more confident. I think just shortening up the play calls a little bit helped a lot."

Singleton said the defense's faster playing style is evidence of a unit that is starting to find its groove and elevate its play. Denver's Week 7 matchup against the Packers will be another opportunity for the Broncos' defense to continue its encouraging trajectory and live up to its standard.

"We simplified things," Singleton said. "Guys are going to play faster, guys are going to be in the right spots. It's Week 5, 6 ... when guys really get in the groove of games, so we're starting to hit that."

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