ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — The Broncos' Week 1 defeat to the Las Vegas Raiders included both reasons for encouragement and areas for improvement. While cornerback Pat Surtain II's coverage of Raiders wide receiver Davante Adams was a highlight of the weekend and the rush defense held Raiders running back and 2022 rushing leader Josh Jacobs to 2.5 yards per carry, Denver allowed Las Vegas to convert 5-of-11 third-down opportunities and allowed the Raiders' offense to stay on the field in crucial moments.
Pro Bowl safety and team captain Justin Simmons said third-down defense extends beyond any singular player or level of the defense. Improvement in Sunday's game against the Washington Commanders will require cohesion and strong performances across the board.
"For us, third down is just an all-encompassing thing," Simmons said after Wednesday's practice. "You're talking about third-and-short, obviously, stopping the run game, even in third-and-mediums, for our front to be able to generate some rush, but also for us to be able to be in tight coverage, so that it forces a quarterback to go through his progressions, maybe hold onto the ball. Then the rush works in and of itself.
"You always say rush and coverage work together, and you see a stat, you see no sacks, it doesn't mean that there wasn't any rush. Maybe there was just not as good [of] coverage, or vice versa."
Washington has playmakers in both the running and passing games, including wide receiver Terry McLaurin and running back Brian Robinson Jr., so getting off the field with third-down stops could be a challenging aspect of the defensive performance for Denver to improve this Sunday. Simmons said that the Broncos' secondary and front seven can make each other's jobs easier.
"I know on the back end, there are some things we can be better at," Simmons said. "I think that will help our front, and vice versa. So [I'm] not worried about it."
Up front, nose tackle Mike Purcell highlighted the rush defense's performance against Jacobs as a positive takeaway, but he sees the Week 1 loss and the chance to change outside perception as motivators heading into Denver's matchup against the Commanders.
"Every year feels different, but this year I think there's a good grit about us," Purcell said. "We've got a lot to prove. We don't want to continue to be counted out, so if we don't want to do that, then it's on us."
Another area that could spark defensive improvement and help the Broncos pull out their first win could be Denver's ability to generate turnovers.
Safety Kareem Jackson's red-zone interception of Raiders quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo prevented a Las Vegas scoring drive and gave the Broncos a prime opportunity in the fourth quarter on Sunday. Winning the turnover battle again on Sunday will be difficult against Commanders head coach Ron Rivera and his team, according to Head Coach Sean Payton.
"Their record when they win the turnover margin is pretty remarkable," Payton said. "They've always been tough and physical. We [in New Orleans] had a history of really, really tough games against Carolina and more recently at Washington."