Broncos defense fed up with late-game fading
Coffee is for closers. Or in the Broncos’ case, the playoffs are for closers.
Denver’s defense, long the strength of the team, has squandered a lead late in each of its past two games. At New Orleans, a blocked extra point and score distracted from an alarming twominute collapse. And against Kansas City last weekend, there were no defensive heroics to save the day. Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith marched his team to the tying score late, then two field goals in overtime for a 30-27 victory.
“If you give us an eight-point lead, I would bet my game check that no one would score on us, so I would have been in debt right now,” Broncos cornerback Aqib Talib said, laughing. “I’m going to bet it every time. So we put that (loss to the Chiefs) on us.”
The Denver defense’s focus now shifts toward fixing its problem. Players point to lapses in pass coverage, costly mistakes including penalties, and being too comfortable in their success the past year and a half as reasons for what’s gone wrong.
“You just assume that everybody is going to do their job,” said defensive end Derek Wolfe. “This defense puts everybody in position to make plays. You assume that person is going to be in that position at the right time to make that play. That didn’t happen right there at the end.”
Inside linebacker Brandon Marshall added: “That was the second game in a row. I don’t want to say we relaxed. I know we’re playing more zone at the end of the game. We had a few mental errors, the coverage wasn’t tight enough, we didn’t tackle well.”
Denver has allowed only two scores in the last two minutes of the fourth quarter this season, one each in the past two games. Both came on drives where the opponent had three minutes or less remaining and no timeouts left.
Often in these situations a defense will use the clock to its advantage and play softer coverage and allow shorter routes in exchange for more time coming off
The Broncos, who usually play man-to-man coverage, used a lot of zone coverage in the final two minutes the past two games. Marshall said this was done to prevent Kansas City and New Orleans from using “pick” routes against manto-man coverage. Smith, though, picked the Broncos apart with 5- to 10-yard slants, outs and hitch routes.
“We played the same defense. We just didn’t play them as well,” said defensive coordinator Wade Phillips.
The backbreaking plays for the defense in the Kansas City game were allowing two third-down conversions and an 11-yard reception by Chiefs receiver Tyreek Hill on a fourth-and-10 play just before Hill caught a touchdown pass. On that fourth-and-10 play, cornerback Bradley Roby was 15 yards off the line of scrimmage, seemingly protecting the end zone, and wasn’t able to get to Hill to push him out of bounds before he got the first down. On the next play, Hill scored on a 3yard slant route.
Denver typically thrives in these late-game situations, letting loose a strong pass rush and having the secondary feast on hurried passes. Corrections in coverage busts, decreasing a seasonhigh 15 penalties and perhaps more aggression are the recipes of change the Broncos have talked about this week.
The message at Dove Valley, on both of sides of the ball, has been “finish.” Finish plays, finish drives and finish games.
“We have to be more focused. We’re too lax in those situations. We expect someone to make the play, but we have to expect ourselves to make the play first,” safety T.J. Ward said. “It’s not last year’s team, so don’t compare us to last year.”