Warning from Ware: Broncos aren’t soft
Broncos linebacker DeMarcus Ware caught the drift of my question and did not like it. Not one bit. His eyes narrowed, like a tiger ready to pounce on an affront to the team’s manhood. Are the Broncos soft? “When you say to us, ‘Let’s try to push the Broncos around,’ that sparks something in us as a defense. It doesn’t matter how much of a grind the season is or if I’m hurting during a game, it makes us think, ‘I’m going to blow somebody up and make a big play,’ ” Ware told me.
“You’re not going to push us around. You’re just not. And everybody on this defense has the same mentality. Everybody.”
Here. We. Go.
The toughness of the defending Super Bowl champ is about to be challenged in Tennessee, where the Titans are a bunch of big uglies that want to bully the Broncos and steal their lunch money.
You want a prediction? Pain. Drop a handful of quarters in the jukebox and play “The Fightin’ Side of Me” by Merle Haggard. In a town known for its honkytonks, there are bad men from Nashville, looking to start a barroom brawl.
On pure football talent, Tennessee cannot beat Denver. So the Titans are going to try to beat up the Broncos.
You know the statistics: Led by DeMarco Murray, the Titans average 141.5 yards rushing per game, third-best in the NFL. Denver is rank against the rush, its vaunted defense manhandled for 122.8 yards per game on the ground.
Ware, the wisest philosopher in the Denver locker room, knows despite the endless praise for the No-Fly Zone, there are whispers the Broncos might not be tough enough in the trenches.
“We’re not the big, bulky, strong guys that you often see on defense,” he said. “You look at us and you might ask, ‘How are the Broncos doing it?’ ”
What the Titans want to do is crush a foe’s soul. Why do they have to be that way? Well, here’s something you might not know: Tennessee is built tough by the meticulous design of general manager Jon Robinson, who
spent a dozen years in the Patriots organization. For years, New England mastermind Bill Belichick has packed a smirk and a hammer for showdowns against Denver, convinced the Broncos eventually back down from a heavyweight fight.
So it’s no surprise the Titans are inclined to play smash-mouth football. Young offensive tackle Jack Conklin is a road grader. When Murray needs a breather, Tennessee hands the rock to Heisman Trophy winner Derrick Henry, who is 250 pounds of trouble. This is a team that puts the tailback 7 yards behind center and gets ready to rumble.
Bring it on, says Ware. He uses the words “maulers” and “hogs” to describe Tennessee’s offensive linemen. In a nice way. Of course.
“If you say to us, ‘I’m going to pound ’em,’ then I’ll tell you what, we’re not going to let you pound us. We’re going to find a way to stop you. We’re going to use our quickness. And once we start to make big plays in the backfield, things are going to change,” vowed Ware. He admits the Titans will sometimes blow Denver off the ball for a 5-yard gain.
But when Tennessee quarterback Marcus Mariota least expects it, there will be Denver linebacker Von Miller slamdancing him or safety T.J. Ward rocking his world with a blitz. And then … “Now what happens?” Ware said. With four games remaining in the regular season, winning the AFC West is not out of the question for Denver. Lose to Tennessee, however, and there’s a real possibility the Broncos won’t even make the playoffs.
Denver is 5-0 against teams with a losing record. Denver is 3-4 against teams with a record of .500 or better. The number of teams with a losing record left on Denver’s schedule: zero.
So Ware knows what’s at stake. The NFL smells weakness on the Broncos.
There’s no room for Denver to dance. The only choice is to fight.
“How hard do you want it? It’s not just going out there and saying, ‘OK, I’m going to try to outwit the guy.’ I want to steal his heart. That’s the way that I play,” Ware said. His goal against the Titans is as subtle as a punch in the nose: “I want the guy (on the other team) to shake my hand at the end of the game because he knows that he got his butt kicked.”