The Denver Post
Denver defense eager to rebound
Broncos roughed up by Giants’ run game
With one burst through a doughnut-sized hole last Sunday, Giants running back Orleans Darkwa nearly matched the previous per-game rushing yield of the Broncos’ defense.
Denver entered its 23-10 loss to the Giants giving up just over 50 yards rushing per game. The Broncos had entirely corralled top-flight running backs Melvin Gordon, Ezekiel Elliott, LeSean McCoy and Marshawn Lynch. Then Darkwa, who entered the game with 122 combined rushing yards in five games, sprinted for a 47-yard gain on a trap play in the second quarter that led to a Giants touchdown and a 10-0 lead.
The big play was part of a perplexing performance for the Broncos’ run defense, which gave up 148 yards and 4.6 yards per carry to a team that entered the game with the NFL’s third-worst rushing attack. The Broncos gave up four runs of more than 10 yards — including three in the second half — exceeding the total number of runs of that distance they had allowed in the first four games combined (three).
“On four runs, they had 98 yards,” defensive coordinator Joe Woods said. “We had a free hitter on every play standing right there to make the play and we just didn’t make it. … We just didn’t get it done that night. We were just a little off, so we have to put it behind us and correct the mistakes and get ready to play the Chargers.”
As the Broncos prepare once again for Gordon and the Chargers, they are eager to prove last weekend’s letdown was more anomaly than cause for concern. Fortunately, defensive end Adam Gotsis said, the defense has four games worth of dominance against the run to lean upon.
“That’s the way it has to be: You make the mistake, you practice it and you go out and correct it,” he said. “In the game, you see if you can fix it or not. It’s just coming back to work, doing the basics and fundamentals and practicing it
again. … Teams are going to hit big runs. I don’t think you’re going to get a team that’s going to go a whole season without one big run broken on them. It’s just how you bounce back.”
Gordon presents a stiff challenge for the Broncos’ defense because of his versatility. The third-year running back is averaging a modest 59.3 yards rushing per game. After a 21-yard run on a trap play in the season opener against the Broncos, Gordon was limited to 33 yards on his next 17 carries in Denver’s 24-21 victory.
But the former Wisconsin star does some of his biggest damage out of the backfield. He has caught 28 passes for 222 yards, and his four receiving touchdowns, including an 11-yard scor- ing grab against the Broncos last month, are the most among NFL running backs.
“We have to be aware, in certain areas of the field, whether he’s going to be a receiver or not,” Broncos coach Vance Joseph said. “In the red zone, he’s scored three touchdowns — one against us. So we have to have some awareness in the red zone of where he is, and on third downs. He’s made some big plays on third down in the screen game. Obviously, situational football, finding him is going to be important.”
Woods said he counted six plays in the loss to the Giants in which his defense failed to execute, the four run plays and two passes to tight end Evan Engram. The Broncos have yet to give up more than 272 total yards in any game, and they rank first in the NFL in total defense. So nothing resembling panic has set in for the Broncos as they prepare to get back to their run-stuffing ways.
“When we execute right, we’re on our game and we’re fitting everything right, you’re going to make plays,” Gotsis said. “You just have to play the next snap.”