AFC West: Denver Broncos

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. – For their first three outings of the season, the Denver Broncos have chased three mobile quarterbacks from one sideline to the other, with somewhat mixed results.

And while they might not know who will line up behind center for the Arizona Cardinals Sunday, they know what type of quarterback he will be. Carson Palmer, the Cardinals starter who is a familiar face to the Broncos from his time with the Oakland Raiders, has a right shoulder injury and is still a question mark for the game.

[+] EnlargeDrew Stanton
Brad Penner/USA TODAY SportsAfter facing some running quarterbacks, Denver will face a pocket-passer when Arizona visits Sunday -- either Drew Stanton (pictured) or Carson Palmer.
The Broncos spoke Monday as if they believe Palmer, who has given somewhat lukewarm responses to his prospects for Sunday’s game in Sports Authority Field at Mile High, would play. But even if Drew Stanton fills in, the Broncos will face primarily a pocket passer.

“I think as far as the front, it will be good that we don’t have to go against a guy who’s going to try to beat you with his feet," defensive tackle Terrance Knighton said. “(Palmer) is a more conventional type of quarterback and it’ll give us an opportunity to get sacks now. But he’s definitely a veteran guy."

The Broncos have faced Andrew Luck, Alex Smith and Russell Wilson in their first three games. All three threw for at least 250 yards -- Luck went for 370 yards in the Broncos’ Week 1 win -- but Luck also ran for a touchdown while Smith and Wilson rushed for 42 and 40 yards, respectively.

Wilson, who the Broncos had largely held in check during regulation two Sundays ago, converted a third-and-3 and third-and-4 by running the ball in the Seahawks’ game-winning drive in overtime.

“We just didn’t quite keep him where we needed to on that drive," cornerback Chris Harris Jr. said. “ … When they can run that puts some pressure on what you’re doing on defense."

The Cardinals have gone 2-0 with Stanton at quarterback. Stanton was just 14-of-29 passing for 167 yards in the Cardinals’ win over the New York Giants and 18-of-33 for 244 yards in Arizona’s win over San Francisco. He ran for minus-2 and 16 yards, respectively, in those two wins.

Palmer hasn’t played since Week 1 against the San Diego Chargers. He threw for 302 and ran for 29 in that season-opening win.

“Carson Palmer, I think he’s underrated," Broncos safety Rahim Moore said. “He looks great on film. They’ve got a great receiving corps … We’ve got to come ready to play or it could be ugly.”

The Broncos will be at full strength defensively for the first time this season with linebacker Danny Trevathan's expected return to the lineup. And with either Stanton or Palmer, the Broncos might have the opportunity to be a little more aggressive in the pass rush than they have been thus far.

The Broncos have eight sacks in their three games, tied for 13th in the league despite most teams have played one more game. They have largely rushed four on most passing downs thus far -- on all but 12 snaps against the Colts and all but nine against the Chiefs.

“We’ll just have to go out there and outplay their defense," Moore said. “They have a lot of weapons on offense. We’ll just have to approach it like any other week and just break them down, day by day."
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- The plans for the Denver Broncos' defense spent a great deal of time on the drawing board, iPad, desktop monitor or anywhere else plans are constructed these days.

How it would look, who would fill out the depth chart, was at the forefront of what the team's top football decision-maker, John Elway, wanted to get done. And Sunday, when the Broncos face the Arizona Cardinals, the Broncos are expected to have the defense they built on the field for the first time this season.

[+] EnlargeAqib Talib
John Leyba/The Denver Post/Getty ImagesAqib Talib and the Broncos' defense are allowing 390.7 yards per game so far this season.
Linebacker Danny Trevathan, who suffered a fracture at the top of his tibia in an Aug. 12 training camp practice, is on track to return to the lineup against the Cardinals. His return will give the Broncos, for the first time this season, the personnel groupings in the game they hoped to have after their offseason makeover.

"When the season started we had guys coming back (from injuries) like me, Von (Miller), Chris (Harris Jr.), we had some new guys," said safety Rahim Moore. "We've played well, we want to be better, but we've shown what we can do. When we get more consistent in all situations I think people will see what we're about."

Before the season began, Broncos players and defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio said they believed the team could field a top-five defense before all was said and done this season. Then Trevathan was injured while linebacker Miller and cornerback Harris Jr., who are both coming off ACL surgeries, were on a pitch-count of sorts in the early going.

The Broncos also faced Andrew Luck, Alex Smith and Russell Wilson in their first three games. As a result, the Broncos returned from their bye some distance from the league's top five.

The Broncos are 27th in yards allowed per game -- what the NFL uses to statistically rank its defenses -- at 390.7 yards per game while Denver is tied for 13th in points allowed per game, allowing 22.3 per game.

"I think when you have as many new starts as we have it's going to take a little time to build that in-game chemistry it takes," said Broncos head coach John Fox following Monday's practice. "I thought in the first two games, you know, the situations at the end of the game were good learning experiences and character building type of situations, game is on the line. We didn't fare quite as well in Seattle in that same type of situation, in overtime, but I saw growth and I saw us get better."

Rookie cornerback Bradley Roby knocked away a Luck pass on fourth down to close out the Broncos' season-opening win against the Colts while defensive tackle Terrance Knighton knocked down a fourth-down pass attempt by Smith in Week 2 to preserve the win against the Chiefs.

The Broncos, after a hearty defensive effort against the Seahawks, couldn't close the deal in overtime, so while they still have liked much of what they've seen, the team's defense has not been the lock-down group all involved hope it will be.

In Trevathan's absence Brandon Marshall, a third-year player, played in the weak-side linebacker spot. Marshall is tied for the team lead in tackles (29) after three games. And the Broncos, in the loss to the Seahawks, also used their two rookies at the position -- Lamin Barrow and Corey Nelson -- in some situational work on defense.

"I thought Brandon Marshall stepped in and did a real good job," Fox said. "We've got some youth at that position, there were errors made, but all in all, just like our record, I think, two of the situations better than the third. We'll welcome back Danny because he was one of one of our better players and it's good to have him back."

Trevathan, though he was the team's leading tackler last season, hasn't played in a game since the Broncos' loss in Super Bowl XLVIII. He has said he thinks he will "be ready to go, 100 percent, when I get back out there," but the Broncos may work him back up to his usual snap counts as they have with some of the other players returning from injuries. Broncos middle linebacker Nate Irving said Trevathan's return is something "we've all been waiting for."

"He's got tremendous speed and explosion, and those things all ring pretty well when you're getting more experience as he is as a young player," Fox said. "I've just seen him progress every season, really every game."
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Some of it is a little take-care-of-the-neighborhood talk and some of it is to add some impact to what the Denver Broncos do as they go about their football business, but head coach John Fox has been adamant in his beliefs.

That the AFC West was “the toughest division in the league last year and I think it’s the toughest this year."

And earlier this month, Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning chimed in a bit with, “I think it’s the toughest division in football."

With the Oakland Raiders seemingly on course to add another season-long chapter to their growing Book of Struggle, it is difficult to give the AFC West the top-to-bottom grade it would need to pass a best-division-in-football exam. But after four weekends of the NFL season the San Diego Chargers have done their part.

For the Broncos, that’s certainly worth some attention. The Chargers’ only loss in this still-young season was 18-17 to the Arizona Cardinals in the season opener. The Chargers, with the help of a little home-field swelter, own a win over the Seattle Seahawks and have dispatched the Buffalo Bills and Jacksonville Jaguars in their last two games.

Quarterback Philip Rivers, who has spent large portions of his career beating the Broncos, has played all kinds of good thus far -- 70 percent completion rate, just more than eight yards per attempt, nine touchdowns and one interception.

The Broncos formally concluded their bye week early Monday morning when the players arrived to start what is now a run of 13 consecutive football weeks to close out the regular season. To get the next weekend off they’d actually like to have, they’re going to have to take care of plenty of business over those next 13 weeks.

The Broncos already own a grind-it-out win over the Kansas City Chiefs, who could add to the AFC West’s resume with a win over the New England Patriots Monday night but still have no explanation for the opening-week loss to the Tennessee Titans at Arrowhead.

So, if the Broncos aren’t just tossing early-season compliments around and the AFC West does turn out to be the kind of division it was last season when three of its teams made the postseason, then they’ll have earned any playoff trip the hard way.

Among their next five games, the Broncos have the Cardinals (3-0), the 49ers (2-2), the Chargers (3-1) and the Patriots (2-1 heading into Monday night’s game). The Chargers game in that grouping is on a Thursday night, in Denver, which is exactly the scenario from 2013 when the Broncos openly complained about a short week throughout a short week and then lost to the Chargers on a Thursday night in Denver.

The Broncos have said they’re better than last season, said they’ve seen plenty of good things already in a 2-1 start and said they want another shot at the title when all is said and done. But to prove any of that true, they will have to be the best team in their division.

And as they returned to work Monday, it should be clear they will have some work to do there.
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- When it comes to numbers and Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning, tight end Julius Thomas has, on occasion, offered what is one of the most apt descriptions of what often happens when Manning throws passes.

When Thomas can’t seem to decide on the right adjective for what he has just seen, he has simply said: “It’s 'Madden.' What he does is like playing 'Madden,' touchdown after touchdown, like somebody is pushing all the buttons.’’

St. Louis Rams head coach Jeff Fisher, who has faced Manning perhaps more than any other coach in the league, has also likened it to being "like a video game for him. ... That he's played it so much, he knows what's coming.''

The Broncos had their league-scheduled bye Sunday, so they watched others go to work from points hither and yon. But when they return to their football business this week, it is a good time to take a moment and see where Manning is when it comes to touchdowns and numbers.

Manning will enter the coming weekend’s game against the Arizona Cardinals sitting on 499 career touchdown passes in his 243 games; so wrap your head around 2.053 scoring passes per game over 16 football years plus the three games he's played in this, his 17th season. The next touchdown pass he throws will be No. 500.

Just one other player – Brett Favre – has crossed that barrier. As a result Favre, currently holds the record at 508 which, at Manning’s Broncos rate, is likely to stand for three more games.

But record or no record, 500 touchdown passes is, even in these pass-early, pass-often times, fairly ridiculous.

Consider: If you took the top four quarterbacks not named Manning in terms of touchdown passes thrown in a Broncos uniform – John Elway (300), Craig Morton (74), Jake Plummer (71) and Brian Griese (71) – you would come up with 516 touchdown passes.

Manning has played 35 regular-season games for the Broncos and he’s now No. 2 in touchdown passes in the franchise’s history with 100.

Times change, as do the rules book, offenses and completion percentages, but Elway threw 300 career touchdown passes and only six quarterbacks in all of the pro football that has been played have still thrown for more than that total. The next active quarterback behind Manning is New Orleans’ Drew Brees with 368 touchdown passes, with New England's Tom Brady at 362.

It's all heady, historical and on the table over the course of the Broncos' October schedule.

“I’m just happy I get to catch some of them,’’ said Broncos wide receiver Demaryius Thomas. “Because you know most of those are going to be touchdowns in games you win, they're going to be plays that mean something for us.’’
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Cody Latimer arrived in Colorado following this past May's NFL draft with big dreams and high hopes. But he has not yet played a snap in a regular-season game as part of the Denver Broncos' offense, so the rookie wide receiver already understands what life is like for first-year players on a team that was good enough and deep enough to have played in the Super Bowl this past February.

"This is a good team, I watched what they did all last season when I was in school," Latimer said. "They went to the Super Bowl, so you’re coming into a place where they are winning games, having success. For me, I feel like you get ready to play, prepare hard and when they think you can help them, they’ll put you in."

When the Broncos made the cut to 53 players they kept seven rookies -- five draft picks and two undrafted rookies. A fairly high total for a team coming off back-to-back 13-win seasons and poised for another one of that ilk if things go as planned.

[+] EnlargeDenver's Cody Latimer
John Leyba/The Denver Post via Getty ImagesDenver rookie receiver Cody Latimer hasn't seen much action since the preseason, but knows he must stay ready in case he's needed.
But no matter what the play-time numbers say at the moment, the Broncos believe they will need all of their rookies at some point. Executive vice president of football operations/general manager John Elway has consistently talked about the importance of "having that youth on your roster, so you’re getting guys ready to play in your system, your organization, get them used to do things the way we do them."

In the season's early going, the playing time has varied. A second-round pick in the this past May’s draft, Latimer hasn’t appeared on offense, has played 10 special teams snaps in the season opener, and has been inactive on game day twice.

Long term, the Broncos see Latimer as a potential starter, and he showed enough in training camp and the preseason that the team’s decision-makers believe he will have some impact in the offense at some point this season. But in this year’s early going Isaiah Burse, an undrafted rookie who is the Broncos’ punt returner, has played more.

Tackle Michael Schofield, a third-round pick, has been inactive in all three games this season.

"They don’t allow us to suit everybody up, we’ve got to make a decision every week," said Broncos head coach John Fox. " ... Good news is those are tough decisions."

The Broncos’ offseason makeover was far bigger on defense this offseason, and that is reflected in how much playing time the team’s rookies have received. On the defensive side, the team’s first-year players have all been in the mix.

Cornerback Bradley Roby, the team’s first-round pick, is essentially a starter given he’s in the team’s nickel package (five defensive backs). Denver has played more in the nickel than any other personnel grouping thus far -- 58.2 percent of the defensive snaps thus far.

The Broncos have felt good enough about Roby’s progress to use him in a variety of roles, matching him up against front-line receivers in both the slot and on the outside. The confidence Roby has earned is telling, because he didn’t play in the slot at Ohio State.

"Never, really," Roby said. "That’s kind of new, but I just want to help us win. I don’t want to be a reason we lose, I want to be one of the reasons we win."

Linebackers Lamin Barrow and Corey Nelson, the team’s fifth- and seventh-round picks, respectively, appeared on defense -- 11 snaps for Barrow, two for Nelson -- in last Sunday’s overtime loss to Seattle. Both have also carved out regular work on special teams.

The Broncos have had some injuries at linebacker, with Danny Trevathan being injured in training camp and Lerentee McCray’s knee injury against Kansas City Chiefs, so there has been a little more room for the first-year linebackers to find their way onto the field.

Overall the message has been the same to all of the rookies -- be ready, because when the Broncos return from their bye, they will face an arduous stretch where they could play games on 15 of 16 weeks from their Oct. 5 game on if they again make it to the Super Bowl.

Or as Fox put it; "I know this, I don’t know when, but we’ll lean on all those guys at some point in the season."
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- The first impression has been the lasting one thus far for the Denver Broncos.

Their opening first down run of the season went for no gain. The second time they ran the ball on first down, it went for no gain. The fourth time? No gain.

[+] EnlargeMontee Ball
AP Photo/Elaine ThompsonMontee Ball knows the Broncos need to get more yards on first down.
 And things haven't really picked up since. Now, no one is advocating a return to the league’s 70s show, the old run, run, pass possession. Not with the rules-makers having rolled out the red carpet to throw, not with Peyton Manning at quarterback and impact all over the formation at wide receiver.

But Manning is a man of precision behind center, and he often speaks of the best offenses being “on schedule,’’ and on schedule means “you get first down after first down, string them together, or give yourself a second-and-short, to put yourself in a position to call most anything.’’

And the Broncos, after three games, are not on schedule. Yes, they have scored 31, 24 and 20 points in three games against three teams that won at least 11 games last season, one of which just happens to be the defending Super Bowl champ. But it doesn’t feel right at the moment, and a big part of the reason is the imbalance the Broncos have on first-down plays.

Too often first-and-10 is becoming second-and-long and as the Broncos try to add a little more punch in their run game, they have become lopsided on offense. And usually, the bad news starts with a handoff.

“We have to be better, for sure,’’ said Broncos running back Montee Ball. “There are a lot of things there, but I know I have to be better because we need to be able to run the ball when we need to.’’

At its best, on the “schedule’’ Manning likes to keep, the Broncos offense is a first-down factory. A 75-yard touchdown drive in the Week 2 win over the Kansas City Chiefs had a sequence of four consecutive plays on first down. On the seven-play drive, the Broncos were in a first-and-10 on five of the plays and first-and-goal on the touchdown play.

“When you’re stringing them together, there’s a rhythm,’’ Manning said. “You’re going, moving the ball.’’

And while Manning’s passing numbers are other-worldly on first down -- 27-of-41 for 349 yards and five touchdown passes -- the Broncos are decidedly lopsided. Take out Manning’s kneel-down plays and the Broncos are rushing for just 2.8 yards per carry on first down.

Overall, they’ve had five first-down run plays go for no gain and seven have gone for negative yardage. In short, Ball and the Broncos offensive front have not been able to consistently make room to run the ball against defenses with more size in the formation in those down and distances.

In the days leading up to the loss to the Seattle Seahawks, offensive coordinator Adam Gase referenced the “negative plays’’ in the run game.

“I think the tackles for losses were a little much for me, and we put ourselves in bad positions with some of those penalties and it’s hard -- you try to stick with it as far as when you’re getting those second-and-20s but you want to try to help the quarterback get back to a third-and-10 or third-and-5 area,’’ Gase said.

In the end, an efficient run game is also the best way to slow down opposing pass rushers, keep them away from Manning and keep play-action passing -- what Manning has called “a big part of the offense.’’ But the Broncos’ blocking schemes up front have left gaps in the run game, especially inside around the guards and center, and Ball hasn’t always been as quick to the hole as he needs to be.

The game video shows, over and over again, defensive linemen attacking the gaps on the interior when the Broncos guards move down the line of scrimmage in the run game.

“We have things to work on, things to get better at,’’ said Broncos head coach John Fox. “We’ve played three games, we all can be better at a lot of things, and we’ll work at it.’’
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- With a four-day weekend on deck because of the bye week, Denver Broncos coach John Fox gave a few players the day off from practice Wednesday as the team went through an abbreviated workout.

"[I] feel good about the health of our football team," Fox said after Wednesday’s practice.

Because of the bye, the Broncos do not have to issue a formal injury report, but guard Louis Vasquez, who has dealt with a lower back injury of late, was held out of both practices this week. On Wednesday, the Broncos also held safety David Bruton (shoulder) and safety Quinton Carter out of practice after both players had taken part in Tuesday's work.

Bruton, who played this past Sunday in Seattle, suffered his injury in the season-opening win over the Indianapolis Colts. Carter has played in all three of the Broncos' games, but he missed almost two years with knee troubles, including a microfracture surgery, before returning to the field this season.

The Broncos also closed out their practice week with tight end Virgil Green (concussion) and linebacker Lerentee McCray (knee) out. Green is currently under the league’s concussion protocol while McCray, who was injured in Week 2 against the Kansas City Chiefs, is expected to miss several weeks. Linebacker Danny Trevathan, who has not played since suffering a fracture to the top of his tibia in an Aug. 12 training camp practice, took part in both Tuesday’s and Wednesday’s practices and remains on track to play in the Week 5 game against the Arizona Cardinals.

"I feel good, just getting ready, man, keep grinding my way back," Trevathan said. "Just working to get back in there. … I can’t wait."

For players like wide receiver Demaryius Thomas, who hasn't missed time despite dealing with left foot pain, will also be helped by the early off week. The Broncos have three home games in October immediately following the bye before a season-closing stretch with six of their last nine games on the road.

Fox said he kept to the usual bye week routine despite the Broncos having their earliest bye since the 2006 season. He said it was just the second time in his 14 years as a head coach to have a Week 4 bye.

"Some self-scouting things, obviously some Arizona work … come back ready to go for the meaty part of our season," Fox said.

Fox has usually reminded his players before each bye week that he "doesn’t want to read about them unless they win the lottery," but had to take a different tact this time. During last year’s bye week Fox underwent open heart surgery and missed the next four games with defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio serving as the team’s interim head coach.

"[So] I kind of back off that one because they read about me," Fox said. "And I didn’t win the lottery by any stretch. I just told them to make good decisions, be smart, relax, enjoy the time off, come back ready to work."

Broncos Rewind: Defense, special teams

September, 24, 2014
Sep 24
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- The Denver Broncos have faced Andrew Luck, Alex Smith and Russell Wilson over the course of their first three games.

They've had moments of the-future-is-bright dominance, and had some other moments "where we just didn't get ourselves where we need to be," said defensive tackle Terrance Knighton.

"We're still looking for that consistency," said cornerback Chris Harris Jr. "Where we do all the good things we're doing without any issues in between. That's what we want."

After a long look at the game video here are some thoughts on the Broncos defense and special teams:

  • [+] EnlargeDenver's Nate Irving
    AP Photo/John FroschauerNate Irving (56) made a couple key stops on Seattle's Marshawn Lynch early in the game.
    The last time the Broncos tried Nate Irving at middle linebacker -- in training camp in 2013 and some during the season -- they eventually moved Wesley Woodyard into the role instead because Woodyard was a more consistent tackler on the interior. But when Irving squared up Seattle Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch twice during a Seahawks' drive that followed a first-quarter Broncos fumble deep in Denver territory, it showed how far Irving has come to earn the playing time he has now. His second stop on the hard-charging Lynch came on a third-and-goal from the Broncos' 1-yard line and forced the Seahawks to kick a field goal. Defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio almost called the shot when he said; "On Nate, that was a question mark I got I don't know how many times in training camp. ‘Will Nate be able to do it?' Well, Nate can do it."
  • Linebacker Von Miller was consistently disruptive against the Seahawks and his 67 snaps in the game were his highest total of the season as he is just eight months removed from ACL surgery. Throughout the day Miller gave Seahawks rookie Justin Britt an uncomfortable look at what an athletic strong-side rusher can look like with power up the field and speed to the edge, all while playing with discipline that kept Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson hemmed in, at least until overtime. On Miller's first quarter sack, Miller simply pushed Britt into the backfield and then shed Britt to tackle Wilson as Wilson tried to escape the pressure. It was the kind of play Miller made only sporadically last season after he returned from his suspension, but not nearly as often as he made in his 18.5-sack season in 2012.
  • Interceptions can be more difficult to come by in man coverage when the defensive back is often facing away from the quarterback to play the receiver as opposed to zone looks when the defensive backs often face the quarterback. But Chris Harris Jr.'s interception was a result of Aqib Talib's instincts in man coverage, one of the top-shelf reasons the Broncos were so quick to sign Talib to a deal in the offseason. With the Broncos giving Wilson a steady diet of man coverage -- "all we played in man," Harris Jr. said -- Talib anticipated where Wilson was trying to put the ball and left his receiver on the outside to tip a ball intended for Harris Jr.'s receiver (Percy Harvin). Harris Jr. caught the deflection and five plays later the Broncos cut the Seahawks lead to 17-12 with 9 minutes, 20 seconds left in regulation. Overall the game showed the confidence level the Broncos have when fully staffed in the secondary as they matched up on Seahawks' receivers throughout the game and largely left Harris Jr. on Harvin out of the slot. It was Harris Jr.'s most extensive work in the slot this season as Talib and rookie Bradley Roby manned the outside spots in the nickel.
  • Rookie Isaiah Burse should take note of how he's carrying the ball when the Broncos return from their bye weekend because opposing special teams coaches are. Burse, who has let the ball get into his pads too often when fielding punts in training camp and the preseason, tends to swing the ball away from his body when running in the open field as well. Part of the reason Burse escaped for a 15-yard punt return in the first quarter was the Seahawks took a swipe or two at the ball as he went by. They didn't force a fumble this time, but Burse can expect others to try.
  • Rookie linebacker Lamin Barrow, who played 11 snaps on defense Sunday, has carved out a large role on special teams. Barrow was on the field for 29 special teams plays against the Seahawks. Only linebacker Steven Johnson, with 30 special teams plays, played more Sunday.
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- This time around, Denver Broncos coach John Fox said he has no plans to hit the golf course for the team’s bye weekend.

The last time the Broncos adjourned for their bye week, Fox ended up facing the sky, wondering if his heart was going to stop beating. Last Nov. 2, with the Broncos in a Week 9 bye, Fox experienced dizziness and lightheadedness during a round of golf in Charlotte, North Carolina, and fell to the ground.

He was taken to a hospital and underwent surgery two days later to replace his aortic valve. He missed four games before returning to his duties as the Broncos closed out the regular season 13-3 and advanced to the Super Bowl.

Asked after Tuesday’s practice if he had plans for a golf outing this weekend, Fox answered with an emphatic "No."

The Broncos have a bye Sunday but practiced Tuesday and will have another workout Wednesday before the players are given Thursday through Sunday off.

“I feel way better than I did last year’s bye week, at least at the end of it," Fox said. “It does bring back those memories."

Fox has said he knew aortic valve surgery was a possibility since having the issue first diagnosed in 1997, when he was the New York Giants' defensive coordinator. The valve normally has three flaps that control blood flow to the body, but Fox's old aortic valve had just two.

He'd had it monitored since he was hired by the Broncos in 2011, and cardiologists told him in 2012 he would need surgery following the 2013 season.

“I kind of knew it was an issue last time (the Broncos had a bye)," Fox said Tuesday. "It’s not an issue this time."

The Film Don't Lie: Broncos

September, 23, 2014
Sep 23
A weekly look at what the Denver Broncos must fix:

With a bye week, the Broncos get a couple of extra practices to try to regain, or even find, the balance they want on offense. Because waiting on the other side of the bye week are the Arizona Cardinals and defensive coordinator Todd Bowles, who once interviewed for the Broncos' coaching job in 2009.

Bowles is an aggressive sort who will, if he doesn’t feel he has to concern himself with the run game, blitz wild against an opposing quarterback, even one who has carved up blitzes as often as Peyton Manning has in his career.

When he does turn his guys loose, Bowles will blitz from all over the formation, often adding defensive backs to the mix. Which is why the Broncos’ performance on first down in their overtime loss to the Seattle Seahawks needs plenty of attention.

First off, the Broncos were fairly one-dimensional -- they had just nine first-down runs in the game and just one in the second half, which came with just 2:29 left in regulation. Trailing or not, that makes them predictable.

Secondly, when they did run on first down, they struggled mightily to get anything done, especially when the score was such to afford them the chance. And the Broncos struggled almost equally out of their two-tight-end look and three-wide-receiver set. Overall, of those nine first-down runs, three went for minus-1 yard, two went for 1 yard, one for 3 yards, one for 5 yards and the longest was a 9-yard run by Montee Ball on the Broncos’ first play from scrimmage in the game.

Ball, however, fumbled on that play.

And if the Broncos can’t -- or don’t -- run on first down, it only puts Manning in harm's way.
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Three games into the regular season and the Denver Broncos are just now ready to move the defensive plan they made in the offseason from the drawing board to the field.

As they work through two bye-week practices this week -- Tuesday and Wednesday -- before a four-day weekend, the Broncos will continue to monitor linebacker Danny Trevathan's progress. Trevathan, who suffered a fracture at the top of his tibia Aug. 12 in a practice, returned to practice last week for the first time since the injury and was on the sideline for the Broncos' 26-20 overtime loss in Seattle.

And when the team’s leading tackler from 2013 is back in his starting weak-side linebacker spot the Broncos will have the defensive lineup they've hoped for. The Broncos continue to point to the Oct. 5 game against the Arizona Cardinals, their first after the bye, for Trevathan’s return.

“I’m always optimistic," Broncos head coach John Fox said. “He kind of started getting closer last week and he was limited in practice on Friday. This week’s preparation is a little bit different than an in-game schedule ... we’ll work as a football team Tuesday and Wednesday. I’m anticipating he’ll be there Tuesday."

With Von Miller's play Sunday -- Miller was consistently disruptive as he played 67 of the Broncos’ 78 snaps on defense -- Trevathan’s return would add another three-down linebacker to the mix as well as give defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio more options as the team moves from its base package to its specialty packages.

The Broncos often use a three-linebacker look in their nickel package (five defensive backs), and Trevathan’s return could allow Del Rio to use Miller, Trevathan and Brandon Marshall -- who has played for Trevathan -- as the three linebackers to go for more speed in the formation.

The Broncos tinkered with some different looks on defense in search of speed Sunday when rookies Corey Nelson and Lamin Barrow played two and 11 snaps, respectively, on defense. It was the first time Barrow and Nelson had taken snaps on defense this season.

“I’ve said it when I get back in there, that’s the full defense, all the linebackers, all the DBs, all the D-linemen," Trevathan said. “I just want to do my part, man, the way they’ve been playing has been what you want to see, they’ve gone out there grinding, making plays. I want to see what we can do as the full group."

Because the Broncos had limited the practice time in training camp for Miller and cornerback Chris Harris Jr. -- the two had ACL surgeries eight and seven months ago, respectively -- and Trevathan suffered his injury before early in the preseason, the Broncos haven’t had their projected defense practicing fully together at full speed.

Tuesday’s practice might well be the first look at that, as will next week’s practices.

“As a football team we’re not there yet," Fox said. “I think we’re making strides. I saw improvement from Week 2 to Week 3, and that includes Von. I think he’s gotten better. He did miss quite a bit of last season and like everything it takes a little bit of time, lot of facets to play this game at a high level."

“I’m ready to see what we can do, where we can take our game," Trevathan said.
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- A day after a gritty overtime loss to the Seattle Seahawks, Denver Broncos coach John Fox said good isn't good enough and close isn't close enough.

That, when all was said and done, the 26-20 overtime loss in CenturyLink Field wasn't redemption, revenge, or even all that acceptable, as the Broncos entered their bye week.

"Do you mean is there a moral victory? The answer to that would be no," Fox said Monday. "But like all games, you have things you do well and things you don't do well. We call it the good, the bad and the ugly. We ended up on the short end of the stick. It was our first loss of the season. We're disappointed about that but we'll look at it."

[+] EnlargeJohn Fox
Ron Chenoy/USA TODAY Sports"Do you mean is there a moral victory? The answer to that would be no," Joh Fox said of the overtime loss in the Super Bowl rematch with the Seahawks.
Monday, the Broncos players went through the game video from Sunday's loss and while the team made a significantly better showing than it did in the 35-point loss in Super Bowl XLVIII, a little time to sleep on it didn't make anyone in the Broncos complex feel any better about how things went.

"That's important every week, regardless of who you play, it's a physical, combative game every week," Fox said. "I think to go on the road in an environment that's proved to be tough to win at over the course of three years, yeah I think that's always important. It's going to be important the next time we go on the road. Did we have a chance to win the game? Yeah, but we didn't finish it and we need to figure that out. We're going to be doing everything we can to do that, regardless of who it's against."

"We played better, we did some good things, but it wasn't what we wanted," Broncos defensive tackle Terrance Knighton said. "We didn't play to be close, be better than the last time. We always want to win. We'll go through things and get it right."

The Broncos will do some on field work this week -- Fox said Monday the team would likely practice in some fashion Tuesday and Wednesday -- before giving the players four days off for the bye weekend. Some of that time will be used to try find some solutions in the run game -- the Broncos are averaging just 3.2 yards per rushing attempt -- and to get things a little more dialed in on offense as a whole.

Quarterback Peyton Manning's eight touchdown passes put him second in the league, to Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck, but Manning has thrown just one of them to any of the team's wide receivers (Demaryius Thomas). Tight ends Julius Thomas and Jacob Tamme have five and two touchdown catches respectively.

And while there is some take-what-the-defense-gives-them at work there, it is also a sign things are not running quite as smoothly as the Broncos had hoped.

"I know everybody in there, coaches included, need to improve," Fox said. " ... I don't know that it's really people doing a lot of things differently (against the Broncos). I think it's fair to say that we might be more balanced now. That's really kind of how I'd say it. I think it's important in football to have that balance and not be one-dimensional. That's what I'd say up to this point. I don't think our offense has been lacking. We're just trying to win games. Right now, we're 2-1."

Broncos, Ball struggle in run game

September, 22, 2014
Sep 22
SEATTLE -- The search for some semblance of balance has the Denver Broncos' offense a bit out of whack.

Three games into the season and the Broncos are averaging just 3.2 yards per rushing attempt, they have just one rushing touchdown and in three games they have not had a run play go longer than 23 yards against defenses primarily constructed to stop the Broncos from doing something else.

[+] EnlargeMontee Ball
Joe Nicholson/USA TODAY SportsThe Seahawks shut down Montee Ball and the Broncos running game, with Denver gaining just 36 yards on the ground Sunday.
“We all just have to get better,’’ said Broncos running back Montee Ball following the 26-20 overtime loss to the Seattle Seahawks. “It all starts up front, but then us as running backs have got to do a better job. Personally I have to hold on to the ball. I have to get that corrected.’’

The Broncos are not looking for some sort of 50-50 split between run and pass. But they are looking for what they tab as “efficient’’ runs, those rushing plays that secure first downs, no matter the down and distance, or runs that go for at least four yards.

Well, in Sunday’s loss the Broncos converted just one first down on a run play and just six of their 20 rushing attempts in the game went for at least four yards. It was a particularly grueling day for Ball.

The player the Broncos believe is ready for the lead role in their run game fumbled the ball away on the team’s first offensive play from scrimmage against the Seahawks. By halftime he had just 19 yards rushing on 10 carries and finished the day with 38 yards on his 14 carries.

Also Sunday Ronnie Hillman rushed for 2 yards on his two carries combined and C.J. Anderson rushed for minus-3 yards on his two carries. All in all it has taken at least some edge off the Broncos' play-action passing game because opposing defenses aren't having to commit additional players to the line of scrimmage to slow Denver's running game.

Asked following the game how he would grade himself, Ball was honest and quick to the point.

“Right now, not too good at all,’’ Ball said. “It’s early on and we are getting better, making improvements. We are going to make things happen in the backfield, change some things up probably and get this thing rolling. We’re most definitely committing to it. It’s just some things are not going well for us. We knew this was going to be an ugly game, two great teams playing. I think this is going to make us better.

On the game-opening fumble, Ball added: "I can’t blame anyone else on that. I let a lot of people down right there."

The Broncos had particular difficulty handling the interior of the Seahawks’ defensive line. Seattle defensive tackles Brandon Mebane and Kevin Williams finished with a combined three tackles for loss in the game.

“We play disciplined, team football,’’ said Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman.

Offensive woes do in Broncos defense

September, 21, 2014
Sep 21
SEATTLE -- The Denver Broncos spent lavishly in free agency to buy a defense with enough of an edge to give them a chance in a rematch of the NFL's title game and enough on-field toughness to push them back into a Super Bowl.

That defense opened the season with fourth-down, game-saving plays in each of the Broncos' first two victories before Sunday's trip to the grown-up table that is a game at CenturyLink Field. But in the reap-what-you-sow department, the Broncos' offense couldn't find its rhythm for most of Sunday, leaving the defense with too many short fields and in too many bad spots. In the end, when the Broncos really needed one more dig-in series from the defense, the tank was empty.

And with that the Seahawks escaped with a 26-20 overtime win.

“We didn’t play our best today," wide receiver Wes Welker said of the offense. “And ultimately we came up short because of it."

Bottom line is the Broncos needed to force one more punt in overtime, get one more third-down stop from its revamped defense that had done so much in the first four quarters, and they didn’t get it. The Seahawks won the coin flip for overtime, kept the ball 13 plays, went 80 yards and ended the game when running back Marshawn Lynch plowed into the end zone from the 6-yard line for the win.

On the drive, Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson rushed for 21 yards, including 5 yards to convert a third-and-3 and 5 yards to convert a third-and-4.

“We forced a fifth quarter, our offense got it going, we just have to find a way to get off the field in overtime," defensive tackle Terrance Knighton said. "They just executed in overtime and we didn’t. We needed one more play in overtime. ... Ultimately it’s about win or lose, it’s either win or a loss. We’ve got nothing to be happy about."

But to beat this Seahawks team -- in this stadium, with the vaunted 12th man screaming at your every move -- every team walks a fine line. The Broncos’ inability to crank things up on offense until it was almost too late may be what ultimately did in the Denver defense. The miles are on the odometer, after all, whether they come in the first 15 minutes or in the game’s last 5 minutes, 46 seconds.

The Broncos rushed for 15 yards on 14 carries in the first half. On running back Montee Ball's longest run of the opening half -- 9 yards on the team’s first offensive play -- he fumbled. That put the Seahawks on the Broncos' 23-yard line and the Denver defense held Seattle to a field goal.

After the Broncos answered the Seahawks' field goal with one of their own on the possession following Ball's fumble, their offense went punt, punt, punt, kneel down to end first half, punt, punt, punt, punt and punt.

The Broncos didn’t put a touchdown drive together in the second half until Broncos cornerback Chris Harris Jr. returned an interception to the Seahawks’ 19-yard line with just more than 11 minutes remaining in regulation.

“Offensively, we have some things we have to fix just from an execution standpoint," quarterback Peyton Manning said. “And I have to play better as well."

The Broncos made a fight of it Sunday, the offense did go 80 yards in 41 seconds, with no timeouts, to tie the score with a touchdown and two-point conversion. And as you would expect for a team with designs on big things, everybody took the blame when it wasn't enough.

But three games into this young season and the Broncos, like some kind of struggling pitching staff, are still looking for their first complete game.

“There really isn’t a second-place prize, a honorable mention or anything like that," linebacker Von Miller said. “We got better [Sunday] … but unfortunately we didn’t get the win."
SEATTLE -- A few takeaways from the Denver Broncos' locker room after Denver couldn’t close the deal in a 26-20 overtime loss to the Seattle Seahawks:

  • Broncos defensive tackle Marvin Austin played Sunday, just two days after his father, Marvin Sr., 49, died from injuries he suffered in a car crash last Sunday. “I know he was looking down,’’ Austin said following the loss. “We fought the way he would have wanted us to ... but I know he’d be saying he wanted us to win too.’’ Austin finished with two assists on tackles in the game as he played in the defensive line rotation. Marvin Austin Sr. was in an automobile accident in Selma, N.C. last Sunday. Austin Sr. was one of four people hospitalized Sunday after the accident. Austin Sr. suffered serious injuries when he was ejected from the vehicle. Marvin Austin has said he will wear “Austin Jr.’’ on his jersey for the remainder of the season, following the team’s Week 4 bye.
  • Wide receiver Wes Welker, in his first game since he suffered a concussion in the Aug. 23 preseason game against the Houston Texans and had been re-instated from what was originally a four-game suspension for violating the league’s substance abuse policy, finished with six catches for 60 yards. As a player with three concussions in the last 10 months, Welker took some exception to being leveled on Seahawks safety Kam Chancellor’s interception in the fourth quarter. Welker was behind the play when the hit happened and he talked to referee Bill Vinovich immediately following the play. “I asked the referee about it, and he said ‘well he caught the ball first, right?’ so it’s your call. It is what it is, nothing you can do about it.’’
  • Broncos tight end Virgil Green doesn’t catch the ball much in the Broncos offense, but when he left Sunday’s game with a concussion he suffered on special teams in the first half, quarterback Peyton Manning thought it changed things for the team’s offense. “I thought Virgil Green’s injury was significant ... it limited us a little bit formation wise that we were going to try to do ... so we changed a little bit when Virgil went out.’’ Green will be evaluated more on Monday, but is expected to be under the league’s concussion protocol. The Broncos do have a bye next week.
  • The first play on offense has not been a good thing for the Broncos against the Seahawks. In Super Bowl XLVIII center Manny Ramirez snapped the ball past Manning for a Seattle safety. Sunday, running back Montee Ball ran for 9 yards on the team’s opening play on offense, only to fumble the ball away at the Broncos’ 23-yard line. Four plays later the Seahawks had a field goal and a 3-0 lead. “I was trying to do too much,’’ Ball said. “I was trying to jump around, that didn’t work too well for me, I have got to run the hole.’’