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DENVER — The Broncos’ run defense found a secret sauce.
“People will say, ‘You’re their secret’. No, I don’t think anything like that,” Alexander Johnson said after showing out for his second-consecutive game.
Vic Fangio would agree with the humble second-year linebacker.
Is the secret formula something the Evil Genius himself concocted late at night at the UCHealth Training Center?
“We haven’t really put anything in new, one or two things which I’ve called once or twice in the last few weeks,” Fangio stated on Sunday, after Denver’s first shutout victory since Week 14 of the 2017 season.
Nope, not that.
Well, was there more of an emphasis on stopping the run of recent?
“There’s an emphasis every week,” Vic stated Sunday, writing off that possibility too.
Instead, Denver’s formula for shutting down opposing running games was just a good ol’ dose of humiliation.
“In that last quarter and a half when we were last home here, when our run defense left the stadium too early, I think it embarrassed everybody, me included,” Fangio said, referring to Week 4’s loss to the Jaguars in which Denver’s defense gave up 229 rushing yards in the second half alone. “Since that time we’ve just played better.”
It’s as simple as that, according to the defensive guru.
After holding the Jaguars to 40 rushing yards in the first half, they allowed Leonard Fournette to march up and down the field in the second half as Jacksonville came back to stun the Broncos with a last-second field goal to send Denver to 0-4.
In the past two weeks since, Vic Fangio’s embarrassed unit hasn’t even given up 40 yards on the ground in an entire game.
In Week 5, they bounced back in strong fashion, holding the Chargers to 35 rushing yards on 2.2 yards per carry. On Sunday, against a run-heavy Titans, Denver only allowed Derrick Henry and Co. to go for 35 total yards on the ground on a 1.9 yards per carry average.
“That last quarter and a half against Jacksonville, that obviously was embarrassing to everybody involved. We seemed to have done a better job against it of late,” Fangio reiterated on Sunday, when asked about the key to flipping the switch on the run defense. “Guys have just played better. Run defense, a good bit of it, is the mindset and technique. We’ve had a good mindset and played with better technique the last two weeks.”
Denver’s mindset and technique certainly has been on point the last two weeks, in which Denver’s picked up their only two wins on the season.
In each game, the Broncos have allowed fewer total yards to the Chargers (246) and Titans (204) than they allowed to the Jaguars on the ground alone.
“We’ve just been chipping away at it. That’s the best way to describe it,” Von Miller said after the team’s second-straight win, admitting there hasn’t been any behind-the-scenes changes to the defense. “Defensive line played lights out today. ‘Wolfman’ (Derek Wolfe), DeMarcus [Walker] and the DBs played lights out today. They were in scoring range I think three times and we got the turnovers three times. It’s a great day for the Broncos.”
Of course, there have been a few changes, both to scheme and personnel—most notably making Mike Purcell and Johnson starters and having Kareem Jackson back from injury. And the film would clearly show there’s no doubt all three have certainly had a positive impact the last two weeks.
“Like I’ve always said, Mike’s a good run defender. That’s his specialty,” Fangio stated without hesitation. “He’s strong, he’s instinctive and he’s a fighter. I go back to what I told you guys I think a few months ago, when John [Elway] and Matt [Russell] asked me about signing him, I said, ‘Be careful now, you might want to keep him.’ Low and behold, we did. He’s helped the last two weeks, no doubt about it.”
The added girth in the middle has helped, no doubt about it. But the formula that’s clogged the holes on opponent’s offensive lines dates back to when the unit was at it’s worst and embaressed as can be.