ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Winning cures a lot in the NFL. But it apparently doesn’t cure everything in Sean Payton’s eyes.

Despite the Denver Broncos getting their first win of the season by having their second-largest road comeback in franchise history, as they overcame a 21-point deficit against the Chicago Bears, Denver’s head coach is still concerned about the team’s defense.

“Yes to both,” Payton said on Monday morning, when asked if he was still concerned about Denver’s defense and if the comeback can instill confidence moving forward. “I said this to the team just 15 minutes ago. I said, ‘I’m encouraged that we fought back into that game, but man, let’s not finish today when we’re done watching this tape and feel like we’re content at all with how we played.’”

“[There are] too many things that still are disappointing or things that we have to clean up,” the head coach continued. “Same thing offensively. We stalled for a period after the first touchdown. We went through a third of the game struggling. That sense of urgency has to exist again this week. We’re going to play against a lot better teams here in the next month, month-and-a-half.”

Despite the first win of the season, Payton has every reason to still be concerned about Denver’s defense.

Through four games, the Broncos are last in points allowed (37.5), have the worst DVOA ranking through the first four games of a season since 1981 (38.5%) and allowed the Bears, who averaged just over 15 points per game entering Sunday, to score 28. Additionally, eight days ago, the Broncos’ allowed the Miami Dolphins to almost score the most points in NFL history as they racked up 70 on Denver.

Through the first month of the NFL season, as the weeks have gone on and Denver’s defense has continued to struggle, the calls for Vance Joseph to be fired have grown.

But Zach Allen, who has spent his entire career playing under Joseph, dating back to their time with the Arizona Cardinals, made it clear on Monday that the defensive coordinator isn’t to be blamed for the rough start to the season.

“He’s been very successful in this league for a very long time and has accomplished a lot. Everybody wants to point the finger at somebody, but at the end of the day, if you watch the dolphins tape and you watch the first half, it was either guys not tackling or guys just not doing the right assignment. It wasn’t a question of the scheme or anything like that,” Allen stated firmly.

“I think a lot of people probably don’t understand the big picture,” the defensive lineman continued, defending Joseph. “Again, for us, that doesn’t really matter. We know what we’re doing. What we’re working on. Everybody can say whatever the hell they want to say, but at the end of the day they’re not in the arena, so, yeah. I love [Joseph]. I think—we’re going to be fine. We’re going to do great things. It’s still early. We’re going to turn it around.”

Don’t point the finger at Joseph. Point it at the players, according to Allen. In fact, the players simply doing their job better was the difference in the team allowing Justin Fields and the Bears to score 21 points in the first half to limiting them to only seven in the second half.

“First half, it was sloppy, but second half everybody kind of starting doing their job better and accepted their hard downs and played the way they’re supposed to play. There were still a couple of runs that we shouldn’t have let up, but we’ll get that fixed,” Allen explained, pointing the blame at himself and his teammates. “We all settled in and executed better. First half, it was just kind of a couple mental errors here and there, but everyone kind of settled in and we were able to fix that.”

Denver’s defense was one of the elite defenses in the NFL for the first 12 games of the 2022 season. A year later, they’ve had a concerning drop-off.

But Allen still sees a very high ceiling for the group.

“We have the talent and we have the players. It’s just a matter of us executing better, like I said earlier,” Allen said. “We saw flashes of it in the second half. When we do it right, we play at an elite level. We just have to continue working it.”

The Broncos’ defense clearly has to improve. But don’t put the majority of the blame on Vance Joseph, according to Zach Allen.


Zac Stevens was born and raised in Denver, went to the University of Denver and now covers the Denver Broncos. After graduating Summa Cum Laude from DU in 2014, Zac worked for the Cleveland Browns as a remote scout. He then jumped straight into the journalism industry at the beginning of 2016 covering the reigning world-champion Broncos and joined DNVR soon after. Catch him on Twitter @ZacStevensDNVR and daily on the DNVR Broncos podcast as the co-host.