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ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Six weeks into the NFL season, the Denver Broncos were the laughing stock of the league after their disastrous 1-5 start highlighted by a 50-point blowout loss to the Miami Dolphins.
Five games later, the Broncos are tied with the 10-1 Philadelphia Eagles as the hottest team in the NFL as both teams are riding five-game win streaks.
Denver’s remarkable turnaround is one for the ages.
The Broncos went from a top pick in the 2024 NFL Draft to being tied for the final Wild Card spot in the AFC playoff picture.
Was there a magic potion Sean Payton put in the water at the Centura Health Training Center? What spell took over Denver’s locker room to lead to the complete turnaround?
On Monday, a day after the Broncos’ 29-12 win over the Cleveland Browns, Payton identified the major areas that have contributed to the five-game win streak.
“I think the first thing I would say statistically speaking—when we were at 1-5 and then post 1-5—is we’ve protected the ball better and taken it away better. We’ve defended the run better defensively, and I think we’re playing a better complementary brand of football. We’re playing extremely well in the kicking game,” the head coach stated.
“The difference from that early part of the season start to where we’re at now—I think [No. 1] is defending the run and then the turnover ratio is dramatically different. I would guess it’s first in the league since that 1-5 start,” Payton added, when pressed on the issue again.
As Denver’s head coach has pointed out on numerous occasions, winning the turnover battle is crucial for every team in the NFL. But in the Broncos’ turnaround, it’s been eye-popping just how important it’s been.
In the team’s dismal 1-5 start, they had 11 turnovers and only six takeaways, for a minus-five turnover margin.
In their five-game win streak, they’ve only had three turnovers, compared to a whopping 16 takeaways. In that five-game span, they’ve had a plus-13 turnover differential.
To put that in perspective, only 14 teams in the NFL have 16 or more takeaways all season. The Broncos have that many in their previous five games.
Thanks to three takeaways against the Browns, the Broncos’ 22 total takeaways on the season is the most in the NFL, overtaking the San Francisco 49ers and Buffalo Bills.
Ja’Quan McMillian has caught more interceptions, two, than Russell Wilson has thrown interceptions, zero, in the team’s five-game win streak.
The next major change which Payton pointed to was Denver’s improved run defense.
In the 1-5 start, the Broncos gave up an average over 172 yards on the ground. From Week 3 to Week 5, their run defense was at an all-time low as they gave up 755 total yards on the ground. That was the worst three-game stretch in franchise history.
In the five-game win streak, Denver’s run defense hasn’t been perfect by any means, but it’s improved significantly. In that stretch, teams have run for an average of 112 yards on the Broncos.
To put that in perspective, on the season, the league average is 112.4 rushing yards per game allowed.
The Broncos’ defense went from historically bad at defending the run to completely average.
That’s helped Vance Joseph’s unit go from giving up over 33 points per game in their 1-5 start to 16 points per game in their five-game win streak.
The key to Denver’s remarkable turnaround isn’t hidden in a top-secret playbook in Sean Payton’s office. It’s drastic improvements in a few key areas which has helped the Broncos roll off five-straight wins and put them squarely in the playoff conversation heading into December.