Broncos' defense surprising reason for three-game win streak

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- The Denver Broncos' first month of the season went about as poorly as it could defensively.

But veteran players like safeties Kareem Jackson and Justin Simmons and linebacker Josey Jewell were adamant that the team had a solid game plan and simply wasn't executing in its 1-4 start.

"When you don't execute anything that's put in, it's going to look s---ty," Jackson said.

As the 4-5 Broncos now know, a few weeks does not a season make -- and the defense has made a major turnaround.

After surrendering 40.7 points per game over the first three weeks of the season and allowing 28 or more points four times in the season's first five games, the Broncos have surrendered 16 points per game over the last four. They held Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes to one touchdown pass in two meetings over three weeks and have fueled Denver's first three-game win streak since September 2021.

"Sounds simple, but so much harder to do ... great communication and great execution,'' Simmons said. "[Less] touchdowns being given up in the red zone and we're getting off the field on third down.''

The 70-20 loss to the Miami Dolphins in Week 3, a 10-touchdown, 726-yard barrage, continues to bog down the Broncos' statistics. Denver remains last in the league in several major statistical categories like total defense, scoring defense and run defense.

The Buffalo Bills tallied 192 yards rushing Monday night, but since Week 5 the Broncos have been among the league's best teams in red zone defense (five TDs allowed in 13 trips inside their 20), a far cry from weeks 1-3 when the Broncos allowed touchdowns on 11 of the 13 trips.

In their last three games they have surrendered six touchdowns in the their opponents' last 42 possessions overall.

"Once we get in that red zone, our standard is to hold them without a touchdown,'' cornerback Pat Surtain II said. " ... Don't break.''

Defensive coordinator Vance Joseph maintained confidence in his players throughout the lows, even as he said they all had to be better and tweaked the lineup. Three games ago, Fabian Moreau entered at starting cornerback opposite of Surtain, and Ja'Quan McMillian has been a bit of a revelation at the nickel corner spot. Mike Purcell has also gotten into the nose tackle spot in some personnel groupings.

"I felt like for the most part, we had guys that there was a high buy-in factor as to what we were doing,'' coach Sean Payton said. "Was there frustration or disappointment? Sure. But you have to have energy when you practice. You have to be able to look closely and say, 'Hey, these are the things that are hurting us.' And then you have to have honest conversations when you're correcting, and honest conversations regarding the approach relative to us teaching.''

Toss in Baron Browning's return to the pass rush three games ago -- he had two sacks and forced fumble in the Oct. 29 win over the Chiefs -- and the Broncos have, at the moment, found a combination that has worked well enough to create some momentum.

"You can't panic,'' Joseph said. "You just keep coaching.''

The Broncos also have nine takeaways in the last two games and are now tied for ninth in the league in turnover margin at plus-3. Their 16 takeaways overall are tied for third most and the seven fumble recoveries are tied for second.

Things are still pretty rugged on the remaining schedule to see if it all can hold up through December. Minnesota (6-4), Cleveland (6-3) and resurgent Houston (5-4) are waiting over the next three games alone with a trip to Detroit (7-2) in mid-December among their non-AFC West games.

"Our defense has been unstoppable the past several weeks,'' quarterback Russell Wilson said. "Everybody was talking stuff about them, but I go against these guys every day. I know how hard they work and what they do."