Broncos: Preseason or Not, Defense Impresses in Shutout


On Sunday the Denver Broncos soiled the opening of the brand new home of the San Francisco 49ers, Levi’s Stadium. In their first preseason shutout since 2009 (19-0 vs. Arizona), the Broncos put on an impressive display on both sides of the ball from start to finish.

I know, I know…it’s just the preseason, but the Broncos have outscored the ‘Niners and the Seattle Seahawks- the two teams that are ahead of them in most preseason power rankings, by a combined score of 55-16. Granted, that’s a small consolation when you consider the combined scores of Super Bowls XXIV & XVLIII against the same opponents were 98-18, but we’re not here to talk about the past. (Seriously…don’t bring it up.)

We all know what can happen when you put too much stock into exhibition games. Moreover, it must be assumed that when both San Francisco and Seattle also appear on the regular season schedule, they are likely using very basic game plans in order to not tip their hand when the games count. Despite this, the intense, physical play of this revamped Broncos defense cannot be ignored.

Below are a few thoughts about the team and individual play of the defense.

Aug 17, 2014; Santa Clara, CA, USA; Denver Broncos strong safety Omar Bolden (31) waves to fans before the start of the game against the San Francisco 49ers at Levi

  • Denver’s Defensive Line Dominates

Regardless of whether it was the starters of the last guys on the depth chart, the Broncos lineman owned the trenches on Sunday. Denver held the ‘Niners to just 230 net yards of offense on 59 plays for an average of just 3.9 yards per play.

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Only 59 of those yards came on the ground for San Francisco and they averaged a putrid 2.9 yards per carry while never having a run of longer than nine yards.

The Broncos also held the 49ers to just 3-10 on third downs and stopped them short of the goal line of fourth down to close the game out. Even if it was the backups, it shows the kind of resolve and toughness the Broncos are looking for.

  • Turnovers = Extra Possessions = Blowouts

The Broncos generated four turnovers yesterday that led to 17 points. Again, to pump the brakes a tad, they were all in the second half against second half of the roster caliber players, but giving Peyton Manning’s offense extra possessions in the regular season is a recipe for disaster for opponents.

In the 2013 regular season the Broncos finished even with 26 giveaways and 26 takeaways. They’ve created five turnovers in eight quarters this preseason with just one turnover, which can be nothing but a positive sign.

Aug 17, 2014; Santa Clara, CA, USA; Denver Broncos cornerback Tony Carter (32) returns an interception against the San Francisco 49ers in the third quarter at Levi

In the Broncos’ Super Bowl Championship seasons of 1997 and 1998 the Greg Robinson-led defense never led the league in yards or points allowed, but they finished each season at +10 in turnover margin and always seemed to create a momentum changing play when they needed it. It looks like Jack Del Rio has studied his history and is beginning to understand the need to be aggressive at every opportunity.

  • Cut Day Isn’t Going to be Easy

The Broncos got a lot of contributions from perceived bubble and practice squad players on Sunday, further muddying an already murky situation at certain position battles. There are never enough roster spots to go around, but there should be solid depth at the defensive line and in the secondary, whatever the staff decides.

Yesterday’s injury to Lamin Barrow was a blow to a linebacking corps that is already missing Danny Trevathan to begin the season, but thankfully early reports indicate it doesn’t appear to be serious.

  • Helmet Stickers (Top Performances)

T.J. Ward, S – He doesn’t show up much on the stat sheet with just one tackle credited, but his physical presence and attitude are as advertised.

Lerentee McCray, OLB – The second year strong-side linebacker from the University of Florida continues to impress in Von Miller’s absence.

Sione Fua, DT – Fua, who is currently listed as the third nose tackle on the depth chart, had four quarterback hurries in his team high 39 defensive snaps.

Steven Johnson, MLB – Johnson had a 4th quarter interception along with two tackles. The former UDFA is fighting for his Broncos’ life and still has a pulse after yesterday.

Tony Carter, CB – Carter has buried himself on the depth chart with inconsistent play since the beginning of last season, but his interception and solid coverage yesterday helped.

  • Take a Lap (Disappointing Performances)

Nate Irving, MLB – By all accounts Irving has had a solid camp and looks ready to step into the starting MLB role in his 4th season. He was constantly out of place on Sunday.

Marvin Austin, DT – See above. Austin has been one of the biggest defensive surprises this preseason in his resurrection project, but took a step back against the 49ers.

Quanterus Smith, DE – Smith had 4 QB pressures on 21 pass plays against the Seahawks but had just one, along with a missed tackle, in 15 rushes against the ‘Niners.

John Boyett, S – Another camp darling, Boyett looked solid in Week 1 but was out of place often during yesterday’s game. He’s battling with Duke Ihenacho for the final safety spot.

All individual statistics taken from game log on or Pro Football Focus.