Denver Broncos: Domata Peko has been stellar since leaving Bengals

DENVER, CO - NOVEMBER 25: Nose tackle Domata Sr. Peko #94 of the Denver Broncos runs onto the field during player introductions before a game against the Pittsburgh Steelers at Broncos Stadium at Mile High on November 25, 2018 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Justin Edmonds/Getty Images)
DENVER, CO - NOVEMBER 25: Nose tackle Domata Sr. Peko #94 of the Denver Broncos runs onto the field during player introductions before a game against the Pittsburgh Steelers at Broncos Stadium at Mile High on November 25, 2018 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Justin Edmonds/Getty Images) /
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The Denver Broncos got a steal in veteran defensive lineman Domata Peko in 2017 free agency. He’s been great since leaving the Bengals.

Domata Peko was drafted by the Cincinnati Bengals in the fourth round of the 2006 NFL Draft. That was the same draft and the same round in which the Denver Broncos selected wide receiver Brandon Marshall and pass rusher Elvis Dumervil.

Like Marshall and Dumervil, Peko has overcome a lower draft status and had a great NFL career.

Up until 2017, however, he spent that entire NFL career with one team — the Cincinnati Bengals.

The Broncos and Bengals do not have a storied rivalry by any means, but this week’s game between the two teams definitely means something extra to Peko in a similar way as the Steelers game meant a little something extra to Emmanuel Sanders.

Both Peko and Sanders have excelled since leaving their former AFC North teams, and have arguably played the best football of their NFL careers in orange and blue.

Peko is about as easy-going a player as you will find in the NFL, but he acknowledged he was a bit disappointed when the Bengals opted not to re-sign him for his 12th NFL season back in 2017. This will be the first game he has played in Cincinnati where he will be wearing the opposing team’s colors, dressing in the visitor’s locker room.

"“It means the world to me to go back and I’ve definitely got to play well. Being somewhere for 11 seasons, over a decade, and to go back for the first time—I know last year they came up here, but it’s going to be different being on the opposite sideline. It’s definitely going to be emotional because I’ve got a chip on my shoulder from them. I’m definitely going to go out there and do my job.”Domata Peko (quotes via Broncos PR)"

Peko has done his job incredibly well since joining the Denver Broncos.

During the 2016 season, Denver’s run defense took a significant dip, thanks large in part to the loss of a number of key in-house free agents including Malik Jackson and Danny Trevathan. The Broncos also lost a key run defender in Vance Walker, who was injured after being expected to fill a starter’s role.

The Broncos’ plummet in run defense production was a bit staggering. They went from allowing 3.3 yards per carry, best in the NFL in 2015, to allowing 4.3 yards per carry and giving up the fifth-most yards rushing in the NFL.

Those were not numbers the team was proud of at all, and Peko was brought in with a number of other players to rectify the issues.

In 2017, the Broncos again led the NFL by allowing just 3.3 yards per carry, and Peko played one of the best seasons of his NFL career at the age of 33.

There were a couple of weird and really bad performances by the run defense in 2018, but the Broncos have only allowed the opposing team to run for over 100 yards three times in 11 games this season, and have held opponents under 100 rushing for five consecutive games dating back to October 18.

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Peko is not the only player who deserves credit for the Broncos’ stellar run defense over their last 27 games, but he’s been a key reason they got back to their run-stuffing ways from 2015 and looks now to limit Bengals star running back Joe Mixon, who is having a great season.

This one means a little extra to Peko, so hopefully that translates to some big plays for the Denver defense early and often.