ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- The one thing the seemingly endless parade of defensive coordinators who marched through the Broncos’ Dove Valley complex in recent years couldn’t bring with them was continuity.
From Larry Coyer to Jim Bates to Bob Slowik to Mike Nolan to Don Martindale to Dennis Allen right up to Jack Del Rio, over seven consecutive seasons, everybody had a different vision of what the playbook should be and what the Broncos’ players should do in it.
And while that made consistency in the draft as well as free agency anywhere from difficult to impossible to achieve because all the coaches wanted different kinds of personnel, it had another effect on things as well.
“And I think it makes it harder to fix something,’’ is how Champ Bailey put it. “You’re so busy getting everybody used to what you expect, how you’re going to do things and you can’t really deal with too much of what happened before. You're getting another system in place and sometimes you can't really work through some things that happened the year before because you're kind of starting over.’’
While any Broncos success could certainly put Del Rio in the head coaching mix in the next offseason, the guys in the Broncos defensive huddle at the moment are certainly glad to finally see the same face in front of them every day this time around. They also believe it could help the Broncos repair -- in a 2012 filled with good stuff on defense -- a glaring issue in their output last season.
A defense that tied for the league lead in sacks, finished second overall in fewest yards allowed and fourth overall in fewest points allowed, simply could not consistently cover opposing tight ends in the passing game. And Sunday, in the Giants’ Brandon Myers, the Broncos begin a run through the NFC East over the next month that will include the Cowboys’ Jason Witten and the Eagles’ Brent Celek as well.
“That’s always something you know quarterbacks are looking for,’’ said Broncos linebacker Wesley Woodyard. “It seems like every team has a big guy who can run and make plays.’’
Last season opposing tight ends finished with 81 catches for 948 yards and a staggering 11 touchdowns combined against the Broncos. That's 25 percent of the receptions the team allowed last season and 44 percent of the receiving touchdowns allowed. And in a league where 19 of the top 20 players in receiving yardage last season were wide receivers (43 of the top 50), it shows a departure from business as usual to find what opposing offenses believed was a winning match-up, especially in the scoring zone.
Last year, three of the six 100-yard receiving games surrendered by the Broncos were to tight ends – Jermaine Gresham, Greg Olsen and Dennis Pitta. Also, of the four players to have two receiving touchdowns in a game against the Broncos last season, three of those were tight ends -- Antonio Gates, Olsen and Pitta.
Pitta’s hip injury kept him out of the season opener against the Broncos last Thursday night, but that didn’t keep Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco from trying to work the theme. Flacco targeted tight end Ed Dickson five times in the game, but Dickson, who struggled with drops in the game, made just one catch for 13 yards.
This week the Broncos must focus on Myers, who had seven receptions for 66 yards and a touchdown in the Giants’ loss in Dallas -- a game in which the Giants had three wide receivers top 100 yards. The Broncos faced Myers plenty during his four seasons in Oakland. In Myers’ breakout 79-catch season in 2012, the Broncos were able to limit him to one catch in each of the two meetings.
Woodyard and Danny Trevathan are the linebackers who most often get coverage duty on opposing tight ends and the Broncos will also use their safeties when they get into some of their specialty packages.
“We know when we’re in coverage, we can’t let the ball in there,’’ Trevathan said. “You don’t want any completions, we want to get stops and get off the field.’’
"It's a match-up league, it always has been, it always will be,'' said Broncos coach John Fox. "Every team is looking for those match-ups to take advantage of. We always look at things we maybe haven't done as well as we can because we don't want bad things to happen again. The thing about mistakes is you admit them, fix them and try not to repeat them.''