ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- After Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo blistered the Broncos defense for 506 passing yards and five touchdowns -- just the fifth such game in the league's history -- the Broncos were left shaking their heads and vowing improvement in the coming weeks.
Or as safety Duke Ihenacho put it when he went to the bottom line, "It was a bad game for us defensively."
And after a long look at the video from Sunday's win, here are some thoughts on the Denver Broncos defense and special teams:
It was a rather quiet depth chart move, but one that was clear to see the first time the Broncos lined up in their nickel package Sunday, which was on the Cowboys' first offensive snap of the game. Rookie Kayvon Webster continues to be the most active member of the Broncos' first-year class. He was moved ahead of cornerback Tony Carter in the nickel, playing an outside spot when Chris Harris moved down into the slot. "He's a guy that's proved worthy," said Broncos coach John Fox Monday. "He's earned his playing time. These guys practice out here, we've watched practice, we watch the tape and he's performed well. He earned those reps." Webster has routinely shown up around the ball in his limited work. He's shown speed, aggressiveness and has been one of the team's better tacklers in the secondary. And the team felt good enough about what he can do to leave him in man-on-man situations. Webster knocked the ball free from Cowboys wide receiver Dez Bryant in the second quarter. In all Webster played 49 of the Broncos' 58 defensive snaps against the Cowboys.
Romo said the Cowboys believed all week they could find room "down the seams" -- essentially down the hashmarks -- on the Broncos' defense. And Dallas certainly did, largely attacking the Broncos' nickel and dime packages in the intermediate and deep middle of the field. There was a 27-yarder to tight end Jason Witten in the first quarter, a 25-yarder to tight end Gavin Escobar in the first quarter and a 26-yarder to Witten in the fourth quarter. Toss in wide receiver Terrance Williams beating Carter for an 82-yard catch-and-run in the third quarter and the Cowboys piled up big play after big play right through the heart of the Broncos' coverage plans. After largely playing it safe for much of the season, Romo finished with nine completions of at least 20 yards and three completions of at least 38 yards. It isn't a new issue, even with all the good the Broncos did on defense last season. They still struggled mightily last season to cover opposing tight ends -- the Broncos surrendered 81 receptions for 948 yards and 11 touchdowns to opposing tight ends in 2012. And Sunday was really the first time opposing tight ends had made such a dent in things. They did surrender 74 yards receiving to the Giants' Brandon Myers in Week 2 and the Eagles Brent Celek had 57 yards receiving, but neither player had a touchdown catch. The Chargers Antonio Gates, the Colts Coby Fleener and the Chiefs Sean McGrath are on the schedule in the coming weeks. Whether it be the safeties or the linebackers, the Broncos need a little more from those marking the big guys in the pass pattern.
The Broncos need to create some more pass pressure up front as well. Romo had several snaps when he neither had to leave the pocket to avoid pressure nor had to pick up the pace when he moved through his progressions. Fox said Romo had one snap "when he was standing back there for 10 seconds." Some of the numbers are impacted as the Broncos played a far more controlled scheme in the rush against the read-option quarterbacks in Michael Vick and Terrelle Pryor. In those two games the Broncos defensive ends, particularly Derek Wolfe, had to hold the edge and make sure not rush deeper into the backfield than the quarterback as to not leave an escape lane. But it is somewhat surprising after five games the Broncos linebackers have just 2.5 sacks combined and Wolfe has just one. Things will likely change when Von Miller returns from his suspension the Monday following the Jaguars game. Then, if Miller has done all of the work with the team's strength coaches Fox and his teammates have said he's doing, offenses are going to have to slide things Miller's way. That should open some things up. The Broncos are tied for seventh in the league in sacks with 15, but they've also faced the third-most passing attempts of any defense in the league -- 209. So, in sacks per pass attempt the Broncos are 18th in the league. In the end they have to win more 1-on-1 battles, especially with the injuries they've had on defense that almost requires them to send the reinforcements into coverage and rush four.
The Broncos signed punter Britton Colquitt to a $13 million deal during training camp because they believed in his ability to consistently tilt field position in their favor. But he has been their Maytag man thus far. No punter who has played in five games has punted fewer times than Colquitt's 15. Colquitt did not have a single punt Sunday in Dallas. The Colts' Pat McAfee is close to Colquitt's pace, having punted 16 times in five games. By contrast Colquitt's brother, Dustin, has punted 32 times for Kansas City this season.