ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- A few weeks ago, former Denver Broncos cornerback Champ Bailey described some things that could help defenses combat the high-flying offenses of the current NFL. Bailey said the rules makers could help, officials should help, but also pointed his finger at the defenses themselves.
"Well, first of all, you can't show the same thing over and over, whether you're in Cover 3 or two deep or whatever, if you don't disguise, switch it up, these quarterbacks will kill you," Bailey said. "And secondly, yards aren't really going to matter any more. If they don't let you put your hands on the receivers, you have to almost let them make the catch and tackle. I keep saying, it's all going to be bend and don't break, lock it down in the red zone and tackle."
Fast forward a month and the Broncos have given themselves a chance at the postseason by bending like a pretzel on the way to victories over seven-win teams in the Los Angeles Chargers and Pittsburgh Steelers. The Broncos surrendered 479 total yards, including 384 passing, in a 23-22 victory over the Chargers and 527 total yards, including 452 passing, in a 24-17 win over the Steelers.
Oh, where have you gone 2015? For some, like Broncos coach Vance Joseph, who has spent the better part of his NFL career on the defensive side of the ball, it is cause for pause.
"The yardage, you have to kind of ignore it, and that's tough for us to do," Joseph said. "A thousand yards in two weeks for our defense, that's tough, but 19.5 [points allowed per game] and seven takeaways, you've got to take it and be happy about it I guess, right?"
Right, but it is going to take some getting used to. Now, no one would suggest allowing 400 yards or more is the way to consistently get where you want to go in the league, but the old benchmarks of holding a team to fewer than 300 yards are gone.
From the Broncos' perspective, some of it is the way the schedule has fallen. The Broncos have played five games against teams in the league's top seven in scoring -- the Chiefs twice (No. 2), the Rams (No. 3), the Steelers (No. 6) and the Chargers (No. 7).
"[Offenses] are going to make yards," Joseph said. " ... You have to be a great tackling team, have to keep the deep ball from beating you, and tackle and get off the field on third down and take the ball away ... that's the way the league is going. ... If you can play red zone defense, hold them to field goals and take the ball away, that's the key."
The Broncos were the first team to sack the Chargers' Philip Rivers more than twice in a game this season -- they got him three times -- and they also intercepted Rivers twice. This past Sunday, the Broncos intercepted Ben Roethlisberger twice among Roethlisberger's 41 completions, sacked him twice and forced four fumbles.
The Broncos recovered one of those fumbles and another turned into a touchback, saving a touchdown and giving the Broncos the ball on their own 20.
"They call them takeaways for a reason, right? You've got to make it happen," Joseph said. "That's been a key, seven takeaways."
"Now you just keep them out of the end zone," Broncos safety Darian Stewart said. "When they get in the red zone, you have to shut it down, those plays are getting bigger than ever. You don't want to give up yards all the time, we don't like it and we have to be better there, a lot better, but if the choice is yards or points, points are what matter even if it doesn't always look good sometimes."