ENGLEWOOD, Colo. – When Denver Broncos cornerback Chris Harris Jr. snatched a Derek Carr pass out of the air last Sunday and then toted the coveted turnover 74 yards for a game-clinching touchdown, he said it was simply one of the payoffs for "going for it," for being aggressive.
And if the Broncos defensive players use one word over and over when they talk about defensive coordinator Wade Phillips’ scheme, it is “aggressive."
“That’s it; that’s what it is," Harris said. “Get after quarterbacks, get picks, force fumbles, play fast, know your responsibilities, make plays -- that’s what we go into games thinking we’re going to do. [Phillips] is going to put you in spots to make plays and your job is to make them. We ain’t sitting back."
On Harris’ interception, it was one of just four defensive snaps in the game when the Broncos sent at least six pass rushers after Carr. To that point in the game, the Broncos had largely stuck to four-man rush packages – three of their sacks in the game came off four-man rushes – to go with a handful of five-man rushes.
At the time, the Broncos were protecting a 9-7 lead with just over seven minutes remaining, but the Raiders were driving and faced a third-and-5 from the Broncos’ 31-yard line, already well within the range of Raiders kicker Sebastian Janikowski. Phillips said at that moment he considered sending some extra rushers at Carr. Broncos coach Gary Kubiak strolled by in the bench area and cast his vote as well.
“Part of it was if they kick a field goal, they go ahead of us there in the fourth quarter," Phillips said. “They're already on the 30-yard line. Coach Kubiak walked over to me and said, 'You'd better be aggressive.' I said, 'OK.' It was really him, not me. He said, ‘You need to go after them here,' and I said, 'We will.'"
The Broncos got the rushers into Carr’s face and Carr rushed a throw toward two receivers running crossing patterns over the middle of the field, neither of whom was yet looking for the ball when Harris bolted in to catch it.
It was the Broncos’ third defensive touchdown of the season. They lead the league in sacks with 22. The Broncos have 11 players with at least one sack and seven players with at least two, as Sylvester Williams was awarded an additional half-sack Thursday by the league when the scoring was adjusted from the Vikings game two weeks ago.
Phillips said the Broncos have more options to be aggressive because of the team’s personnel, but also because the defense can pick its spots to go for it. The Broncos typically don’t have to blitz to affect quarterbacks – 14 of their sacks have been out of four-man rush packages – so when they do, they “get home," as the coaches say.
“The good thing is to be aggressive; we don't have to rush six," Phillips said. “We rush five some, or maybe quite a bit five. We rush four, too, and get some pressure on the people. It's all what we're doing rush-wise as far as the passing game is concerned."
“Hey man, it’s what we do," said cornerback Aqib Talib. “When you make plays with the game on the line, you have to go make them; you can’t wait. And if we want to play in the kind of games we want to play in during the playoffs, we have to keep making plays. But [Phillips] wants us to play fast and go get the ball."