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Broncos' defense has a chance to go to uncharted territory

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- In the end, their goals are simple: to dominate and play for the last trophy.

“That’s what we want to do, every time we go out, we want to dominate, to win and to do it week after week, game after game,’’ Denver Broncos linebacker Brandon Marshall said. “We want to put ourselves in position to get all the goals.’’

Those items are always more important than the numbers, but the numbers behind what the Denver Broncos' defense has done thus far this season are well worth a double take. After 12 games, with four to play in the regular season, this group is on the doorstep of history.

The Broncos are No. 1 in the league in total defense, No. 1 in pass defense, No. 1 in sacks and No. 2 in scoring defense. In these pass-happy times -- and even before these pass-happy times -- that combination has been a rare thing.

Since the sack became an official NFL statistic in 1982, no team has finished a regular season as the league leader in total defense, scoring defense, pass defense and sacks. What's more, based on a variety of sack statistics tabulated for teams before 1982, no team since the AFL-NFL merger in 1970 has finished as the league leader in those categories.

Several teams have come close through the years: The 2013 and 2014 Seattle Seahawks, for example, led the league in total defense, scoring defense and pass defense, along with the 2011 Pittsburgh Steelers, 2009 New York Jets, 2008 Steelers and 2002 Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who also led those three categories. But none of those teams finished as the league leader in sacks.

The difficulty of rising to the top in all those categories can be seen in the 2000 Baltimore Ravens, who set the record for fewest points allowed in a 16-game season, at 11.9 per game. However, that season it was the Tennessee Titans who finished No. 1 in total defense and pass defense, while the New Orleans Saints were No. 1 in sacks.

“We want to be a complete defense,’’ cornerback Chris Harris Jr said. “Everybody knows we’re going to play a lot of man [coverage], and if we stick to our man and our front gets to the quarterbacks like they have, we feel like we’re going to be tough to score on and tough to move the ball on, as long as we do what we're supposed to do.’’

The Broncos’ 17-3 win over the San Diego Chargers marked the season low for an opponent’s scoring, and in their Nov. 1 win over the Green Bay Packers, the Broncos’ allowed a season-low 140 yards. The Broncos have had six games with at least four sacks.

“We’re nasty,’’ Harris said. “Everywhere you look, guys are hitting. People know they have to have their head on a swivel. When they see [Darian Stewart] and [T.J. Ward] back deep, they’re coming down here and laying the wood. That’s what you need. We have elite players at every level, elite guys on the D-line, elite guys at linebacker and in the secondary.’’