<
>

Take note of Broncos' takeaway pace after three games

Bradley Roby celebrates his interception on Sunday, one of three turnovers recovered by the Broncos against the Lions. AAron Ontiveroz/The Denver Post/Getty Images

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- They don't give -- much -- and they don't really receive either.

In the end the Denver Broncos take. With three games down in this NFL season and the caveat that there is plenty of football road still to be traveled, the team's defenders have taken the ball away from opposing offenses 10 times this season.

The unit's 10 takeaways is No. 2 in the league -- one behind the New York Jets' 11 -- and the Broncos' plus-six turnover margin leads the league. Defensive coordinator Wade Phillips vowed to turn the Broncos' players loose and has done exactly that.

"I think that it's just letting the players be who they are," Broncos defensive end Malik Jackson said. "Coach [Gary] Kubiak and Coach Wade are good at just letting us be who we are and just play through the system that they give us. They don't really make us be robots. They just let us be players and be playmakers. I think that's just what it is … we're just ball-hawkin' and doing our thing."

If takeaways are the thing, then the Broncos' gold standard is 1984, when Joe Collier's defense had a franchise-record 55 takeaways, including a franchise-record 10 in one game against the Detroit Lions (seven interceptions and three fumble recoveries). The Broncos are well short of that conversation at the moment, but it's all about the pace.

In '84 the Broncos averaged 3.44 turnovers per game. At the moment the Broncos are averaging 3.33 turnovers per game, including the three they forced in Sunday night's win at Detroit. Overall the Broncos have topped 50 takeaways in a season just twice -- '84 and 1964.

"You look at this year's defense, they can cover, they can rush, they have speed, they tackle well, they all get to the ball," Collier said. "That's pretty good right there, that's everything you want in a defense."

Almost universally, defensive coaches through the years have said the differences between a team that simply gets in position to create takeaways and the teams that actually close the deal is turning tipped passes into interceptions and finding a way to get the ball out of the ball carriers' hands.

"It's been special," said Kubiak, who was a backup quarterback on that '84 Broncos team, which finished 13-3. "We have a long way to go, but it's been special because it's been deep with a lot of guys playing and it has a special thing about when it gets its hands on the football, which it does a great deal. It makes big plays ... we have a chance when we touch the football to make special plays."

Cornerback Bradley Roby's over-the-shoulder interception to go with safety David Bruton Jr.'s tipped ball that he then reeled in for an interception in the win over the Lions are just two more examples of that. The Broncos also have had three takeaways in the red zone already this season, which has equaled their total from 2014.

In the end, the Broncos also have the coveted combination of defensive backs who can match-up in man coverage -- Phillips has called Chris Harris Jr. and Aqib Talib the best cornerback tandem "I've ever had" -- to go with dominant edge rushers. Add in what Jackson has done in the middle of the formation in the pass rush and the Broncos have taken three offenses and disrupted timing and progressions.

And while some in the league say turnovers just happen, that they "come in bunches," Collier said while that is somewhat true, there is a preparation element to it. That it's not to enough to prepare and not have the athletic ability to create turnovers as well as it's not enough to have the athletic ability without the preparation.

"A lot of coaches don't mess around with that sort of stuff, they think it's luck or whatever," Collier said. "There are drills you can work on. [Former Broncos coach] Dan Reeves would set aside a period, once a week anyway, where you would work on it, stripping the ball, tipped balls. And then you have some luck too and you need good speed and guys willing to swarm to the ball, get guys around the ball, get the opportunities to present themselves."

"It's just what we do in practice," Bruton said. "Everything involves getting the ball, whether it's full-speed ones versus ones, offense versus defense or it could be the walk-through before the game. We're practicing getting our hands on the ball and coming down with it. It's just something that was instilled in us in OTAs and we've just continued that habit throughout not just training camp, but throughout the first three weeks of the season."

Over their next six games the Broncos will face three teams who are currently ranked 20th or below in turnover margin -- Indianapolis (32nd), Cleveland (T-20th) and Kansas City (T-20th). There are teams on the other end of the spectrum as well with Minnesota, this week's opponent, having turned the ball over just three times in their first three games and New England (Nov. 29) with just two turnovers to this point.

"We just want to keep the ball rolling," Jackson said. "It's been real fun."