With a long list of injured players, including Von Miller who injured his ankle days before the season started, as well as its best defensive lineman at the moment -- Shelby Harris -- having missed the last three games due to COVID-19, the Broncos' defense has hung in. But the group has found its biggest opponent has not been across the line of scrimmage, but on its own bench in the Broncos' offense.
The Broncos entered Sunday's game with a league-high 21 turnovers. When quarterback Drew Lock's interception two minutes into the game pushed the total to 22, it looked like another day of short fields and increasingly bad situations for the Broncos' defense.
The Dolphins did indeed take that gift-wrapped toss and drive, from the Broncos' 22-yard line, for a 7-0 lead. But Lock found at least some footing as the Broncos played a little bigger on offense with two- and three-tight-end looks and, in short, the Broncos moved to 4-6.
The Dolphins had 82 yards of offense at halftime, 105 yards at the end of the third quarter, as the Broncos' defense had also sacked rookie quarterback Tua Tagovailoa three times and knocked him from the game early in the fourth quarter. It was the kind of day the Broncos had shown previously in flashes, at least before games got out of hand after yet another scoring drive of 20-something yards from their opponents after another interception.
So when the Broncos' run game kicked in -- 180 yards rushing Sunday -- they were in position to enjoy the fruits of those labors.
Yes, the Broncos offense did award the Dolphins a last-gasp drive with Melvin Gordon's fumble on the Dolphins' 1-yard line in the fourth quarter, but Justin Simmons' interception with about 1 minute left closed the door on Miami.
Two words: Run. It. Another benefit (Gordon's fumble on the Dolphins' 1-yard line in the fourth quarter not withstanding) from the Broncos avoiding another day of spending the second half of a game in catch-up mode was it allowed them to use the one-two punch of Gordon and Phillip Lindsay.
The two had combined for 134 rushing yards and two touchdowns -- both by Gordon -- by the end of the third quarter as they finished with a combined 166 yards rushing.
Promising trend: The willingness by offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur to dial it back after Lock’s early mistake.
The Broncos have shown they would like to be in a three-wide-receiver set as much as they can. Opposing defensive coaches, however, believe it gives them a chance to throw some things at Lock he hasn’t always handled well. And Lock’s interception in the first quarter meant all 17 of the team’s interceptions have come in a three-wide set.
Shurmur leaned on the two- and three-tight-end looks more the rest of the way and when the Broncos had forced the Dolphins to worry about the run game, Shurmur cranked up some three-wide again.
QB breakdown: Lock has been introduced to the quarterback hot seat that is the Rocky Mountain region and his confidence has taken a hit along the way.
After tossing an interception on his second pass attempt of the game seven days after his first career four-interception game in Las Vegas, it would have been easy to go into meltdown mode. But he settled in Sunday, for the most part, save for a smattering of errant tosses when a little more altitude on the throw would have resulted in big plays, and the Broncos’ offense settled down with him.
Pivotal play: With the Broncos facing a third-and-10 at their own 41-yard line with 1 minute, 43 seconds left in the first half in a 10-10 game, Lock hit Jerry Jeudy for a 22-yard gain. Four plays later Brandon McManus ended the first half with a 47-yard field goal for the Broncos' first lead in a game since their last-play win over the Los Angeles Chargers in Week 8.