With rookie Pat Surtain leading the way, Denver Broncos have found a defensive formula

DENVER -- Denver Broncos safety Justin Simmons has played 85 games for the franchise since he was a third-round pick in the 2016 NFL draft.

He's seen the team wrestle through tough times, including five consecutive playoff misses. But Sunday, during a 28-13 victory over the Los Angeles Chargers, when the Broncos played four rookies on defense and had backups playing for backups, Simmons saw the Broncos play with consistency.

"That's the type of defense we need to be playing for the rest of the season," Simmons said. "Not the roller coaster that's kind of been the first half of the year before the bye."

The Chargers finished with 357 yards worth of offense and a 303-yard passing day from quarterback Justin Herbert, but peel that statistical onion and the Broncos thoroughly harassed Herbert for much of the day. They sacked him three times and rookie cornerback Pat Surtain II intercepted him twice, once in the endzone to prevent a touchdown and the other a pick-six to seal the game.

The Chargers ran 26 plays from scrimmage in the third quarter, including penalty snaps, compared to four for the Broncos, and Los Angeles came away with no points in the quarter.

"Whatever that was, that's what we have to do from here on out," Simmons said.

"We really didn't add a fifth rusher much," said Broncos coach Vic Fangio. "We just kind of played coverage -- the danger of that is [Herbert's] scrambling because he's good at that ... and we were able to survive that part."

Herbert rushed for 90 yards in the Chargers' win over the Steelers last week. He was again the Chargers' leading rusher with 36 yards Sunday, but that meant the Broncos had held the Chargers' two running backs to 36 yards on 13 carries, including 31 yards on 12 carries for Austin Ekeler.

The Broncos currently have both starting inside linebackers (Alexander Johnson and Josey Jewell) on injured reserve, they traded Von Miller to the Los Angeles Rams, safety Kareem Jackson missed Sunday's game with a neck injury, defensive end Shelby Harris missed the game with an ankle injury and outside linebacker Bradley Chubb was playing his first game since Week 2.

The end result was Broncos had four rookies, including Surtain, in the formation much of the time and still, they got the job done.

"Up front we played great ... we forced a lot of passing situations and we were able to get out hands on quite a few balls," Simmons said. "... That's what we expect from [Surtain] week in, week out."

And Surtain, who was the team's first-round pick last April, continues to show why Fangio has kept him in the starting lineup since Week 2 and why Simmons simply called him "special." Sunday was the first two-interception game of his career and it was his first pick-six.

Surtain had tossed the ball aside after his touchdown, but was thankful defensive tackle Mike Purcell had quickly scooped it up to save it -- Surtain said he owed Purcell dinner for the recovery. Surtain's teammates have consistently pointed to the 21-year-old's unflappable demeanor since his arrival. Miller said during training camp he was not surprised because "he played like a huge game against somebody great at Alabama every week."

Couple that with what Fangio has called "great awareness" and elite speed and his three interceptions this season could still be a growing total. According the NextGen Stats Surtain reached 22.07 miles per hour during his touchdown return Sunday, the fastest speed reached by a defensive player as a ballcarrier in a game over the last five years.

"You've got expect every game to make big-time play in big-time games like this," Surtain said. "Especially when it's necessary. I just felt like going into the game, those plays were necessary."

The Broncos did get an important defensive player back Sunday in Chubb, who had not played since Week 2 due to left ankle surgery to remove a bone spur. He started but played on a pitch count. With the Chiefs and quarterback Patrick Mahomes next on the Broncos' docket, Simmons said he hopes the Broncos can carry it all into Arrowhead and beyond.

"[It's] the defensive culture that's kind of being built," Simmons said. "... It mattered to guys out there [Sunday] ... no one cares what it looks like, all anyone cares is that win and loss column."