Big concern for Broncos' defense: 'Penalties and then penalties again'

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- The Denver Broncos' defensive numbers are eye-catching to be sure.

The sacks (26), the touchdowns scored (four) and the interceptions (nine) are a big part of why the Broncos are off to a 6-0 start.

But hat doesn’t mean there hasn't been, and will continue to be, conversations about room for improvement when the Broncos return from their bye next week.

“Penalties, mainly just penalties and then penalties again and then penalties," said Broncos linebacker Von Miller. “Penalties -- the timing of them is just bad. After a quarterback -- to be third down, we get a roughing the passer and then boom, 15 yards, and then they use that momentum to go down and score. That's really the only way that we're getting beat right now. If we can knock that down -- it sounds easier than what it really is -- but if we can knock that down, we should see everything else get a little bit better."

It isn’t really the total number of penalties that has derailed the Broncos, but rather the timing of some of them. Denver has been flagged 52 times this season, well behind the league-leader, Buffalo (72). Seventeen other teams have been flagged at least 50 times this season.

In all the six most-penalized Broncos players this season are defensive players, with Miller and safety David Bruton Jr. -- who has a full plate of special teams duties as well -- leading the way. And the Broncos’ defenders have had a knack for ill-timed 15-yarders, those of the roughing-the-passer or personal foul variety.

Perhaps none was worse than defensive end Derek Wolfe's roughing-the-passer penalty when he hit Browns quarterback Josh McCown as McCown was set to run out of bounds. The Broncos were protecting a 23-20 lead at the time with just more than three minutes left in regulation.

The penalty moved the ball from the Broncos’ 49-yard line to the Browns' 34 and immediately put the ball in field-goal range. Cleveland kicked the game-tying field goal eight plays later, and on the 10-play drive Wolfe’s penalty turned out to be the longest gain -- by six yards.

“Those are the kind that have a chance to get you beat in a close game," said Broncos coach Gary Kubiak. “We have to get better there."

Overall the Broncos’ defense has four roughing-the-passer penalties, four unnecessary roughness penalties, an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty, and eight defensive offside penalties.

One of those offside penalties -- by Malik Jackson -- resulted in one of the “free play" deep passes from McCown to Travis Benjamin. Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who is the next quarterback the Broncos will face, has made big play after big play by going deep once he sees a flag come out for defensive offsides at the snap.

McCown sailed a ball up the left sideline after Jackson jumped, and the 47-yard completion to Benjamin was the Browns’ longest play of the game, and the key play in an eight-play touchdown drive that cut a 16-7 Broncos lead to 16-14.

Both Kubiak and defensive coordinator Wade Phillips have said there is a clear line between the kind of aggressive play the Broncos want and the undisciplined plays that are extending drives and allowing offenses to score points they otherwise would not have scored.

And for a team that has played as many close games as the Broncos have -- with an average winning margin of 6.17 points per game -- the charitable touchdowns or field goals can cause far bigger damage.

“I think we can get that fixed," said cornerback Chris Harris Jr. “We want to play hard and we all want to get the ball. We can’t lose that and we won’t, but we can avoid some of the penalties after plays are over and all that. You can fix those. We want to be one of the best defenses ever and we don’t want to hand people points they didn’t earn all the way against us."