ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Denver Broncos defensive coordinator Wade Phillips has a word for the after-the-whistle, little-something-extra penalties that have too often given opposing offenses the yardage, as well as scoring opportunities, they didn’t earn on their own: "Unacceptable."
Essentially, no matter how thin the line is between being aggressive and too aggressive, the Broncos can no longer cross it as many times as they have to this point.
The Broncos’ defense, No. 1 in several major categories, has seen offenses that have otherwise been stymied get a first down here, a touchdown there, because of field position the Broncos surrendered due to penalty flags. They are among the league leaders in unnecessary-roughness penalties (seven) and the Broncos are the league leaders in personal-foul penalties overall.
And while those added touchdowns and first downs carry a heavy price tag for a defense that has otherwise been the league’s stingiest, the Broncos will see the biggest effect yet Sunday when Pro Bowl cornerback Aqib Talib is not in the lineup against the Kansas City Chiefs. Talib is suspended for the game because he poked Indianapolis Colts tight end Dwayne Allen in the eye in a post-play skirmish in the waning minutes of last Sunday’s loss in Indianapolis (he was also penalized for berating an official).
“Penalties are mistakes, just like missed tackles, blown assignments and those kind of things, so that’s the way we approach it," Phillips said after practice Thursday. “We can’t make mistakes. We’re going to be aggressive. Penalties sometimes happen in ballgames, we’ve got to make sure there’s no post-play penalties at all, that’s unacceptable."
Broncos coach Gary Kubiak already told the Broncos players earlier this week that they could be losing any benefit of the doubt with the league’s officials because of what’s already happened. The Broncos certainly don’t agree with all of the flags, and Kubiak does what every head coach in the league does following a game each week -- informs the league of the penalties he wants reviewed.
But Talib's two penalties in the final minutes of the Broncos-Colts game, a penalty like Derek Wolfe's hit on Cleveland Browns quarterback Josh McCown as McCown was clearly running out of bounds, or any of the last-player-on-the-pile flags the Broncos’ have drawn are the kind Kubiak wants to eliminate.
“There’s always some that you don’t totally agree with as a coach, but my concern is when penalties come from a selfish nature, thinking of yourself and not your football team," Kubiak said. “ ... It’s a big point of emphasis. We need to keep playing great defense. We are, statistically, the No. 1 defense in football, so we need to handle our business better from a penalties standpoint. ... I think I told the players that you’re not going to get the benefit of the doubt sometimes whenever you’re that high, from that standpoint because you start to get reputations in this league. It’s something that we have to change. I know one thing, I don’t want to lose the way that we’re playing defense. I don’t want to lose that in the back half of the season."
The Broncos have been flagged -- declined penalties included -- at least eight times in seven of their eight games, with a season-high 11 penalties in the 29-10 win over the Green Bay Packers. And in the only game the Broncos didn’t have at least eight flags, they topped 100 yards with 103 penalty yards on six penalties in the win over the Oakland Raiders.
Opponents have been awarded 28 first downs as a result of those penalties. And down the stretch or in the postseason, any of those extra first downs could be the one that sends the Broncos to losses far more painful than Sunday’s.
“There’s always a fine line, being an aggressive team, we had, what, 16 hits on the quarterback last week," Phillips said. “None of those were penalized so we’re making some good decisions in our aggressiveness. We keep practicing ... penalty avoidance, that’s what you have to do."
“Y'all asked Coach Wade that? He had the answer?" said Broncos linebacker Von Miller. “They’ve got me scratching my head. ... Some of the penalties ... you’ve just got to play with ... Never put the game in the ref’s hands ... The refs, they’re going to call the calls, they’re going to call the game the best they can, they got jobs too, but we’ve got jobs too."