Broncos Rewind: Defense, special teams

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Aqib Talib returned the first pass he intercepted for the New England Patriots 54 yards for a touchdown.

Talib had to wait to repeat that feat with the Broncos -- he had an interception return for a touchdown against the Kansas City Chiefs called back in Week 2 because of a penalty -- but his first official interception for the Broncos came with just 15 seconds remaining Sunday when he returned it 22 yards for a score.

"That's twice the first one went for a touchdown," Talib said. "In New England and now with Denver ... man, I want to add to the list."

So, with that in mind, after a long look at the game video, here are some thoughts on the Broncos' defense and special teams:

  • In John Elway's first four drafts as the team's top football decision-maker the Broncos' first selection has been a defensive player. Von Miller, Sylvester Williams and Bradley Roby were first-round picks while Derek Wolfe was taken in the second round in 2012 after the Broncos had traded out of the opening round. Couple that with all of the free-agency capital the Broncos expended on the defense this past March, including Talib, and the Broncos are just beginning to enjoy the fruits of those labors. What it all means will have to wait, but when the Broncos lost in overtime in Seattle they were 30th in the league in yards allowed per game (390.7) and 16th in points allowed per game (22.3). After they had concluded their business against the Jets' struggling offense -- the Jets are near, or at, the bottom of the league in most significant passing categories -- the Broncos are now 4th in the league in yards allowed per game (318.2) and seventh in the league in scoring defense (20.8 points allowed per game). Granted playing the Cardinals No. 2, and then No. 3, quarterbacks didn't hurt their rankings and neither did Geno Smith's struggles. But it is the trend the Broncos both wanted, and needed, with a plan that has been several years in the making. Or as Elway has said "so we don't put Peyton in a position to have to do everything with the offense. We want the defense to have its own identity about how it plays."

  • The Broncos' current regime, especially Elway, has always liked the multi-taskers at linebacker, the guys with enough physicality to play along the line of scrimmage if they had to as well as the agility to play in the open in the team's specialty packages. And they're willing to go a little smaller behind their defensive tackles to get those players on the field. Enter seventh-round pick Corey Nelson, whose four years in what he called "a pro-style defense" at Oklahoma, has enabled him to move into the lineup. Nelson first caught the Broncos' eye enough to be kept on the 53-man roster after the preseason as the eighth linebacker. Then Nelson made a big enough impression on special teams to be used on defense, albeit for just two snaps against the Seattle Seahawks. But has done enough in practice since that when Danny Trevathan left Sunday's game on the second defensive snap it was Nelson, not Nate Irving, who came into the game as the second linebacker in the nickel, alongside Brandon Marshall. Nelson was credited with a team-leading seven tackles in the game and showed the ability to get off blocks and good instincts to the ball. "I feel like that's what they brought me in for—for my talents and abilities, that's what they wanted me to do," Nelson said. "So I was able to do it. But I definitely feel like that's a strength that I have, and that they're using." Nelson flashed as a productive pass-rusher in some situations at Oklahoma, especially in his sophomore season, so that is something else the Broncos could add to his to-do list in the coming weeks.

  • The Broncos, in large part, have kept rookie receiver Cody Latimer out of the game day lineup because wide receiver Andre Caldwell returns kickoffs and wide receiver Isaiah Burse returns punts. So, despite showing enough chops in the preseason to be legitimate deep threat as well as a matchup problem in the scoring zone, Latimer continues to take what can be a bumpy ride on the learning curve in the audible-heavy Broncos' offense. But in the big picture it's worth noting the Bronco are currently just 30th in kickoff returns (21.6 yards per return) with just four returns in their five games and 27th in punt returns at 5.2 yards per return. The Broncos are also one of just six teams in the league with at least 10 fair catches. After a shaky training camp on all fronts in the return game, the Broncos have made what they believe are the best, and safest, choices for their game day 46 without using a starter like Emmanuel Sanders or Wes Welker in the return game because of the threat of injury. But at least part of the price tag for all of it is Latimer without a uniform on game day.