Lost in the talk of Tim Tebow's heroics, Demaryius Thomas' catch and run for the ages and the Broncos' shocking upset of the Steelers on Sunday night was just how good the Denver defense was. After three weeks at the end of the regular season of below-average play, the Orange Crush finally came to play in the wild-card round of the playoffs. The unit sacked Ben Roethlisberger five times, had one interception and limited the big plays that have been the trademark of the Pittsburgh attack this season.
During their three-game losing streak at the end of the regular season, the Broncos had just four sacks, a huge setback from the nearly three per game they averaged during their first 13 games. Leading up to the game against the Steelers, defensive coordinator Dennis Allen said that the key would be the pressure created by the Broncos' pass rush. In order to do that, the team would have to not only get big afternoons from star DE Elvis Dumervil and rookie sensation Von Miller, but also the rest of the defense.
For the most part, the unit came through. DE Robert Ayers had a monster game, sacking Roethlisberger twice and causing constant havoc. Dumervil and Miller each had a sack as well, and so did DT Brodrick Bunkley. The secondary gave up a few long plays, but made the stops when needed, something that couldn't be said during much of the three-game losing streak.
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If the Broncos want their magic carpet ride of a season to continue any further, it's the defense — not Tebow — that will have to power it. Facing Tom Brady and the Patriots in the divisional round, Denver must learn from the mistakes they made less than a month ago when they lost to New England, 41-23.
Brady was terrific in that game, throwing for 320 yards and two touchdowns, but it was the way he went about putting up the big stats that must concern the Broncos. New England had six pass plays of 20 yards or longer in the game, and Denver had serious issues defending the Patriots' terrific TE duo of Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez.
To win on Saturday night, the Broncos must continue their terrific pass rush they showed in the wild-card round. Back in Week 15, Brady was sacked only twice and hit on one other occasion. Brady gets rid of the ball so fast it is often difficult to even lay a hand on him, but the Broncos have to do better than just three QB hits. Players such as Dumervil, Miller and Ayers will need to step up once again, but also expect Allen to call some safety blitzes or overload a side of the defensive line to try and create a disruption to the high-powered New England attack. The result might be more long plays for New England, but it also could mean a better overall defensive effort and, potentially, another Broncos win.
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