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Stewart on Broncos' ball-hawking defense: 'This is how we practice'

If you ask Darian Stewart and his fellow Broncos defenders about their miraculous play in the first three games of the season, they don't consider it quite so miraculous. After all, this is what's expected of - and by - this group. But like Stewart points out in this exclusive interview, "it is special."

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Everything you need to understand about how this Broncos defense is able to bring about one stunning win after another can be summed up in Darian Stewart's reaction to Adrian Peterson coming to town this Sunday.

"Oooooohhhh boy!" says the newest addition to the Broncos secondary.

We'll be in attack mode on Sunday. We don't have a choice.  -Darian Stewart on matchup with Vikings' Adrian Peterson

It's not bravado.

It's not disrespect for one of the best running backs in the NFL.

It's not hollow confidence.

No. It's genuine excitement at the opportunity to shut down another great player, another contender, maybe even another non-believer.

"[Peterson] can do it all, we definitely respect him," Stewart told Mile High Report in an exclusive interview Tuesday. "We just gotta attack behind the line of scrimmage, can't let him get started. We'll be in attack mode on Sunday. We don't have a choice."

And that right there is why this Broncos defense is different - why it is getting fans excited, offenses worried and the national media intrigued.

In their minds, there's no other choice but to attack.

Edge rushers like Von Miller, DeMarcus Ware, Shane Ray and Shaquil Barrett are demonizing quarterbacks. D-lineman like Sylvester Williams and Malik Jackson aren't waiting for wobbly passes to swat down, and linebackers like Brandon Marshall and Danny Trevathan aren't waiting on running backs to come to them. Cornerbacks like Aqib TalibChris Harris Jr. and Bradley Roby are not lurking until a receiver catches the ball. And safeties like T.J. WardDavid Bruton Jr. and Stewart aren't hoping for a lucky turnover.

These defenders are making those passes wobbly, forcing those balls on the ground and causing those turnovers. They are creating their own luck.

But Stewart and his teammates don't consider it luck. This is what they plan for.

"You definitely have to be in the right situation, but we practice for this," said the sixth-year NFL veteran who played four seasons for the Rams and last season with the Ravens. "We have practiced this since day one, so it is second-nature in a game."

And that's the difference between previous Broncos' "defend-mode" defenses and this Wade Phillips-inspired "attack-mode" defense.

"Our thing is play fast and finish, just play fast and finish, whether it's the first play or the last one," Stewart said.

It's a lot of ball-hawking on that defense. We just have a bunch of playmakers, guys who are hungry.  -Darian Stewart, Safety

And when Stewart says the defense plays this way because it doesn't have a choice, he's not talking about having to save the offense. He's talking about getting to help it.

"It's a lot of ball-hawking on that defense," Stewart said. "We just have a bunch of playmakers, guys who are hungry, want to make plays. And we feed off each other. It's crazy."

Make that crazy good.

In the first three games, the Broncos' No.1-ranked defense in the NFL has 11 sacks and 10 turnovers, including six interceptions. Despite having to deal with the likes of Justin Forsett and Jamaal Charles so far, the Broncos are ranked sixth in defending the run. Last week against probably the top wide receiver in the league, the NoFlyZone secondary kept Megatron to 77 yards and no touchdowns. And for the coolest stat of the week - 31 of the Broncos' 74 points through three games have come thanks to the defense's takeaways.

Stewart has been responsible for two of those takeaways so far. And he's planning on many more.

"Not too bad, eh?" says the 6-foot, 214-pound barbeque-loving safety who hails from the South..

Recording a +3.4 overall Pro Football Focus rating and Top 10 safety ranking after last week's win over the Lions, the former South Carolina Gamecock has been showing off his skills week after week since coming to Denver.

Joining the Mile High team via free agency in an offseason that didn't seem to have the splashy "big-time" acquisitions as the previous year when John Elway signed Ward, Talib and Ware, Stewart quietly went about his business  - learning Phillips' 3-4 scheme and studying his playbook.

But the free safety made a loud debut with the Broncos in the first regular season game when the Huntsville, Ala., native saved a win for the Broncos, snagging an interception in the end zone that could have easily been six points and a comeback win for the Ravens.

Even Stewart was impressed with the play that began by a deflection from fellow safety, Bruton Jr.

"Watching the film, I was like, ‘Daaang! Yeah, I just did that.'"

Yes he did. And it was spectacular.

The fact that Stewart's pick came against his former team - a team he had snagged an interception and fumble recovery for during its Wild Card playoff victory over the Steelers last season - was just poetic.

"It was amazing. It felt good doing it," Stewart said, acknowledging many of the Ravens players are his friends ... just not on game day. "They're the enemy until the end of the fourth quarter."

The following week against the Chiefs, Stewart and Bruton tag-teamed again when Bruton hit Jamaal Charles on the Broncos' 9-yard line, causing a fumble. Stewart came up with the ball and saved a potential score once again.

In last week's matchup in the Motor City that featured interception clinics by Roby and Bruton, Stewart was once again a force to be reckoned with despite no recorded takeaways. He had forced - and recovered - a fumble in the second quarter that was overturned, but the ferocious play was obvious.

And it's that kind of aggressive, intense play every week that has people paying attention. This defense is for real.

You put a great scheme with great players, great coach and it just works. We've got smart football players in there.  -Darian Stewart on the success of the Broncos defense.

"It's exciting, man," Stewart said of the defensive wins the last three weeks. "Especially the two road wins, man. That locker was crazy."

So what is the defense's secret this season? Aside from Stewart and Antonio Smith, the first-team defense is basically the same as last year. Is it the scheme? The new defensive coordinator? The players?

"It's all of it," Stewart says emphatically. "You put a great scheme with great players, great coach and it just works. We've got smart football players in there. We love what we do, and we love to play for each other."

Credit Phillips for much of that. There have been flashes of defensive greatness ever since Miller joined the team and Elway started adding playmakers to the fold.

We've been waiting for brilliance, and this season has promise for the true second coming of the Orange Crush.

There is no doubt, no fear, no question with this group - it's a No. 1 defense that can take its team to the Super Bowl.

"Absolutely," Stewart says of the possibility. "We're just going to keep winning games, keep forcing as many turnovers as we can. We put ourselves in position, we work at it, and we visualize it to make it happen."

Aiming to be recognized as one of the best to play the game motivates Stewart, who looks forward to a life of coaching high school football once his pro days are done. But right now he's interested in playing one game at a time all the way to February.

"It's a great ride with them boys," Stewart says of his new team. "I'm just trying to do my part to lead by example."

The 27-year-old Stewart, who is expecting their first child in mid-November, is too young to fully appreciate all the defensive greats who have donned the Orange and Blue before him. But growing up playing safety in high school and college during John Lynch's Pro Bowl days made the former Buccaneer-turned-Broncos safety a huge favorite of Stewart's.

Walking the halls of Dove Valley every day, Stewart has definitely been brushing up on his Broncos' defense history, no doubt pulling from the original Orange Crush play books of Tom Jackson, Steve Foley and Randy Gradishar or reveling in the big hits laid out by Steve Atwater, Dennis Smith and so many others.

But Stewart is also about this defense making its own history.

"I've been reading about it," Stewart says of the storied Orange Crush. "We're definitely trying to keep it going."

Because for Stewart, there's really no other choice.