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Battle-tested Vance Joseph, Broncos in prime spot to make a playoff run

It’s clear the Broncos defense has a “bend but don’t break attitude,” but so does the team, and that comes from Joseph.

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Change is always hard to accept.

We don’t like disruptions to what we’re comfortable with. Humans are like cats in that regard — we have routines.

We’re seeing that in the NFL with how we gauge and value good defenses, but also with me and a certain coach.

Obviously the most crucial determination for a defense is points. That will never change. If your defense doesn’t allow the opponent to score, and your offense scores more, you’ll win every game (thanks, John Madden).

Where you see that change is yards allowed and forcing turnovers. The former of those always seemed to be the measuring stick for dominance. If you don’t allow yards, you don’t allow points, thus you have a dominant defense. This season, the emphasis has changed more to forcing turnovers, and yards don’t really matter.

”Everybody gets caught up in the yards because of the fantasy bullshit, but at the end of the day, it’s all about points,” defensive lineman Derek Wolfe told the media after the game. “Who cares about how many yards he had? As long as we won, that’s all that matters.”

On the latest MHR Radio Podcast, Adam Malnati and I said the Denver Broncos are a prime example of that “change.”

Over the last two weeks, the defense has given up over 1,000 yards of offense, 846 through the air, and 51 first downs. What made the difference, and what allowed the Broncos to win both games, is they won the turnover battle. In those two games, Denver was +7. Against the Pittsburgh Steelers, it was +4. What makes those numbers even better is the offense had zero. For the season, the Broncos are +6 in turnover margin.

“I was just talking to (linebacker) Todd Davis. I told him, ‘Thank you, thank you guys,’” receiver Emmanuel Sanders said after the game. “They made a lot of big plays for us. We’re able to feed off each other, go back and forth. I feel like that’s the determining factor in why we were able to win this game.”

The biggest reason for that is the resiliency of this team. When Denver faces adversity, it doesn’t get derailed like it did last season. No matter what happens over the course of the game, it doesn’t lose confidence. The Broncos keep battling. And a lot of that is due to Vance Joseph.

“If you notice, we’ve had way less penalties,” Wolfe said. “A lot less penalties, but there are still too many. There were still penalties that could have hurt us, but we ended up making up for them, and we’ve started cleaning up the penalties and we are becoming a more disciplined football team. We’re getting into the groove of V.J.’s system and how he likes things to run. I love V.J., so I’ll go to battle for him any day.”

I recognize that Joseph is a big reason why Denver has won these two games, despite the fact I put him on the losers list. Joseph has kept his team focused and allowed it to be in the playoff discussion. He gets major credit for that. He’s battled tested, as are the Broncos, and that will only benefit this team in the final five games.

Three weeks ago, the thought of Denver in the playoff discussion was laughable. But after two wins over two of the best teams in the AFC, the Broncos are not only in the discussion but in prime position to make a run.

When you compare their schedule to that of the Los Angeles Chargers’, you see Denver’s chance for a wild card berth is through that opening as opposed to either the Indianapolis Colts or Baltimore Ravens. The Chargers are in Pittsburgh next Sunday, at the Kansas City Chiefs on Dec. 13 and then at home against the Ravens the next week. The combined record of the Broncos’ opponents is 21-33-1, and that’s skewed by LA’s 8-3 record.

What makes all of this even more intriguing? Denver ends the season at home against the Chargers.

“I think right now, like Coach V.J. said, ‘We have to start off 0-0 each week until Sunday’s results,’” safety Will Parks said. “You don’t just beat a team on Sunday, you beat them on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. You tune up on Saturday and Sunday you wake up with confidence. I could tell everybody woke up with confidence (Sunday) morning. I was geeked all day. I wasn’t stressed out, getting all types of body works and I was talking to my masseuses and my church people like, ‘Hey man, today’s the day. Today is the day we come alive, we come together.’”

What’s clear is the defense has a “bend but don’t break attitude.” Get all the yards you want, but it will make plays and keep opponents out of the end zone. That change in defensive approach might throw some off, but as long as it produces wins, in the words of Wolfe, that’s all that matters.

That’s also the mantra of the Broncos. They will bend but not break. That’s a testament to the team but also to Joseph. Change is always hard to accept, and never is that more evident than with me and Denver’s coach. Let me change that. Kudos to Joseph for where this team is and could be in the final five games.

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