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It’s going to take time for this Broncos defense to gel

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MHR’s Jeffrey Essary joined a Packers podcast to discuss the state of the Broncos’ defense and why fans shouldn’t panic just yet.

NFL: Green Bay Packers at Denver Broncos Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Good morning, Broncos Country!

Today’s “Horse Tracks” is brought to you by Jeffrey Essary’s comments on the Blue58 Packers podcast, where he breaks down some aspects of the Broncos defense heading into Sunday’s showdown at the iconic Lambeau Field.

Noting that Vic Fangio has historically given the Packers’ teams fits when he was defensive coordinator at the 49ers and most recently the Bears, Essary emphasized that the 2019 Broncos are not yet the 2018 Bears.

“It’s an important distinction,” Essary said. “We hope the 2018 Bears translates into the 2019 Broncos, but it’s going to take some time.”

While Fangio’s scheme of misdirection and disguise is good at neutralizing the high-flying offenses of today’s NFL, it requires near-perfect communication among the defenders to understand their assignments and also trust each other to get their assignments right.

It took Fangio three years to really get to the well-oiled defensive machine that was the 2018 Bears - and he did it with a majority of the current starters, adding in already top-notch talent, including Khalil Mack and Roquan Smith. The Broncos are still missing top-tier talent at several defensive positions, namely inside linebacker and cornerback.

“So far Denver’s results on field are less than stellar,” Essary said of the Broncos’ early attempts with Fangio’s scheme. “Specifically with Raiders, we saw a lot of miscommunication, and the staff coaching around some injuries to Bryce Callahan and Todd Davis. The first two games is not necessarily indicative of what we hope to see in future and how it can grow into what we hope for in a Fangio defense.”

But Essary is encouraged with the improvement from Week 1 to Week 2 by the defense, proving that adjustments were made to account for weakness at corner and linebacker, which did pay off.

Against the Raiders, for example, the defense allowed Derek Carr and Co. to convert 71 percent of its third downs. But it only allowed Mitch Trubisky and his Bears offense to complete 27 percent. The run defense also held the Bears to 3.24 yards per carry outside of a couple of busted plays.

“They improved drastically from Week 1 to Week 2,” Essary said, adding that the Packers are a much better offense than any team the Broncos have faced so far. “So it will be really interesting to see how the defense responds this week. This could be a litmus test for what Fangio wants to do for this defense.”

Either way, Essary begs fans to “take a step back and recognize it will take time to let the defense gel.”

Essary acknowledged that the lack of sacks and quarterback pressure is a surprise, but also isn’t yet indicative of what to expect. Part of the issue has been how teams have played the Broncos with the sole purpose of negating the pass rush by running the ball more and designing quick passing plays so Von Miller and Bradley Chubb simply don’t have time to get there.

But Essary emphasized that both were “stellar in the run defense” last week so that versatility and talent will continue to translate well with Fangio’s scheme.

“I think we were expecting them to come out of the gate.. the way Fangio used [Leonard] FLoyd and Mack, unleashing Von Miller and Bradley Chubb on the league,” Essary said. “It’s not necessarily a reflection of their talent because at the end of the day they are still the best pass-rushing duo in league. When you give them chances on third-and-longs or offense gets the lead and a team has to come from behind, then they’re going to be coming after you.”

Three defensive players Essary considers a little “under the radar” for their potential to make a big impact on Sunday are Shelby Harris against the run and Kareem Jackson and Justin Simmons in coverage.

Jackson has been flying around the field, can play the run, has great instincts, he’s smart and fits perfectly into VFversatile and has coverage ability. He has been as advertised,” Essary said. “He and Justin Simmons both bring a lot of versatility and made big plays on Sunday and will be two guys Aaron Rodgers will have to watch out for.”

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