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Atwater: Denver’s ‘disrespected defense’ finally played up to potential

And the Hall-of-Famer is pretty impressed with Teddy Bridgewater and the O-line as well.

Denver Broncos v Dallas Cowboys Photo by Richard Rodriguez/Getty Images

Steve Atwater was as excited about the Broncos win as you might have guessed.

After all, he’s the one who has been calling on the Broncos to start “bullying” their opponents instead of getting bullied by them.

Sunday he finally got his wish, and Broncos Country was treated to one of the best all-around games by the Broncos offense and defense since the Peyton Manning-led Broncos beat the Packers in 2015.

And one of the biggest highlights has been rookie outside linebacker Jonathon Cooper, who is second among all rookies in quarterback pressures and is tied with Myles Garrett in QB pressures over the last three games.

“He’s got a great motor,” Atwater said of the former Ohio State Buckeye, adding that Cooper has good size and speed for the position. “But the motor is the thing that stands out.”

Atwater also pointed out that in just a few games, Cooper has been getting much better using his hands against the tackles and that’s helping him get to the quarterback.

“The more guys you can have like that, the better you’re going to be,” Atwater said, adding that Cooper’s aggressive play has been a nice surprise. “Did I know he was going to be as good as he’s been? No, but I liked his motor in college, and he doesn’t take stuff from anybody.”

Cooper had been on the KOA Sports Zoo earlier Tuesday and talked about the energy the Broncos’ defense had against the Cowboys.

“I don’t know what happened on Sunday, but the energy was so contagious. It was electrifying for our defense,” he said, noting the fourth down stops to start the game really got it going. “This last game we changed the narrative. And we played with that passion the whole entire game. I feel like that’s what we need to keep going forward. I definitely felt something different when it came to Sunday.”

Atwater called the team energy against Dallas “off the charts.”

Last week he basically challenged the Broncos to do exactly what they did on Sunday:

“People look at the film. You can tell when guys are playing passionately and when some guys are not playing as passionately as they could play,” Atwater said, adding that it starts with each player deciding to go full out. “From the last few games they’ve played, that’s not gonna get it in Dallas. And there’s another level they can get to.

“I’ve seen receivers, block for a minute, come off it and then their guy goes and makes a tackle,” he said, noting that every player has to have the mentality that he’s going to the ball. “And if you don’t, you’ve got some work to do. That’s the main thing you’re doing when you’re looking at film. I think with more people getting to the ball great things happen.”

Ryan Edwards and Benjamin Allbright joked at the beginning of the interview about the “Atwater Bump” (since his Arkansas Razorbacks won and he had visited the team). Given how inspired the Broncos - particularly the defense without Von Miller and a host of non-first string guys filling in - played Sunday, it seems this is a thing.

Or at least should be.

“The energy was there. The offensive line was playing to the whistle 90%-plus of the plays. I didn’t see guys coming off their blocks and letting guys go make tackles. Defense coming up and filling the holes and running around and being excited. It was a beautiful thing.”

Atwater also noted some of the comments from players about feeling disrespected by the Cowboys - going for two fourth downs in their first two drives of the game. He recalled Super Bowl 32 when his Broncos’ defense felt the same way against the Packers.

Leading up to the game, the media kept asking how they would stop the Packers, and Atwater recalled “saying the typical things - oh we don’t know how we’re going to stop them” but they were thinking the whole time “man, we’ve got their number; we’re going to do our thing, but we didn’t want to give them any bulletin board material.

“But then we turn on the TV and see them giving interviews and it was a whole different story,” Atwater said, noting the Packers were talking about “nobody can stop us; putting up 20, 30 points” on the Broncos. “That fire was just building up inside us.”

Nothing is a better motivator than proving people wrong.

“I imagine this Broncos’ team felt the same way,” Atwater said. “They heard all the stuff on the radio and no one picking them to win and the Cowboys were going to rout them. They heard all of this. And then they go for it on fourth down two times, three times, a fourth time? Come on.”

On the quarterback

In the final minutes of his segment, Atwater weighed in on the quarterback performance so far this season as Teddy Bridgewater is sort of quietly having a great year - likely his best with 14 touchdowns so far (highest is 15 in 2020 with the Panthers), 5 INTs (8th best TD/INT ratio), 70% completion, 2,163 yards, 101.2 QBR (9th best in the league).

Edwards noted that at the halfway point, those kind of look like franchise quarterback numbers, and if he were to end up with 30 passing TDs and 10 INTs, what does that mean for Bridgewater in Denver?

“Teddy has been playing well,” Atwater noted.

When Allbright said the only way Bridgewater sticks around is if the current coaching staff sticks around and that only happens if the Broncos make the playoffs. And for a long-term contract, the Broncos would have to win a playoff game because of Teddy and not because of the defense.

And if that were to happen, then Bridgewater would require something like a four-year, $30 million contract.

“Are you paying that for Teddy Bridgewater? I’m not,” Allbright said.

But Atwater wasn’t so quick to dismiss it - even as silly as it is to have this conversation after only one great game from this offense.

“It’s definitely not a ‘no’ from me,” Atwater said, noting the efficient football and solid o-line play that happened last weekend. “If this trend continues - with the o-line stepping up and Teddy having the time to throw the ball - I think he can be that quarterback. And you have to take into account this is only his first year in this offense.”