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Broncos’ ideal defensive identity: stopping the run to set up the pass rush

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Oh, and the coach would like the defense to be playing with the lead too.

Chicago Bears v Denver Broncos Photo by Dustin Bradford/Getty Images

Good morning, Broncos Country!

The old mantra, “establish the run to set up the pass” is finding some new life with the Broncos defense this season - albeit with a slight modification:

Establish the run defense to set up the pass rush.

That’s the identity coach Vance Joseph would like his Broncos defense to have.

“Stopping the run, that’s the key. Stopping the run and putting the offense in a one-dimensional phase - making them be a passing team so we can rush the passer,” Joseph said. “And, playing with a lead. That’s important also for our defense. We do have great pass rushers, but if you don’t have a lead, you won’t ever see them come out. ...If we play with a lead, we can get after the quarterback pretty good.”

And although Joseph believes that philosophy is the approach of most teams in the NFL, he sees the Broncos with an advantage thanks to its secondary.

“Our mindset on defense is still to be aggressive early on first down, to close the middle, to play press coverage, to stop the running game and to put them in a 2nd-and-10, 2nd-and-long, and then get them to third down and rush the passer. That hasn’t changed,” he said. “And I believe in our corners. We can play press-man on first and second down. That’s important.”

Depth remains a concern in the secondary where Will Parks, Tramaine Brock, Marcus Rios and Su’a Cravens are all banged up heading into the third week of preseason. Parks suffered a knee contusion last Saturday against the Bears but has been practicing this week and should be fine for Friday night’s matchup in the nation’s capital. But Rios and Cravens have been ruled out while Brock is still questionable.

“We’re working [Brock] back in there slowly. But I thought he played very well,” defensive coordinator Joe Woods said of Brock’s game against the Bears. “The biggest thing with Tramaine is that he’s a proven starter in this league. Things don’t rattle him. He plays with poise. He’s doing well.”

Although Cravens is unlikely to play on Friday against his former team, Woods is confident the safety will be able to fit in to the system as soon as he’s healthy - regardless of preseason playing time.

“It’s not the football part of it. He’s played at a high level. He’s been a starter,” Woods said. “It’s more just getting familiar with the defense in a game-like situation. But in terms of him going out there and playing, we’re not concerned about that. We just need to get him healthy.”

So that No Fly Zone could be leaving several planes in some wide open airspace if the traffic controllers don’t get healthy quick.

But even while rookie corner Isaac Yiadom has been a favorite target of opposing quarterbacks the past two games, his coaches are not worried about his ability. If anything, they see great potential for Yiadom this season as he aims to transform his “good instincts” into good protection on the field.

“The first thing when you get out there is they’re going to go after you. The thing about Isaac is that he’s a very technical player. When you watch him, he’s always on the body. You don’t see him where there’s a guy that’s beating him and he’s five or six yards away. He just has to learn how to finish at the top of routes, and that will come with experience.”

A position that has been relatively overlooked in the Broncos D - inside linebacker - is also gaining some momentum as a couple more new guys are making a big impact early.

Josey Jewell has gotten the praise of both teammates and coaches.

“For him, you can tell that he’s an instinctive player. He gets it, he’s picking up the defense fast,” Woods said. “So, if something were to happen, if he were to go in as a starter, I think he would play very well.”

A.J. Johnson - the newest player to the team - hasn’t played on a football team for nearly four years, but the former University of Tennessee inside linebacker is trying to make the most of his second chance in the NFL.

And so far, so good.

“He was like a ‘see ball, get ball’ guy. He’s basically been here for breakfast, lunch, and dinner,” Woods said, adding that while Johnson “made a few mistakes” in his NFL debut last weekend, he was still learning the defense. “The one thing we know is that he’s big, he’s strong and he’s a physical player. He’ll just keep getting better.”

Although last week’s defensive performance was a major improvement over the week before, Woods still wants to see more out of his defenders against the Redskins.

“We added a little bit more to the defense this week. We want to make sure guys go out and execute the defense and that they understand it,” Woods said. “As long as we keep taking steps and we get better in all of the areas in terms of first down, third down, red zone, things of that nature, that’s more important right now than worrying about Seattle at this point.”

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