ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP) — Denver’s dominant defense had one fatal flaw last season. It was too predictable.
“I feel like last year you probably could’ve guessed what we were going to run our first five plays of the game,” cornerback Aqib Talib said this week as the refreshed Broncos (3-1) prepared to face the depleted New York Giants (1-4) on Sunday night.
The league’s fourth-ranked defense in 2016 surrendered nine opening-drive scores, including seven touchdowns.
All too often, that put the Broncos’ run-of-the-mill offense in catch-up mode and rendered Denver’s strengths — Von Miller and the “No Fly Zone” secondary — mere window dressing.
Enter Joe Woods, who pledged upon succeeding his mentor, Wade Phillips, as defensive coordinator to keep the foundation but “sprinkle a little sugar on it.”
He sweetened his unit by adding an air of mystery.
“Joe does a good job of switching it up and keeping guys off balance,” Talib said. “We’re not just coming out running one defense and running one or two defenses for the first 10 plays of the game. Joe is doing a good job switching it up and it’s definitely working for us.”
The Broncos have forced punts on all four of their opponents’ opening drives so far and on all eight of their opponents’ possessions in the first quarter. They’ve outscored other teams 27-0 while yielding just two first downs in the first quarter.
“We’re definitely going to do things that teams aren’t prepared for offensively,” Woods said. “We always try to add a few curveballs early in the game to give them something they haven’t prepared for. And then, we always try to save something for the second half. So far this season, we’ve done a good job in the first series of the game and first series of the second half getting off the field.”
Added coach Vance Joseph: “If you give a team something different in the first couple of series and force them to adjust, that’s a problem for most offenses. If you give them the same thing they practice all week, that’s a problem for you.”
“It’s really Joe and his staff’s game plans to throw out our curveballs the first couple series.” Joseph said. “Even in the second half, to save a curveball for the second half of the football game. Give them something different and make them readjust.”
Those saved curveballs have also been effective.
The Broncos have outscored opponents 33-7 in the third quarter, allowing just one score in 10 drives. They’ve forced five punts, two turnovers on downs and intercepted two passes in addition to allowing a touchdown.
That score came at Buffalo, where the Bills gained 1 yard and lost 13 on their two other third-quarter possessions.
A week later against Oakland, the Broncos held the Raiders to minus-30 yardsin the third quarter of a 16-10 win.
Denver’s offense is benefiting from its defensive unpredictability. Ranked 27th a year ago, the Broncos are now 13th in the NFL.
By ARNIE STAPLETON, AP Pro Football Writer
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