ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP) — The Denver Broncos still sport the league’s top pass defense just like last year. Their formerly league-leading run defense has slipped to 29th. And Derek Wolfe’s broken elbow doesn’t help matters.
Wolfe is the best run-stuffer on a team that lost Malik Jackson to free agency and Vance Walker to injured reserve. But Wolfe is expecting to miss up to a month after getting hurt at Oakland last week.
Stepping in for him is rookie defensive end Adam Gotsis, an improving second-round pick from Georgia Tech and the highest-drafted (63rd overall) Australian-born player in NFL history.
“I think he’s gotten better,” coach Gary Kubiak said. “He may have played his best game last week and we need it.”
Gotsis said he’s been trying to emulate Wolfe in everything he does for the last seven months, so he’s going to do his best imitation of him on the field until he gets back, too.
“You know, he is always watching,” Wolfe said. “I can feel him watching me all the time. It’s kind of creepy. He’s always watching everything I eat. He’s like a little puppy following me around. But that’s what I did when I was a rookie. I just found guys, Elvis Dumervil, Justin Bannan, guys who had been around for a while and were doing it the right way. That’s the kind of guys that I just latched onto and just kind of tried to do what they did.”
Gotsis just passed the one-year anniversary of a torn ACL he suffered against Virginia last season. He said he’s finally feeling 100 percent and no longer worries about the knee.
He played a season-best 30 snaps last week and is expecting plenty of work when the Broncos (6-3) visit the Saints (4-4) on Sunday.
“They’re going to try to come out and run the ball,” Gotsis said. “It’s been our weakness.”
The Broncos have allowed a combined 341 rushing yards over the last two weeks against the Chargers and Raiders in tumbling from the top of the AFC West.
The Saints’ ground game is experiencing a resurgence and they’ll need to keep that going if they want to slow down the Broncos’ pass rush.
Against Seattle two weeks ago, Tim Hightower became the first Saints running back with a 100-yard game. Facing a star-studded defense like Denver’s, they exercised patience and pounded the ball against an elite, play-making group in a 25-20 win.
Then, they ran for 248 yards and two TDs against San Francisco with Mark Ingram going for 158 and Hightower adding 87, complementing Drew Brees’ 323 yards and trio of touchdown throws.
“It certainly gives us confidence,” Brees said.
And at long last, balance.
With the Broncos having surrendered a season-high 218 yards in a 30-20 loss at Oakland last week, “I would imagine they’re going to run the football,” Denver defensive coordinator Wade Phillips said of the Saints. “Although, they throw it better than anybody.”
Facing offenses that are regularly adding a sixth offensive lineman, the Broncos have been gashed for three runs of 42 or more yards.
“I think some guys need to play a little bit better. I think that some guys that are playing good maybe need to do a little bit more,” Wolfe said. “I’ve missed a few tackles that I should have made. Get in your gaps and beat your man. Get off the blocks and make the tackle.”
That’s the elixir linebacker Brandon Marshall says will get the Broncos better.
“I don’t think it’s anything exotic we’ve got to do because Wade doesn’t believe in doing different stunts to try to stop the run and stuff like that. He wants us to line up and play our technique, everybody know their responsibility, get in their gap and get off the ball with attitude and get off the block and make a play.”
Von Miller said the Broncos will come through this tough time a better team.
“I would like to play in a season where we just kill everybody and go undefeated all the way to the championship and then we blow out whoever it is in the Super Bowl,” Miller said. “But that’s just not how it works in the National Football League. For me, we’re in a tough patch right now. We’ll be able to get out of it. We have players in place. We have the leadership in place. We have everything in place.”
Notes: Special teams coordinator Joe DeCamillis on S Shiloh Keo giving his new team, the Saints, tips on his old team, the Broncos, this week: “I can tell you Shiloh’s singing like a canary because he did it when he came here.”
By Arnie Stapleton, AP Pro Football Writer
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