Jussel: Stuffing run a boon for the Broncos

Let’s check out the 3-1 Denver Broncos as they lick a few wounds, rest and recover, thanks to an early season bye week.

On the positive side, the Broncos are the top run-stopping defense in the National Football League. They are allowing opponents only 50 rushing yards per game, less than 2 yards per carry.

Starting interior linemen Domata Peko, Derek Wolfe and Adam Gotsis are all rated above average at their positions by Pro Football Focus and all are rated excellent against the run.

Peko was with Cincinnati Bengals last season and Gotsis was a rookie who was seldom active and often ineffective.

That threesome, with help from rotation linemen Shelby Harris, Zach Kerr and Kyle Peko, has turned into a monster. It doesn’t hurt to have inside linebackers Todd Davis and Brandon Marshall rated among the top run stoppers in the league, either.

Not only can the Broncos stop the run — certainly the key to the 3-1 start — they can run it themselves. The 143 yards per game is the third-best average in the league. C.J. Anderson is fourth in rushing yards with 330 and Jamaal Charles has added 175. Anderson is averaging 4.5 yards per carry and Charles 5.3 (near his NFL all-time best of 5.5).

But at times, the ball must go in the air.

This what Broncos fans need worry about the rest of the season.

The passing game has been effective early, as Denver has taken at least a 10-point lead three times. What the Broncos need to remember, however, is these games have four 15-minute quarters totaling 60 minutes.

In the first quarter, Trevor Siemian has thrown for 331 yards. In the fourth quarter, he has thrown for 130. On his first 20 passes in the four games, Siemian has thrown for 577 yards and 5 TDs. After that, he has thrown for 211 yards, 2 TDs and been intercepted four times.

Offensive coordinator Mike McCoy has been wide open with his play calling early. But as the Broncos have run up leads, the play calling has become more conservative and more predictable. The running game has stalled in the second half, going from 4.7 yards per carry to 4.0.

And as first-and-10 turns into second-and-7 and third-and-5, the hits, sacks and picks come.

Siemian has been sacked 13 times, hit 24 times, and thrown four interceptions, all in the second half.

One other culprit for the Denver offense has been penalties. Denver has been called for 27 penalties, 15 of those on the offense. Denver’s right guard, Ron Leary, has been flagged four times, three for holding. Those are drive killers.

Left tackle Garett Bolles was a big question mark coming into the season, a rookie playing on Siemian’s blind side. He hasn’t been one of Denver’s problems. Bolles has allowed only a half a sack and been outstanding run blocking.

Menelik Watson, signed as a free agent, has allowed 4.5 sacks at the right tackle spot and is ranked near the bottom of the league by PFF.

Also ranked in the bottom half of the league as pass blockers are left guards Max Garcia and Allen Barbre, who have been splitting time.

Coach Vance Joseph said Watson has improved over the past couple of games. He and his big buddies have to continue to get better to ward off a Brock Osweiler or Paxton Lynch sighting.

Denver’s pass defense is also a bit off last season’s performance, with the No Fly Zone allowing 210 passing yards per game. Last season opponents averaged 185 yards per game.

Want to blame that on the loss of starter T.J. Ward, the veteran safety who was waived in preseason? You might want to simply look above at that 50 yards rushing per game. If Denver is going to continue to stuff the run, opponents will continue to put the ball in the air.

Isn’t that playing to the Broncos strongest suit? You bet.

So, Denver is four games in. The early bout with injuries has been dealt with and the team is relatively healthy — and may have outside linebacker Shane Ray and defensive lineman Jared Crick back on the field soon.

Upcoming: the winless New York Giants at home and the winless Chargers in their soccer stadium in Los Angeles.

Then it’s the Chiefs on a pre-Halloween Monday night on Oct. 30 in Kansas City.

Wouldn’t it be cool (maybe downright chilly) if that one was a battle between an unbeaten and a once-beaten?


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