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 (0-5) 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 yards in 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.
MARSHALL PLAN: Linebacker Brandon Marshall said he’d like to be invited to Commissioner Roger Goodell’s meeting with NFL owners and the players’ union next week to discuss player protests during the national anthem. Marshall was a college teammate of Colin Kaepernick, who started the movement last year to spotlight social injustice.
“I would want to, but I don’t think they want the players to be a part of it,” Marshall said Friday. “The NFLPA, they could probably bring us in, but I doubt the owners want the players’ opinions or say-so in it. …
“Our agenda is not what their agenda is,” Marshall said. “Their agenda is the business, continue to make money.”
Marshall, who received the 2017 Courage Award from the Harvard Graduate School of Education’s Alumni of Color for his stance against social injustice and his community work, said he’ll continue standing during the anthem this season because that’s what the Broncos decided to do as a team.
“I kneeled last year. I stood back up and I really feel I don’t have anything to prove. I did it when it was not the popular thing to do,” Marshall said. “I’ll definitely continue to do my work in the community and with the kids, just do my part on the ground and hopefully create some change.”
Notes: Last year, the Broncos broadened their annual breast cancer awareness program to include all kinds of cancers, an expansion the NFL incorporated this season. Assistant turf manager Luke Kellerman, who is battling cancer, approached the team about making the change. “We really see him as the co-founder of the ‘Fight Like A Bronco’ campaign and we’re proud to incorporate him in our game day activities” Sunday night, said Allie Pisching, the Broncos executive director of community development. Kellerman was a visitor at the Broncos’ practice Friday.
Follow Arnie Melendrez Stapleton on Twitter: http://twitter.com/arniestapleton