Defensive coordinator, Jack Del Rio has his group playing well overall. What is interesting though about this unit, is that they have played the majority of the season with big leads in the second halves of games. They have yet to be tested to have to make plays to get the ball back for their offense or make a key stop to end a game. Like the offense having to deal without Ryan Claddy, this defense has had to make do without the talented Von Miller, who is still serving his six game suspension.
How Del Rio has managed to work around the loss is with some solid play from a couple of veteran players in Robert Ayers and Shaun Phillips. There were those that believed that Phillips career was over after he left the Chargers but that has not been the case at all. By only playing in spot roles, it has taken the wear and tear off his body and when he is in the game, he is usually a fresh pass rusher and the Broncos are taking advantage of that opportunity.
While they get pressure off the edge with these ends, their tackles are a load to deal with inside. Kevin Vickerson and Terrance Knighton are both large men and can be difficult to move one-on-one. What Del Rio wants these two tackles to do is control the inside, get push and allow these linebackers to run and make plays.
The Broncos have throughout their history, have always had linebackers that can run, and this group fits that mold. Wesley Woodyard, Danny Trevathan and Nate Irving fly to the ball and when they arrive, they do a nice job of getting the ball carriers on the ground. Where these linebackers can also hurt an offense is on the blitz. Woodyard and Trevathan each have a sack so this Cowboys offense has to be aware of when Del Rio chooses to send them on the blitz.
In the secondary, there has been no Champ Bailey, who has been out of the lineup with a left foot injury that he suffered in a preseason game against the Seahawks. In his place, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Chris Harris have manned the cornerback position with Tony Carter playing as the nickel. Rodgers-Cromartie has always been a talented player in my view and he is playing like that for the Broncos. When he has lined up and had to play press coverage, he has been physical with his jam and that puts himself in position to carry his man up the field. When he is playing this way, he can be a very difficult player to fit the ball in on.
Harris is not as smooth as Rodgers-Cromartie but he is just as physical. He had a very nice interception in the Ravens game when he carried a route across the field and was able to drive underneath the receivers to snatch the ball out of the air. Harris is one of those players that you might be able to take advantage of because of his aggressive play.
At safety, I honestly had no clue who Duke Ihenacho was. Tuesday was my first day to ever see him play anywhere, but I came away, very impressed. He plays with the type of traits at safety that the outstanding ones do. He is very quick to read and react once he sees the play develop. He plays like a difficult player to fool and when he comes forward to make a tackle, he can bring it with some steam. There were not many plays where he look out of position or struggling to maintain his assignment. When these Cowboys tight ends and receivers run routes in the middle of the field, they will need to alert to where Ihenacho is because he plays the game with some violence. It was an outstanding get off the street for this Broncos scouting staff.