They routinely sent two or three blitzing linebackers or defensive backs in each passing situation. The Broncos fell in love with the all-out blitz and it was successful for them. They forced many turnovers and went 13-3.
The Baltimore Ravens probably don't have to worry about facing that kind of aggression this week. The Broncos have completely changed their approach, as promised this offseason. Denver is using its front four to get a pass rush and letting the linebackers and defensive backs worry about making plays in coverage.
The Broncos have allowed only one touchdown this season. They didn't allow any the first 11 quarters of this season, a feat that hadn't happened in the NFL since 1942.
"Right now it's proved very effective," Broncos safety John Lynch said. "I said in the offseason we'd be a better football team if we could play that way, and blitz when we choose to."
Lynch said the Broncos have used an all-out blitz only once this season. The Broncos still blitz an extra linebacker or safety on occasion, but nothing like last year. Last year, Lynch spent most of the second half of the season playing near the line of scrimmage. This year, he and the rest of the defense are playing more conventionally.
That change came in the offseason after some self-evaluation. The Broncos were picked apart by Pittsburgh in the AFC Championship Game when the Steelers effectively picked up Denver's blitzes. Figuring opponents would have an offseason to figure out their approach, the Broncos toned it down.
"I'm sure every team in the league worked on it as an offense, asking how are we going to counter this?" Lynch said.
Last year Denver had a rookie, Darrent Williams, playing at cornerback and they didn't want opposing quarterbacks having too much time to exploit him. Williams is in his second year and is an emerging talent, so the Broncos don't have to compensate for his inexperience.
For the cornerbacks, it's nice to be in coverage with some backup help.
"You always want to give yourself a chance to do things without having to add pressure to the quarterback by blitzing," cornerback Champ Bailey said. "And we've done well without blitzing."
Denver hasn't had many sacks, with only four in three games, but the squad is getting adequate pressure via the defensive line. The Broncos also could revert back to the all-out blitz as it suits them. Lynch said they practice it every week, just in case they want to spring it on an opponent during a game.
"You got to play a game and whatever that game calls for, you have to do it," defensive coordinator Larry Coyer said.
--The Broncos have great respect for the way the Ravens are playing on defense. Coach Mike Shanahan gave the media the same message he gave to his players -- Baltimore's defense is playing even better than its vaunted unit in 2000.
"We talked about the 2000 Baltimore Ravens and their defense and how good they were when they won the Super Bowl, and this defense after a quarter of the season almost beats it in every statistical area," Shanahan said. "They're playing some great defense."
--Strangely, the Broncos have never played against Baltimore quarterback Steve McNair. The only teams McNair hasn't faced are Denver and Tennessee, McNair's only pro team before this year. The Broncos realize McNair adds another element to Baltimore's offense.
"This guy is special," Broncos defensive coordinator Larry Coyer said. "He's experienced, and he's a warrior."
--The Broncos pride themselves on their running game. The Ravens lead the NFL in rushing defense but Denver will still try to establish its running game.
"We think we can run against everybody," Shanahan said. "It's seldom you go up against a team that's giving up 2 yards a rush on the road and 2.6 over the season. That doesn't happen very often. It will be a great challenge for us."
BY THE NUMBERS: 200 -- Broncos coach Mike Shanahan will coach his 200th career regular-season game on Monday. If he wins, his 125 wins will tie for third most for a coach through his first 200 games.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "It is tough to depart with any player that you have been with. Especially guys like Mike (Anderson) and Trevor (Pryce) that you went to war with, that you won a lot of games with, that have the utmost character." -- Broncos coach Mike Shanahan on Pryce and Anderson, who were cut in the offseason and return to Denver this week with the Ravens.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL The Broncos don't appear to be ready to make any drastic moves to their special teams this week. That could change if Denver continues to struggle in that area.
The Broncos rank last in kickoff returns and punt returns this season. Darrent Williams is a good punt returner but he needs some help and he needs to quit pressing. Quincy Morgan, who was signed before Denver's last game, should eventually be an upgrade at kickoff returner.
--RB Mike Bell might get a few extra carries against the Ravens. He is a little stronger runner than Tatum Bell, and the game will be physical. It would be tough for Tatum Bell to carry 30 times against Baltimore's defense.
--LB D.J. Williams appears to be settling in on the strong side of the defense. Williams was a weak-side linebacker his whole life, then played some on the strong side last year and is there full time this season. He is having a good start to the season.
--C Tom Nalen leads an offensive line that will have a tough task against Baltimore this week. The Broncos sometimes struggle against big defensive fronts, and the Ravens are big up the middle.
--WR Rod Smith usually shines on Monday night. He leads all active players with 102 career receptions on Monday Night Football.
--K Jason Elam is 10 points from passing Al Del Greco for 10th place
on the NFL's all-time list for career points scored.
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