Skeptics could point to the small sample size against middling competition (Cincinnati and Cleveland), but there are signs this defense will continue to play well.
"We've got a good defense," quarterback Kyle Orton said. "We've practiced against these guys five months now, and they're very good."
Coordinator Mike Nolan is the first reason for renewed hope with the Broncos' defense. Although he didn't work out as a head coach in San Francisco, he has always been a respected defensive coordinator. He installed a 3-4, completely scrapping the 4-3 Mike Shanahan's teams ran for 14 seasons, and added a few new wrinkles head coach Josh McDaniels wanted from his experience in New England.
Players bought into Nolan's philosophies right away.
"He is just someone who has had so much success in the past," safety Brian Dawkins said. "When you have that, guys are going to buy into it faster, I believe."
While the personnel pieces didn't all fit, the coaching staff deserves credit for playing to the players' strengths. Elvis Dumervil had never been an outside linebacker, but he was a pretty good pass rusher as a 4-3 end. So his main duty is getting after the quarterback, and he tied a team record with four sacks against Cleveland.
The 3-4 allows a little more creativity and flexibility, and the players are enjoying that.
"The biggest thing about a 3-4 that players get excited about is everybody gets turns," Nolan said. "In some schemes they don't -- guys who cover, cover, and guys that rush, rush. In our scheme, any one of the 11 can rush the passer or drop; there's multiple jobs you have."
Getting players helped, too. Denver's secondary needed help. The safety position was a wasteland. So the team signed safeties Dawkins and Renaldo Hill and also added cornerback Andre Goodman. Linebacker Andra Davis was signed, as was nose tackle Ronald Fields. All five are starting and playing big roles on the revamped defense.
The Broncos' coaching staff was confident in its scheme and pleased with its personnel additions; they just asked the players to give supreme effort. They will admit that there is still learning to do with the scheme, but playing fast has covered up some of those issues.
"Learning a scheme and becoming a better player are things that take a little more time, but busting your tail is something you can do the first day you walk on the field," Nolan said. "They've been doing that."
--In his first two NFL games, rookie linebacker Robert Ayers hasn't shown up on the stat sheet. He is playing right outside linebacker in the Broncos' nickel defense.
There isn't much concern about the development of the first-round pick. Coaches seem to believe that while he hasn't cracked the starting lineup, he is making progress.
"It's a process for Robert, like it is (for) most rookies," Broncos coach Josh McDaniels said.
--The Broncos say they don't care that Raiders quarterback JaMarcus Russell has completed only 35 percent of his passes. They know he leads the league in yards per completion and need to be ready to defend the long pass.
"He has a cannon for an arm," safety Brian Dawkins said. "Any cat that can stand flat footed and fling the ball 65 yards downfield ... every part of the field is a potential for a catch."
--Two themes for the Denver offense this week, after watching the Raiders on film, are that the defensive line is big and talented, and the defensive backs cover a lot of ground. The Broncos have a lot of respect for a line that now includes Richard Seymour, but quarterback Kyle Orton said the talent of the defense extends beyond that.
"In the back end of their defense, they're probably the fastest defense in the league," Orton said. "They have great athletes."
BY THE NUMBERS: 1 - Coaches in Broncos history (Red Miller, 1977) who started his career with the team 3-0. Josh McDaniels can join him with a win Sunday.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "This isn't going to be a walk in the park." -- Broncos running back LaMont Jordan, who is impressed with the improvement of his former team, the Raiders.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
The Broncos went with four active receivers against Cleveland, leaving Kenny McKinley and Brandon Lloyd inactive. That seems a bit unusual for a team that likes to spread the field and rotate receivers, but the Broncos will change their plan every week.
Last week, the Broncos used many multiple tight end sets, especially late in the game when they were wearing down the Browns' defense in the running game. The active offensive personnel could change from week-to-week based on the game plan.
PLAYER PERSONNEL NOTES
--LB Mario Haggan became a starter on defense, but insisted to coaches he stay on special teams. Through two games, Haggan is tied for second on the team with a couple of special teams tackles.
--LB Darrell Reid has been solid on passing downs, with a sack and two quarterback hits. All seven of Denver's sacks have come from linebackers.
--WR Eddie Royal said returning kicks doesn't have a big impact on his normal role as a receiver. Royal may have to return kickoffs and punts as long as the coaches think he's the safest option.
--WR Brandon Lloyd has been inactive both games, and appears to be an insurance policy if there is an injury. Rookie Kenny McKinley was active ahead of him in Week 1 for special teams reasons.
--TE Richard Quinn will play in multiple tight end sets but won't do much more than block. However, the rookie showed during camp that he can be a part of the passing offense in the future.
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