To Live and Die in Denver

Lane Adkins takes a look at how the Denver defense stymied the Bengals, and what it means on Sunday. These are not Mike Shanahan's Broncos anymore...

Perhaps the team won't "die" with a loss, but the Browns first road game in Denver is another opportunity in the development process.

Denver, coming off a 12-7 win in Cincinnati, did something recent Broncos teams have been unable to do - compete defensively.

Enter Canton, Ohio native Josh McDaniels.

The youngest head coach (32 years of age) walked into Denver has been in the middle of a fire-storm from the beginning of his tenure. From the debacle which led to the trading of starting quarterback Jay Cutler to the ongoing turmoil surrounding wide receiver Brandon Marshall, McDaniels has had his hands full.

Schooled under Bill Belichick while a member of the New England Patriots staff, McDaniels may be young, but this doesn't mean the Belichick protege doesn't understand defense wins games at the professional level.

Known as an offensive team, the Broncos under McDaniels set out to change the complexion of the organization immediately.

While the issues surrounding the former starting QB and WR were not fully anticipated, some of the first moves made by the organization and McDaniels were.

Former San Francisco head coach Mike Nolan was brought in to change the defensive scheme. Nolan, a former defensive coordinator with the Baltimore Ravens incorporated the 3-4 as the base defense.

While taking in footage of the Broncos regular season opener against the Bengals, I noticed the Denver defense has taken a role reversal from those Broncos units of the past.

The Broncos defensive line played with sufficient gap integrity. It's hard to miss that, whereas the Broncos defense responded favorably when the Bengals attempted to stretch the field, and Browns defense could not contain Vikings RB Adrian Peterson.

The interior play of the Denver defense was solid, while the right-side of the defensive line shows ability to press.

But it was the Denver linebackers making plays. They were quick to the gap and even better in limiting the Cincinnati rushing game from changing the tide in the opener. The LB's played a pivotal role in the Denver victory.

The Bengals were unable to consistently get a body on the linebackers, which is a compliment to the discipline the Broncos defensive line displays. As the Browns are mainly a two-gap type unit, the Broncos showed an array of looks, some being somewhat uncommon in timing.

Nolan's defense blitzed linebackers, with those coming off the strong-side being very effective.

Against a Cleveland offense, especially the right-side of the offensive line, this match-up could very well come down to the Browns ability to protect and provide starting QB Brady Quinn the ability to survey the field.

The Denver pass defense is questionable, despite the array of impressive names on the depth chart. After all, the Broncos trot out the likes of CB's Champ Bailey and Andre Goodman, along with safety Brian Dawkins.

Against the Bengals, the Denver defensive backs had their hands full with Andre Caldwell and Chad Ochocinco. Due to the lack of a sustained pass rush, veteran QB Carson Palmer was able to spread the ball around.

Against this Denver defense, the lack of a viable slot receiver and turnovers helped lead to the Cincinnati demise.

Solid defense can carry keep a team in games, against the Bengals this improving defense did just that.

And come Sunday, this defense could ultimately be the deciding factor against a Cleveland offense seeking its identity.

(Later we'll look at the specifics involved in a Browns potential game-plan to attack this Denver defense.)

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