Broncos pack aggressive defensive mindset for first road game of the season

Broncos seek to tighten down their passing defense as they head out to Baltimore for their first road game of the season

INSIDE SLANT

The Broncos are going to have to pack their defense when they head to Baltimore for their first road trip of the season.

Denver’s secondary especially appeared vulnerable in last week’s 20-19 victory over the Raiders, allowing Oakland quarterback Derek Carr to complete passes at a break-neck pace. With the cornerbacks playing primarily soft coverage and Carr releasing his passes quickly, the Raiders’ quarterback completed 29-of-32 throws for 288 yards and a touchdown. He became the first player in NFL history with a better than 90 percent completion rate in a game when attempting 30 or more passes. The Broncos also allowed six plays of 20 or more yards.

Broncos coach Vance Joseph said the secondary should have played a tighter, more aggressive coverage and while Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco may not have as quick of a release as Carr, he throws one of the best deep balls in the game. So look for Denver’s corners to take a more physical approach when covering Baltimore’s receivers to throw off their route running. Tighter coverage will also buy a little more time for Denver’s pass rushers, led by outside linebacker Von Miller, to convert their rushes into quarterback pressures.

“When you play on the road, you have to pack your defense,” cornerback Chris Harris Jr. said. “We’ve got to outplay their defense. That’s how it is on the road. Defense, you’ve got to ball on the road. You always plan on the offense to struggle a little bit on the road, so we have to try and give them a little help _ hopefully get an early turnover and get (quarterback Case Keenum) going early.”

Nose tackle Domata Peko Sr., who spent 11 seasons in Cincinnati before coming to Denver two years ago, became familiar with the Ravens while playing them regularly while with the Bengals as an AFC North division rival.

“Baltimore is a tough place to play,” Peko said. “I’ve played there 11 years in a row in the AFC North and it’s a tough division. You’ve got to go out there _ the crowd is going to be as loud as heck. But you have to get after them early, show them you mean business and get that run stopped. And you definitely have to get pressure on Flacco because he can sit back there and he can throw the deep ball like the best of them. We’ve got to make sure we get pressure on Flacco. You definitely have to start fast on those guys.”

SERIES HISTORY: The Broncos and Ravens are meeting for the 12th time in the regular season with Denver holding a 6-5 edge. They have won the two most recent meetings, both at Mile High Stadium in 2013 and 2015. However, the Broncos have only one win in five previous trips to Baltimore.

NOTES, QUOTES

--After struggling to be productive offensively last season, Denver’s offense has clearly made strides in Case Keenum’s first season as the starting quarterback. They are averaging 6.3 yards per play, which ranks fourth-best in the league. But the Broncos are in tough against the defensive-minded Ravens, who are giving up an average of 4.0 yards per play, tops in the league.

--Right tackle Jared Veldheer missed practice time this week while remaining in the NFL’s concussion protocol and he’s questionable for Sunday’s game at Baltimore. “He’s progressing, so we’ll see on Friday how much he can do in the field,” Broncos coach Vance Joseph said. If Veldheer is unable to go,tackle Billy Turner is expected to play in his place. Also nursing injurings are cornerback Admam Jones (sore thigh) and linebacker Brandon Marshall (knee).

--Wide receiver Demaryius Thomas has had some problems with dropped passes early in the season. But Broncos coach Vance Joseph said he and the rest of the coaching staff bear some of the responsibility. “He’s OK,” Joseph said. “It’s our job to get him going early and to get him his confidence early. When guys go through a whole half and have one or two (passes thrown their way), that’s tough for receivers. If he has his first attempt and he drops it or it’s a bad ball, that’s a mind war. It is our job to get him going early. It’s his job to play with confidence, and he will.”

BY THE NUMBERS: 1 –Touchdown passes needed by quarterback Case Keenum to reach 50 for his career.

1 1-2: Sacks needed by linebacker Von Miller to tie Ken Harvey (89) for 47th on the NFL’s all-time sack list.

37: Denver is seeking to hold an opponent to 300 net yards passing or less for a 37th consecutive game. That would be the longest such streak by an NFL team since Indianapolis did it in 52 consecutive games from 2005-08.

PLAYER NOTES

--Case Keenum has a 13-3 record as a starting quarterback over the last two seasons and his win percentage of .813 ranks second only to Philadelphia’s Carson Wentz (11-2, .846 win percentage) in that span.

--Center Matt Paradis has played every possible snap for the last three-plus seasons. His streak is second among active players to that of Kansas City tackle Mitchell Schwartz, who is in his seventh consecutive season of play every possible snap on offense.

--Running back Phillip Lindsay is leading all NFL rookies in the first two weeks of the season with 178 yards rushing (6.1 average) on 29 carries. Teammate and fellow rookie RB Royce Freeman is not far behind, ranking fourth with 99 yards rushing on 23 carries.

--Denver’s defense has allowed only a 22.7 percent conversion rate (5 of 22) by the opposition on third down in the first two weeks of the season. The Broncos have been even tougher in the first half, shutting down all 10 third down conversion tries.

--Von Miller’s 87.5 career sacks are the most by any NFL player since entering the league in 2011. Houston’s J.J. Watt is second in that span with 76.

PLAYER SPOTLIGHT

--Undrafted free agent running back Phillip Lindsay has exceeded expectations to become one of the top playmakers on the Broncos revamped offense. He‘s the first undrafted rookie to exceed 100 yards from scrimmage in his first two career games and as well and as quick as he hits the hole on a running play he has shown a knack for catching the ball out of the backfield. Ravens coach John Harbaugh ssual aid Lindsay certainly has the Ravens’ attention. “You’d probably have to be surprised when any rookie _ probably doesn’t matter whether he’s a free agent or drafted highly _ puts up the kind of production he’s put up,” Harbaugh said. “That’s pretty unusual and very impressive.”

MATCHUPS TO WATCH:

CB Chris Harris vs WR Michael Crabtree: There’s a history between the Broncos and Crabtree, though it was former Broncos cornerback Aqib Talib who was at the center of it. But it was a heated rivalry and one that remains intense, though Crabtree has moved on from the Raiders to join the Ravens this season. Crabtree has become a key target for Joe Flacco and Harris figures to draw him in coverage plenty of times come Sunday as the tip of the spear in the Broncos’ secondary.

Tight end Jake Butt vs Strong safety Tony Jefferson: After missing all of last season with an injury, Butt has moved quickly to establish himself as a reliable third-down option for Broncos quarterback Case Keenum. He has shown speed and strength in his route running and an ability to find the gaps in zone coverages. But he’ll be facing one of the tougher, quicker safeties in the league in Jefferson.

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