By Arnie Stapleton, AP Pro Football Writer
If a quarterback wants to keep Denver’s devastating pass rush at bay, it seems his only option is to hand the ball off to his running back.
Andy Dalton stayed upright while throwing just eight times in the first half Sunday, but once the Broncos adjusted to stuff the run, he was forced to drop back.
That’s when Von Miller picked up his NFL-best fifth sack, and Shane Ray became the first player in 14 years to collect three sacks in his first NFL start as the Broncos (3-0) beat the Bengals 29-17.
“I think it was obvious that they were trying to keep Von off of their quarterback,” Broncos coach Gary Kubiak said. “… But we hung in there. The key was us coming back in the second half and stopping the run. If we don’t stop it, we’re probably in for a long day.”
The Broncos dropped a safety into the box and inched their linebackers closer to the line of scrimmage after getting gashed for 75 yards in the first quarter, including Jeremy Hill’s 50-yard run on Cincinnati’s opening drive. Cincinnati managed only 68 yards rushing in the last three quarters.
“Eventually, we got them in a position where we could start rushing and we were able to capitalize on it,” Ray said.
The Broncos (3-0) will surely work on their run defense this week as they prepare to travel to Tampa Bay (1-2) to face QB Jameis Winston next weekend.
“A team’s No. 1 option with us is that they want to come in and run the ball. They feel like if they can beat us with the run, then they can save their quarterbacks,” Ray said. “But we make good adjustments and corrections.”
Kubiak isn’t just concerned about Denver’s trouble with what’s known as the “C” gap, the lane between the tackle and the tight end, but with quarterbacks breaking free on third down.
“We’ve been giving up some quarterback movement,” Kubiak said.
Like Andrew Luck’s 21-yard scramble on third-and-20 two weeks ago.
“It’s being more gap disciplined on third down,” Ray said. “Teams know that we’re playing man coverage so quarterbacks start trying to get out of the pocket. When they see that lane, they take off running. We see that, we know what’s going on, we’re just going to go to the film room and see what we can do to counter that and we’ll get back to doing what we do.”
Safety T.J. Ward said the Broncos hope to have their run defense and QB corralling issues settled by Sunday.
“It’s hard to find a crack this defense,” Ward said. “You can try to do something from last week that a team had a little success on, but we’re probably going to fix that and be ready for it the next week. You have to come up with something creative. That’s hard because even if you have a scheme, you still have to beat us one-on-one. You have to block Von, you have to get open on Chris (Harris Jr.) and Aqib (Talib). You have to get open on me. You have to stop the blitz, and you have to protect.”
Fixing the flaws are a matter of pride, Ward said.
“We were at Von’s house last night after the game reviewing the tape — me, Talib, Von and K-Web (Kayvon Webster),” Ward said. “Before we even get in the meeting room, for them to tell us where we made mistakes, we already know. That’s the next level if you want to be great. Everyone has to be great, not only here, but on their own time.”