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Denver Broncos' stingy defense primed for Patriots

The Denver Broncos' beleaguered defense held Philip Rivers to 1 net passing yard by halftime of Sunday's victory. The Chargers managed a meager 79 yards of total offense by the end of the third quarter.

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Rivers and Keenan Allen made it interesting in the fourth quarter with cornerback Chris Harris sidelined and Jack Del Rio easing off the gas pedal, but it was still one of the Broncos' best defensive performances of the season.

This was supposed to be the soft underbelly of a team with a monstrous, record-breaking offense.

With All-Pro pass rusher Von Miller out for the season, run-stopper Derek Wolfe sidelined, middle linebacker Wesley Woodyard benched and 12-time Pro Bowl cornerback Champ Bailey relegated to a minor role, Del Rio's defense was billed as perhaps the most exploitable unit of any legitimate Super Bowl contender.

Don't look now, but the Bolts are the third consecutive opponent -- and fourth in the past five games -- held under 260 total yards.

So what's different about Denver's defense?

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For starters, nose tackle Terrance "Pot Roast" Knighton has been an unblockable behemoth on the interior over the past six weeks. First-round draft pick Sylvester Williams has improved steadily since replacing Kevin Vickerson in the defensive line rotation in late November.

Second-year defensive tackle Malik Jackson has been one of the league's most effective interior pass rushers. Thirty-six year-old veteran Paris Lenon has solidified the middle, and strong-side linebacker Nate Irving has held his own as Miller's replacement.

The true test will come next week against the Patriots' fine-tuned offense. There's no tougher back to stop right now than LeGarrette Blount, who has exploded for 431 yards (6.73 YPC) and eight touchdowns over the past three games.

All of the hype leading up to the AFC Championship Game will justifiably concentrate on future Hall of Famers Peyton Manning and Tom Brady. Don't be surprised, though, if the decisive matchup is the Denver's revamped front seven against the New England's steamrolling ground attack.

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