Denver is the most fascinating team in the league because of their declining offense and the ridiculous potential of their defense. Yes, we understand that a Peyton Manning-led team failing to score a touchdown is going to attract attention. (Or as Manning put it: A "catchy headline for your little article.") But the Broncos' defense is the new headliner in town. There isn't a team east of Seattle that has more talent and aggression at every level of their defense. On a day when dominant defenses shined in St. Louis and Buffalo, the Broncos stood apart.
The Ravens had 38 yards at halftime. They just barely cracked triple digits in passing yards (100) on 34 drop backs by Joe Flacco. DeMarcus Ware looked like he was shot out of a cannon every snap, hitting Flacco five times. The return to health for linebackers Brandon Marshall and Danny Trevathan made a huge difference, with Marshall in the Ravens backfield all afternoon. Aqib Talib and Chris Harris rival any cornerback duo in the league.
Many of Denver's defensive pieces were in place last year, but this group has a far higher ceiling because of Wade Phillips. Perhaps no defensive coordinator in the last 25 years has so consistently created immediate results. He usually takes a below average defense and turns them into a top-five unit. Phillips has the pieces now to turn a top-five group into the game's best.
Phillips' defenses just look different. The players fly around to the ball and act like they own the field. He was very aggressive dialing up creative blitzes, consistently flummoxing Flacco. Talib's pick-six came off a throw that Flacco hurried because of a blitz. Flacco released a few failed third down passes early because he knew the pressure was coming.
By the time the Broncos ended the game -- and Baltimore's first red zone trip -- with a beautiful interception, it was obvious this is a different Broncos team. You could watch every NFL game all season and not see five better defensive performances. John Fox and Jack Del Rio coached a fine defense in Denver. But this one could be memorable, not unlike the team's 2013 offense.
"It was the greatest defensive football game I've ever been part of as a coach," said Kubiak.
The Broncos are one of the most fascinating teams in the league because of the dichotomy between Manning's slow adjustment to Kubiak's offense, and the fast results Phillips is getting on defense. (The starters didn't give up a preseason touchdown either.) Sunday was the first time the Broncos won a game without scoring an offensive touchdown since September of 2006. Perhaps Manning doesn't need to shine in Kubiak's offense. He just needs to be average, and let this defense do the rest.
Off to fast starts
- St. Louis' front seven did not allow Russell Wilson or Marshawn Lynch to get comfortable on Sunday. In Robert Quinn and Aaron Donald, the Rams possibly have two of the best 10 defensive linemen in the league playing next to each other. Donald looked like he could go from Defensive Rookie of the Year to a Defensive Player of the Year candidate with an outrageous three QB hits, three tackles for loss, two sacks and eight tackles. The defense swarmed Lynch and forced Wilson into poor decisions, like when he ran on third-and-three in overtime, which set up the team's final failed play.
- Rex Ryan, like Wade Phillips, is taking over a great defense. Everyone knows about the Bills defensive line, but the biggest area Rex could improve is their secondary. Stephon Gilmore had a big opener with four passes defensed. Rookie cornerback Ronald Darby and safety Aaron Williams also had nice Week 1 games against Indianapolis. It's not a surprise the Bills beat the Colts up front. It's a bigger surprise the Colts couldn't uncork a few big passes or make plays after the catch.
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- The Steelers should have scored more than 21 points in New England, but their offense showed some great signs. DeAngelo Williams looks revived and should be an incredible change of pace behind Le'Veon Bell. Ben Roethlisberger played a vertically perfect game. The offensive line was strong. When Bell and Martavis Bryant are both back, this offense will be unstoppable.
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- The most concerning aspect of the Colts' struggles to control the line of scrimmage in Buffalo? They will face similar defensive fronts all year: Miami, New York, Denver and Carolina.