Today's question about the Broncos comes from Ted S. in Denver. To submit a question for consideration, send an e-mail to The Denver Post's Jeff Legwold.
Q: Who/what deserves the credit for the Broncos' steadily improving defense? A) Jack Del Rio. B) Improvement in Von Miller's skills. C) Additions of Tony Carter, Chris Harris to the secondary. D) Wesley (Woodyard). E) Rookies Derek Wolfe, Danny Trevathan. F) All of the above?
A: Ted, just a quick thanks to you and all of the regulars for their continued participation in The Denver Post's Broncos Question of the Day, as well as all of the kind folks who have sent just one or two questions along in the past weeks and months. You all make it go, and it's appreciated.
The Broncos are sixth in total defense at the moment — yards allowed per game — and they are 10th in scoring defense, having allowed 21 points per game. They also lead the league in sacks (31), are tied for sixth in interceptions (10) and are third in forced fumbles (11).
Just nine games into the season, it's a well-rounded defense that is easily the Broncos' best offering since 2009 when Mike Nolan led the unit to a No. 7 ranking in total defense and Elvis Dumervil led the league in sacks with 17.
The Broncos tied for 12th that season in scoring defense and were 10th in sacks.
That team also faded down the stretch, having allowed 343, 394 and 524 yards in the last three games. They did not hold their momentum across the board that season, including on defense.
These Broncos have had moments when they have been defensively dominant, moments like Sunday when they battered an ailing Panthers offensive line to sack Cam Newton seven times and hit him several others.
The answer? "All of the above," with a little Peyton Manning on offense thrown in for good measure. But Miller's improvement and Del Rio's ability to play Miller in a bigger variety of roles in the defense are likely the biggest two factors.
Miller has developed into the coveted piece on the board, a guy who can dominate with speed and power. Del Rio has been plenty aggressive thus far overall as well, and the Broncos have enough speed on the field to make it work.
Theirs is a scheme that favors speed over power.
They have had some bobbles, as you would expect, as well. Their performance in New England — the Broncos allowed 251 yards rushing — was not that of a playoff hopeful.
The Patriots exposed the Broncos' specialty packages, rushing for 140 yards alone against the team's nickel package (five defensive backs). The Broncos also didn't get key third-down stops late in games against Houston and Atlanta that could have given the ball back to the offense with plenty of time on the clock in what became six-point losses.
But it may be some of the Broncos' lower-profile players who hold the key the rest of the way. If their rotation at defensive tackle — Kevin Vickerson, Justin Bannan and Mitch Unrein — can continue to perform, to hold up as the power players in the formation, the Broncos' ability to use their team speed in a greater variety of ways only improves.
Vickerson likely had his best game with the Broncos and perhaps as a pro with his two sacks against the Panthers this past Sunday. But that trio has to hold up, particularly when offenses run out of open formations, like the Patriots did, against the Broncos' nickel look.
And with Trevtahan and Wolfe having such big roles in the defense — only Dumervil has played more snaps in the defensive line this season than Wolfe — they have to avoid the traditional rookie wall that sees the production of first-year players dip as the season wears on.
Having Manning on the other side of the ball certainly helps — add him to the list of reasons as well — and the Broncos will have the luxury of playing with the lead and playing against offenses that quickly get impatient in their game plans when Manning gets a score or two up early in games.
The Broncos' best pass-rush package comes out of their dime (six defensive backs), but it is a lighter formation, often with just one or two down linemen up front. It isn't nearly as effective against offenses that feel there is enough time on the clock to keep the run game on the table.