Denver run defense goes from near worst to first in 3-1 start

DENVER--Let's start with the Denver defense's second play of the season.

Melvin Gordon, the Los Angeles Chargers' star running back, rushed for only 33 yards on 17 carries. Less than 2 yards a carry (taking away that first carry that went for 21 yards). That's game 1, a Broncos win.

Ezekiel Elliott, the NFL's best running back by a wide margin, is held to 8 yards on 9 carries. Less than 1 yard per carry. That's game 2, a lopsided Broncos win against the Dallas Cowboys.

LeSean McCoy, who many people would pick as the league's second-best back, is held to 21 yards on 14 carries. Less than 2 yards per carry. That's game 3, a loss to the Buffalo Bills because the Denver D couldn't solve the athletic play of quarterback Tyrod Taylor.

Marshawn Lynch, who used to be Beast Mode, was made to look like a washed up, over-the-hill running back who should have stayed retired rather than take on Denver's newfound rush defense Sunday. Lynch gained a pathetic 12 yards on 9 carries. Closer to 1 yard per carry than 2. That's game 4, a 16-10 Broncos' win against Lynch and the Oakland Raiders.

"I don't know if he was frustrated,'' Broncos inside linebacker Todd Davis said of Lynch. "But I do know we were definitely getting after him today.''

Add it up and Gordon (not including his first carry), Elliott, McCoy and Lynch combined for 74 yards on 49 carries, or 1.5 yards per carry, against the 2017 version of the Denver defense.

"That's four special backs and really four special offensive lines,'' said Broncos' head coach Vance Joseph.

What in the names of Sylvester Williams and T.J. Ward is going on here? 

This is the same Denver defense that last year ranked 28th in the 32-team NFL against the run, allowing 130.3 yards per game. The Broncos are No. 1 by a wide margin four games through this season, allowing just 50.8 yards per game.

"That was our main focus through our whole offseason, we needed to shore up our run defense,'' Davis said. "We have the best (defensive) backfield in football but we have to complement them with a run D.

Joseph, Davis, and star outside linebacker Von Miller all mentioned Domata Peko, who replaced Williams as the nose tackle, as a difference maker. Miller added second-year defensive end Adam Gotsis "is playing red hot right now.'' The other defensive end, Derek Wolfe, is playing like 2015 again.

But there has also been a lot of talk about how the two inside linebackers, Davis and Brandon Marshall, are playing downhill against the run. Moving forward on the attack, rather than waiting for the gaps to open, then fill.

"They're playing the run completely different this year,'' Broncos running back C.J. Anderson, who practices against the Denver D during the week, said about the linebackers.

Anderson wouldn't go into details.

"The biggest thing is the big guys up front,'' Davis said. "The linebackers are the same but the (coaches) are allowing us to do more.''

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