DENVER – To find the proper perspective and an honest appraisal of the Broncos, the wise move is to find Champ Bailey.
Denver’s Voice of Reason wears jersey No. 24.
And Champ says Denver’s defense has a problem: Too many men on the field... who can make big plays.
"Every guy that comes out there can start,” the future Hall of Fame cornerback said after Denver dumped San Diego 30-23 Sunday.
“When you have to find ways to get guys on the field, that’s a great problem to have,” he said. "I have to give Jack (Del Rio, the defensive coordinator) a lot of credit. He’s finding ways to get guys in there and making plays and getting some playing time.”
The problem has become the rest of the NFL’s to deal with. Denver isn’t simply the Peyton Manning Show, not even close. Did you walk away from Sports Authority Field or the TV thinking Manning was the reason the Broncos won their fifth straight?
I didn’t, either. And that isn’t taking for granted the brilliance of Manning.
Peek at the numbers: His sixth game this season with at least three touchdown passes (franchise record); 423 career touchdown passes (second alltime, moving him ahead of Dan Marino); 148 wins by a starting quarterback (second all-time, tied with John Elway).
Is it because we expected this of Manning when he signed with Denver in March?
Is it because Denver was blessed with Elway for 16 seasons that local observers are jaded from Hall of Fame quarterback play?
It’s probably because Denver’s defense thumped San Diego and owned the Sunday stage. The final score doesn’t accurately describe how the defense performed.
Until San Diego's first offensive touchdown drive — late in the third quarter — the Chargers had managed only 64 yards on 40 plays.
We’re not accustomed to that kind of D in this Big D.
Sports Authority Field shook as the nastiest pass rush in the NFL added four more sacks, extending its league lead to 35. Von Miller had three more, extending his league lead to 13. The Broncos extended their AFC West lead to three games, plus the head-to-head tiebreaker with the Chargers.
The wild West is the one-sided West.
The Broncos will be a playoff team, again, thanks largely to a defense that owes Philip Rivers a rent check for camping out in his backfield most of Sunday afternoon.
"It’s the best defensive team they’ve had since we’ve been playing against them,” said Rivers, whose three-game win streak in Denver was wrecked.
"They are probably a complete a team as we’ve played in terms of all three phases,” Chargers coach Norv Turner said.
Truth is, Bailey wasn’t being completely honest. The cagey vet wouldn’t label this Broncos ‘D’ the best in his nine years here. (It is, for sure.) Part of his duty as the elder statesmen is to keep his younger mates motivated to sack and tackle as if their playing time depends on it.
“I definitely have the throttle down on him (Miller), so hopefully he keeps going,” Bailey said.
Truth is, Denver hasn’t seen a pass-rusher like Miller, not the way he’s turning offensive linemen into matadors.
“If you can get in the quarterback’s face, that’s the worst thing for him. I’m sure Peyton would tell you that,” Bailey said. “You don’t want guys in your face all the time.”
The knock against this defense was that it couldn’t get off the field. Del Rio fixed that.
Spanning games against the Bengals, Panthers and Chargers, the Broncos stopped 26 consecutive third-down attempts. That’s the NFL’s longest streak over the past decade.
“I think it all starts in the secondary,” Miller said.
“I think the most important part of our defense is that front,” Bailey countered from the other side of a businesslike locker room.
The Broncos have scored at least 30 points in five straight games, a franchise record.
Why that's promising: At least four players in the locker room suggested Denver hasn’t played a complete game. Here’s an educated guess the other 49 believe the same.
“Never become complacent,” Bailey said. “That will put you on your couch.”
Wise man, that Champ.