ENGLEWOOD | First, Keenan Allen disses Denver. Then, JuJu Smith-Schuster says the Steelers beat themselves.
Seems nobody wants to give the resurgent Denver Broncos any credit, and that’s just fine with them.
“This defense is built to stop anybody in this league,” safety Darian Stewart said in the aftermath of Denver’s second straight win over a team that hadn’t lost since September.
Over the last two weeks, the Broncos (5-6) have snapped six-game winning streaks by the Chargers (8-3) and the Steelers (7-3-1) despite allowing a whopping 1,006 yards and watching Pittsburgh and Los Angeles outgain them through the air by a staggering 425 yards.
They’ve clawed their way back into the AFC playoff conversation, however, by piling up seven takeaways and committing zero turnovers.
Allen refused to give any credit to his AFC West rivals after Philip Rivers threw for 401 yards and the Chargers controlled the clock for nearly 38 minutes two weeks ago in a 23-22 last-second loss to the Broncos.
“No, I don’t think they played well at all,” Allen snapped. “We dominated the game. Turnovers, we gave them some points and that’s what happened. They suck.”
The Steelers dominated the clock Sunday, holding the ball for 35 minutes to Denver’s 25, and Ben Roethlisberger threw for 464 yards, including a 97-yard touchdown toss to Smith-Schuster that put Pittsburgh ahead 17-10 before the Broncos turned a Chris Harris Jr. interception and a fumble recovery by Stewart into 14 points for a 24-17 win.
“One thing is if we get beat tremendously, I’ll take that. I’ll take that to heart that we lost because they were a better than us,” Smith-Schuster said after his 13-catch, 189-yard afternoon. “But … I felt we beat ourselves.”
Although Will Parks and several other Broncos dared mention the word playoffs after their latest victory, you can bet coach Vance Joseph will have none of it when they return to work Wednesday after earning an extra day off.
“I’m proud of the win. Our team showed grit again and resilience to overcome adversity,” Joseph said Monday. “But again, defensively especially, there’s too many big plays. It’s unacceptable to give up that many big plays each week. A 97-yard touchdown in single high (safety) coverage, we can’t do that.
“So, I’m very pleased that we won the football game but disappointed in the lapses that we have each week, and it’s got to stop. It’s got to stop for us to finish the season the right way.”
That said, Joseph, whose coaching roots are on defense, acknowledged that in today’s game where college spread concepts such as run-pass option plays, jet sweeps and Wildcat snaps are all the rage, he’s had to adjust his thinking on what constitutes good defense.
“You do because they’re going to make yards. Yesterday, we saw more RPOs from Pittsburgh than I’ve seen in five years from that team,” Joseph said. “But that’s the league now. It looks like run but it’s pass. It’s almost impossible to defend, so you have to be a great tackling team and just keep the deep ball from beating you, get off the field on third downs and take the ball away. That’s the league, that’s where it’s going.”
Although the Broncos are allowing more than 500 yards a game the last two weeks, they’ve only yielded 19.5 points with seven takeaways and no turnovers.
“If you can play great red zone defense and hold them to field goals, take the ball away, that’s the key,” Joseph said. “Because the yardage, you have to kind of ignore it. And that’s tough for us to do. I mean, 1,000 yards for our defense in two weeks, that’s tough. But 19.5 and seven takeaways, you’ve got to take it and be happy about it, right?”
The league eliminated the running-start leaps on field goals and extra points this year like the one Justin Simmons had to salvage a win at New Orleans in 2017. Now, the defender can only jump if he’s on the line of scrimmage and he can’t touch the linemen.
Simmons is the rare athlete who can do just that as he showed Sunday by blocking Chris Boswell’s 48-yard field goal attempt.
“We actually had one against Baltimore that was illegal” Joseph said of Simmons’ running leap that wasn’t whistled.
His latest one was textbook.
“He’s a freak athlete,” Joseph said. “He can jump, he’s got a great vertical and great timing.”
After getting cut seven times by the Raiders, Jets and Cowboys, nose tackle Shelby Harris — who had the game-saving interception with 63 seconds left Sunday — has finally made a name for himself in Denver.
“I’ll tell you what, my first spring here when I watched Shelby work out, I told (defensive line coach Bill) Kollar, ‘He’s got about a week before we cut him,’” Joseph said. “He was that bad that spring and I guess the light came on and the guy’s been playing really good football for a year and a-half since I’ve been here.”