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Broncos look to slow down trips through No Fly Zone

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- A month into the season, and the Denver Broncos defense has done a lot of what the players in that defense expect it to do.

After four games, the Broncos are No. 1 in the league in total defense, No. 1 in run defense and No. 6 in scoring defense. And while there is still plenty of season left to play, plenty of work to be done, the group does have an item that needs some attention: Opponents have occasionally found more room to travel than expected in the No Fly Zone.

The Broncos have surrendered seven touchdown passes already this season -- opponents had 13 all of last season.

"Our pass coverage is pretty tight, but we've given up too many explosive passes that have led to points," Broncos coach Vance Joseph said Monday. "It's some good and bad there."

It's been mostly good. The Broncos exited Sunday's 16-10 win over the Oakland Raiders at No. 11 in pass defense.

But comparison shopping makes it tough on this year's team, given that the Broncos have finished No. 1 in pass defense in each of the previous two seasons. This year the Broncos have already surrendered a 38-yard touchdown pass by Philip Rivers, a 28-yard touchdown pass by Dak Prescott and Derek Carr's 64-yard touchdown pass Sunday.

The win over the Raiders provided a look at what Joseph said needs some work. The Broncos dominated much of the game defensively, but Oakland's two scoring drives were 99 and 73 yards, respectively, largely built on the passing game. So the Raiders had 172 yards of offense on those two possessions, including the 64-yard scoring pass, and 37 net yards on their other 10 possessions combined. The Raiders had five possessions that went for minus-2, minus-3, minus-8, minus-19 and minus-1 yards.

"[Sunday] they scored basically 10 points and we gave up a 64-yard pass. We had them backed up both times ... Defensively we're playing pretty good, but we could play better, especially in two-minute defense," Joseph said. "We've been really soft there. We have to improve there."

Some of that can be traced to opponents having to throw more than they want, because the Denver run defense, in surrendering just over 50 yards per game, has suffocated teams on early downs.

The Broncos have also built double-digit leads in two of their wins and had a 9-point lead in the third quarter of Sunday's win. So offenses have had little choice but to be in pass-first mode much of the time.

"I don't think offenses want to throw all the time against us," said cornerback Chris Harris Jr. "... We're not going to stay the same, we're going to keep working and we can be even better. And with our guys up front and our run defense, we can make it tougher."

The Broncos have made some tweaks in coverage as they have transitioned from Wade Phillips' defense to the scheme of Joe Woods, who was the team's secondary coach in the two years Phillips was coordinator. Denver was almost exclusively a man-to-man team under Phillips, but since Joseph's arrival as head coach, Woods has implemented some zone concepts.

Asked if that transition has played a role in some of the big plays the Broncos have allowed, Joseph said, "No, it's not that. I think it's more focused in its details. It's plays that we've covered in practice that have hurt us. We have to be better with our focus and details. To your question, as far as it being more zone now, yes. I mean, we're playing a lot more zone than we played in the past. When you're a zone team, you have to be really focused and detailed on your keys. ... They have to continue to play with more focus and detail, because zone takes focus and detail."

Following their bye week, the Broncos will get a chance to test their secondary work, given they'll face Eli Manning, Rivers, Alex Smith, Carson Wentz and Tom Brady in the five games to follow.