Broncos defense has a touchdown problem

Are the Broncos too 'soft?' (1:58)

Stephen A. Smith blames general manager John Elway for the "atrocious quarterback play" from Denver, not the defense. (1:58)

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Those who play on the Denver Broncos defense have heard the rumblings from outside the team's walls of the group's demise, especially after the Eagles and Patriots piled on for 92 combined points in back-to-back games. Though the Broncos believe that demise might be greatly exaggerated, there is no denying the Broncos have one of the strangest either-or personalities the league has seen in quite some time as offenses have turned very little yardage for the most part into a pile of touchdowns.

After 10 games the Broncos are ranked No. 3 in the NFL in total defense, as one of just three teams surrendering fewer than 285 yards per game -- the Jacksonville Jaguars (7-3) and the Carolina Panthers (7-3) are the others. But scan the rankings of scoring defenses and it's an entirely different story as the Broncos are tied for 27th in scoring defense -- with the winless Cleveland Browns -- surrendering 25.9 points per game.

"It's a matter of winning more 1-on-1 battles, that's what it comes down to," said Broncos coach Vance Joseph. "We've been in games where we've been trailing so every point matters ... (so) we've been aggressive on defense, that comes down to winning 1-on-1s, rushers and in cover guys."

In last Sunday's 20-17 loss to Cincinnati, the Bengals scored two of their three touchdowns when the Broncos were in a six-defensive back look and had rushed Cincinnati quarterback Andy Dalton hard. Dalton threw both touchdown passes to receivers covered by Broncos cornerback Bradley Roby.

That has been the story for the Broncos defense this season. Other than Carson Wentz' first of three touchdown passes this month that went over Aqib Talib, quarterbacks have mostly stayed away from Talib and Chris Harris Jr. in the scoring zone and targeted receivers covered by Roby, safeties or linebackers.

The Broncos haven't always been able to find consistent pressure in the pass rush in the middle of the field either, and that pressure is key because it keeps quarterbacks deeper in the pocket where Von Miller has a better chance to affect the plays. Miller, too, has said often that "I haven't made enough plays, I haven't made enough of the sacks, strips to keep (offenses) from scoring touchdowns."

No Broncos defensive lineman has more than two sacks -- Derek Wolfe and Shelby Harris each have two -- and no player other than Miller has more than three sacks. It means when offenses have had a chance to score, they often have had enough time to find any gaps in the coverage.

The Broncos have surrendered 22 touchdown passes in 10 games -- that tied them with Houston for most in the league going into the Thanksgiving games. The Broncos have surrendered 30 or more touchdown passes in a season just twice, and not since the AFL-NFL merger in 1970 -- 30 in 1961 and 40 in 1963.

"We know we haven't done enough all the time," said linebacker Brandon Marshall. "We have to get more stops, we know if they still have a yard to get for the score, we have to keep them out."

The Broncos' own offense and special teams haven't always helped matters, either. The Broncos' 23 turnovers are second-most in the league and many have resulted in short fields for opposing offenses, including last Sunday when the Bengals returned an interception to the Broncos' 1-yard for their first touchdown "drive" of the game.

The Broncos have surrendered 96 points this season on drives immediately after a turnover. In five games opponents have scored at least 13 points off turnovers and the Broncos have had only one game -- their Oct. 1 win against the Oakland Raiders -- when they didn't surrender any points off turnovers. That was also the only game the Broncos didn't commit a turnover.

"It's been different, just in terms of the situation with football -- the sudden change where we've been on the field, we haven't played to our level," defensive coordinator Joe Woods said. "I tell those guys that we have to have a blade-of-grass mentality. We stop them, we get back out there and we're on the 1-yard line. If we're on the 1-yard line, we have one yard and we have to defend it. This year, just in terms of inconsistent technique, putting them in tough calls at times, we haven't been successful."

"I would say this, we're trying to play a style of defense," Joseph said, "so they've taken some shots vertically that we have to play better (in) those spots."