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Peyton’s place? Nah — Denver’s defense is Broncos’ best bet

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The Denver Broncos’ offense has struggled early in the season. Gary Kubiak’s schematic and personnel mismatch with what Peyton Manning has traditionally done on offense have clashed, producing an offense that has spent much of the season sputtering. A leaky offensive line has made the problem even worse.

Yet Denver is 2-0 despite opening the season against the Ravens, who gave the Patriots a stiff test last postseason, and the Chiefs at Arrowhead, where Kansas City went 6-2 last year with wins against both Super Bowl participants. How have they managed this? The offense helped come back against Kansas City, but the real key has been the defense, and specifically the pass defense.

Through two weeks, the Broncos have the best defense and pass defense in the league by Football Outsiders’ VOA metric, which adjusts for down, distance, and situation. The pass defense is especially impressive, ranking at 82.4 percent better than league average.

To put this in perspective, by VOA, the best performance by a pass defense in Week 1 was Denver’s -89.4 percent against the Ravens, and the best performance by a pass defense in Week 2 was Denver’s -75.1 percent against the Chiefs.

This early in the season, there are no opponent adjustments to VOA because we are still waiting to see just how good teams are. But last year, Baltimore was a very efficient pass offense and Kansas City a bit above average. Both teams also performed well in their other games, putting up a top ten performance by VOA. Opponent adjustments do not seem likely to dim the luster of Denver’s sterling performances that much.

Enter Wade Phillips

The man reaping much of the credit for these great defensive games is new coordinator Wade Phillips. When John Fox was fired as head coach, defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio followed him out the door. Phillips arrived with Kubiak, resurrecting a partnership that immediately produced the first two playoff seasons in Houston Texans history.

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Phillips the coordinator had a strong history of being associated with defensive improvement his first year. That’s partly for obvious reasons: defensive coordinators tend to get fired after unlucky seasons, so their defenses are likely to improve the next year anyway. One area that seems to be partly that kind of luck and partly Phillips is improved turnover work, especially on interceptions.

Interceptions are a big reason why the Broncos defense has done so well early. Their four interceptions, two each of Joe Flacco and Alex Smith, are tied for the league lead. The Broncos have done that in fewer attempts than their co-leaders Jets and Patriots. An interception rate of 7.0 percent is unsustainable in today’s NFL. Last year’s leader was the 49ers at just 4.2 percent, and only one other team had a rate even half Denver’s. Still, harassing Smith into two interceptions was noteworthy, since he’d thrown just three in his past sixteen starts (including postseason).

Denver’s recent history of strong pass defense

Phillips has helped turn around some mediocre units. That was not his task with these Broncos. They had a superb pass defense in 2014, ranking fifth in the league by DVOA. The 2013 unit looks less impressive, but the overall ranking of 21st conceals an important split: with Von Miller in the lineup, they were sixth. In 2012, they were fifth once again. Their excellence through two games should have come as no surprise.

Excellent defensive personnel is the key to those rankings. The 2013 split hints at Miller’s importance. With no suspension or torn ACL to limit him, he had an excellent 2014 and has started off playing very well in 2014. A lifelong linebacker, the transition from Del Rio’s 4-3 to Phillips’ version of the 3-4 has been basically seamless. Pretty much the same is true on the other side of DeMarcus Ware, who rose to prominence in Dallas when Phillips was his head coach. Both seem poised to post double-digit sack seasons again, with a combined 3.0 in the first two games after 23.5 last year.

The secondary is also vital, and the Broncos have a trio of cornerbacks as good as or better than any in the league. Starters Chris Harris and Aqib Talib both ranked in the top six among all corners in adjusted yards per pass last year per Football Outsiders charting. Harris’s ability to play both outside and in the slot makes him especially valuable. The nickel corner is last year’s first-round pick Bradley Roby. He had the expected rookie ups-and-downs, but has already made two game-changing plays, breaking up what would have been the winning touchdown pass against the Ravens and scoring the winning touchdown on a fumble recovery against the Chiefs.

What it means

Phillips’ acumen and the personnel quality means Denver’s pass defense excellence is likely to continue. The Lions, who have been just average through the first two weeks and have a banged up offensive line, do not seem like the team to challenge that. Not until the Packers travel to Denver in Week 8 will the Broncos face a high quality passing offense. That will give them plenty of winnable games and plenty of time for Kubiak and Manning to fix the offense while continuing their winning ways.

Don Ohlmeyer, longtime network TV executive, dies at 72

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INDIAN WELLS, Calif. (AP) — Don Ohlmeyer, the “Monday Night Football” producer who came up with the phrase “Must See TV” in leading NBC to the No. 1 prime-time spot, died Sunday. He was 72.

“It is with heavy hearts we share that Don Ohlmeyer, our beloved husband, father and grandfather, has passed away at age of 72 due to cancer,” Ohlmeyer’s family said in a statement. “Surrounded by loved ones, he died peacefully at his home in Indian Wells.”

Longtime friend Al Michaels announced Ohlmeyer’s death while broadcasting NBC’s “Sunday Night Football” game between the Dallas Cowboys and New York Giants.

Ohlmeyer won 16 Emmys, including the Lifetime Achievement Award, and two Peabody Awards.

Ohlmeyer became producer of “MNF” in 1972, teaming with director Chet Forte and the on-air crew of Howard Cosell, Don Meredith and Frank Gifford. In 2000 in his second “MNF” stint, Ohlmeyer put comedian Dennis Miller in the booth.

Ohlmeyer first worked for ABC Sports as a gofer while studying at Notre Dame and became a full-time production assistant in 1967 under Roone Arledge, working on “Wide World of Sports.” Along with his “Monday Night Football” work, he directed the network’s Olympic coverage and created “The Superstars.” Later at NBC Sports, he produced World Series and Super Bowl broadcasts.

After running his own Ohlmeyer Communications Company, he returned to NBC in 1993 as president of its entertainment division. He came up with “Must See TV” in the 1990s, when NBC’s rating soared with such hits as “Seinfeld,” ”Friends,” ”ER” and “Frasier.”

Watch Live: New York Giants vs. Dallas Cowboys on NBC

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The Dallas Cowboys host the New York Giants in a battle of NFC East rivals on Sunday Night Football.

Despite going 13-3 and earning the No. 1 seed in the playoffs last year, the Cowboys lost twice to the Giants in 2016, including a loss in Week 1. Dallas hopes to not have a repeat of last year and will rely on sophomores Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott to carry the load. Don’t be surprised if Elliott gets even more carries in this game because there is a possibility his six-game suspension is upheld and he will have plenty of time to rest up before he sees game action again.

The Giants will rely on their strong defense led by DB Landon Collins and DE Jason Pierre-Paul to try and get after Prescott and bottle up Elliott. On offense, New York is all about Eli Manning and the passing attack. Odell Beckham Jr. is expected to suit up, but it remains to be seen how big of a role he will have after injuring his ankle in the preseason. As a result, look for new additions WR Brandon Marshall and rookie TE Evan Engram, to go along with sophomore WR Sterling Shepard to step up for Manning.

Football Night in America

Start time: 7:00 p.m. ET

TV channel: NBC

Live stream: NBCSports.com, NBC Sports app

Giants vs. Cowboys

Start time: 8:30 p.m. ET

TV channel: NBC

Live stream: NBCSports.com, NBC Sports app