Opposing backs find Broncos' defense a road to nowhere

DENVER -- Four games into the season, none of the marquee running backs to have faced the Denver Broncos have rushed for 100 yards.

Want really impressive? Those four backs haven't rushed for 100 yards combined.

Yes, in a 3-1 start with plenty of work still to be done, the Broncos have the league's No. 1 run defense.

"We just work so hard at it," linebacker Todd Davis said. "We always think there's more work to do, but we're invested in it. We don't want people to be able to move the ball on us. We're committed and we're getting it done."

The Broncos have pounded, swarmed and stymied, in order, Melvin Gordon, Ezekiel Elliott, LeSean McCoy and Marshawn Lynch. Those four backs, a list that includes two former rushing champions (Elliott and McCoy), three who have topped 1,500 rushing yards in a season (Elliott, McCoy and Lynch) and 12 Pro Bowl appearances, have combined for 50 carries and 95 yards versus the Broncos in 2017.

That's a double-take-worthy 1.92 yards per carry to go with zero rushing touchdowns against Denver. Overall, the Broncos haven't surrendered a rushing touchdown in four games and opponents have averaged just 2.4 yards per carry.

"I think the energy and culture is different," linebacker Von Miller said. "Domata [Peko] is playing great for us, [Derek] Wolfe is playing great, Adam Gotsis is playing red-hot right now. When those guys are playing the way they play, it makes everybody's job easier, especially in the run."

Much of the Broncos' cast on defense remains what it was last season, but the addition of Peko, the kind of double-team swallowing nose tackle the Broncos haven't had in years, as well as the emergence of Gotsis in his second NFL season, has freed Wolfe to be disruptive as well. But with players like Zach Kerr, a 334-pounder signed in free agency, as well as the 310-pound Ahtyba Rubin, who was signed after he was released by the Seahawks, the Broncos are simply more burly up front.

Defensive coordinator Joe Woods, who in his first year calling plays has kept the framework of Wade Phillips' scheme, also has the Broncos' linebackers attacking the line of scrimmage a little more on early downs. The result has been everything the Broncos had hoped it would be when they made repairing the run defense an offseason priority.

"That's really four special backs, really four special offensive lines," coach Vance Joseph said. "Our run defense has been really stout. Again, adding Peko and Kerr and Ahtyba Rubin now, and obviously coaching it different than it was coached in the past."

The Broncos held Elliott to a career-low 8 yards on his nine carries in Week 2, and in Sunday's 16-10 win over the Raiders, they held Lynch to 12 yards on nine carries. That was Lynch's lowest single-game total since he rushed for 11 yards on six carries against the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2011.

"We're going against guys who have been to the Pro Bowl and we're shutting them down," Peko said. "It's been great. Big shout out to the defensive line and the front seven. Big shout out to the defense, because stopping the run is not just up front ... it's everybody."

Another example of how steady the Broncos' run defense has been: After giving up a 21-yard scamper to Gordon on the first play from scrimmage in the season opener, Denver hasn't surrendered a run over 10 yards since.

"It all goes together," cornerback Chris Harris Jr. said. “If they can't run the ball, they have to pass it and we always think that puts us in the best position. If they can't run it, we like our chances."