CENTENNIAL, Colo. -- When training camp opened, the championship window sat closed on the Broncos' fingers. That, at least, represented the national narrative. Uncertainty at quarterback and a porous offensive line created too much doubt about the Broncos resurfacing as a contender.
Then the season happened. The Broncos are 2-0 with one of the league's most impressive victories, a 42-17 boxing of the Dallas Cowboys' ears last Sunday.
Success, as coach Vance Joseph continues to stress, is not final. These are the initial steps on the ladder back to the postseason. What's going right as the Broncos head to Buffalo for a potential pitfall game against an underwhelming opponent? I examine. Also quick notes: Cornerback Bradley Roby (who had foot in boot on Monday) was walking around practice, but not working out. Same goes for receiver Bennie Fowler (concussion protocol). Cornerback Aqib Talib and running back Jamaal Charles received veteran rest days.
Again, what's up with this fast start:
1) Running into a wall
Defensive end Adam Gotsis ranks as the Broncos' most improved player, so it should come as no surprise he is central to the team's most eye-opening unit. The Broncos are allowing 52 yards per game on the ground, fourth best. They yielded 130.3 a year ago, fifth worst. Credit Domata Peko, Shelby Harris and surging Derek Wolfe for the boost. And Ahtyba Rubin should be active this week.
2) First of all
OK, it's not only that the Broncos are stopping the run. It's when. Yes, it's a small sample size -- I covered baseball for 15 years, so I get it -- but the Broncos are holding opponents to 3 yards rushing on first down. Of the 19 first down attempts, 13 have gone for two yards or less. The scheme under defensive boss Joe Woods frees players to win more one-on-one battles, and linebackers Brandon Marshall and Todd Davis are tackling well, comfortable in their second year together.
3) Run like the wind
Stop the run. Run the ball. Win the game. The Broncos did neither last season. This season the Broncos rank first in rushing at 159 yards per game. As a result, the down and distance game has become manageable. The Broncos boast a 56 percent success rate on third down (17-for-30), tops in the NFL.
4) Playing with a lead
Think it matters? The Broncos have taken leads in the first two games, and led for 73 percent of the first two games. They were strangers to leads a year ago because of abysmal first quarter and third quarter offensive production. The lead influences how teams attack the defense. Holding an advantage allows the defense to apply a choke hold. The Broncos have recorded three sacks, and three interceptions, while holding opponents to a 23 percent success rate on third down. Nobody makes a living attacking the No Fly Zone. I can't see that changing with Bills offensive coordinator Rick Dennison, who was on the outs with the Broncos after last season's offensive nosedive.
5) Shaq attack
Von Miller won't be allowed to run unchecked. Teams chip him, double team him, do anything to prevent him from going off. Miller, however, netted two sacks last week. Why? Dallas was forced to pass 50 times. And Shaq Barrett is winning his matchups on the opposite side of Miller. Barrett has played 89.2 percent of the defensive snaps, showing no issues with a hip labrum issue that arose during a May workout in Omaha when he was back home for a high school graduation. Barrett's relentless play complicates game planning for Miller.
6) Trevor is better
Quarterback Trevor Siemian is comfortable, confident and healthy. If he keeps playing this way -- 39-for-60, 450 yards, six touchdowns, two interceptions -- it is fair to wonder if the Broncos will try to secure him on a contract extension before the season ends. Of course, Siemian must prove he can stay healthy and productive for a longer stretch. But he's showing he can excel when the offense has balance. Winning on the road this week represents another critical step. Siemian is 7-2 at home as a starter, but 3-4 in visiting parks.
7) Coach them up
There's no denying Vance Joseph has his finger on the pulse of his team. During the 62-minute lightning delay last Sunday, he turned off the air conditioning to keep the players loose, allowing them time to relax, eat and dance. The players are rewarding his faith by taking ownership. They are also feeding off the energy and positivity of coordinator Mike McCoy and Joe Woods. Buying in is a big deal in a long season. Adversity lurks, and when players trust the staff it is much easier to win rather than fracture and assign blame.