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Vance Joseph wants to throw curveballs on defense early in game

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Posted at 12:01 PM, Mar 28, 2017
and last updated 2017-03-28 15:48:04-04

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Vance Joseph sought the Broncos coaching job for salient reasons. It sets up as a reboot, not a rebuild. The franchise sits one year removed from a Super Bowl title. A championship is realistic, an appealing lure for Joseph who embraces the pressure and expectations. 

But when he interviewed, talk swerved beyond unicorns and rainbows. The Broncos missed the playoffs, a stinging disappointment related to multiple factors. Joseph suggested potential ways to improve the team, including Denver's terrific defense. No team has defended the pass better the past two seasons. Yet the defense's inability to start quickly left Denver trailing, compromising an already sputtering offense. 

The Broncos allowed 28 touchdowns last season. A staggering seven came on first drives when Denver permitted 55 points, tied for second worst in the NFL. By comparison, the reigning champion New England Patriots allowed 16 points on initial possessions.

Joseph offered a solution Tuesday as part of my top takeaways from the AFC's coaches breakfast at the Arizona Biltmore. 

"I was talking to (new defensive coordinator) Joe Woods about it, because it was almost a touchdown on every first drive. It was like, 'what is going on here?' Then they would settle down and play well. That's a system issue in my opinion. What you practice all week, you go out and show the same picture that the other team was preparing for," Joseph explained. "(Former San Francisco defensive coordinator) Mike Nolan was very good about this. He told me that whatever (new) you are going to use, give it to them early. Throw the curveball in the first 15 plays so it throws their game plan out of whack."

It makes sense. Equate it to a baseball starter pitching backward so to speak. If a fastball pitcher throws first pitch curveball strikes the initial time through the lineup, it creates uncertainty in the mind of hitters. Then as the hitters attempt to adjust, the pitcher breaks out his fastball. The Broncos boast too much talent to be an easy mark early in games. Being unpredictable could help. Stopping the run wouldn't hurt either. With teams leading and the Broncos' secondary frothing, opponents stayed on the ground. They ran 482 times, 74 more than in 2015, against Denver, third most in the NFL. Joseph believes adding beefy nose tackle Domata Peko and defensive end/tackle Zach Kerr will provide a boost. Tweaks will still be required.

"The defense struggled because of the frequency of the run. We need to help the front seven with different looks," Joseph said. "It's a big picture issue."

The defensive wrinkles were part of a wide-ranging, 56-minute discussion, which included a fun exchange with former childhood friend and college teammate Kordell Stewart, who hosts a national radio show. A look at the remaining top takeaways:

ON TONY ROMO: The door has not closed, because it has not opened. Romo is not a free agent, the only avenue in which the Broncos are prepared to pursue him. The Broncos remain comfortable with Trevor Siemian, who told Denver7 on Monday that his left shoulder is healing on schedule, and former first-round pick Paxton Lynch. However, if someone "viable" becomes available, "We're going to explore it. That's just part of our overall philosophy to never rule anything out," Joseph said.

ON ADRIAN PETERSON: Speaking of which, the Broncos run game dissolved following C.J. Anderson's knee injury midway through the season. Why not consider adding future Hall of Famer Adrian Peterson, "How do you know we haven't talked about it?" Joseph told me. Peterson holds out hope of remaining a feature back. As the market remains unkind to him, he offers an interesting name to file away depending on how the draft shakes out. The Broncos also talked with Oklahoma draft prospect Joe Mixon, an indication they are looking to diversify the running game. "He had an issue three-to-four years ago. He owned it. He's been remorseful. We brought him in because he wasn't at the combine." Joseph dropped plenty of hints that he wants a physical running game. It's why Denver added guard Ron Leary, who "came from a culture where they ran the football on their terms," Joseph said.

ON LEFT TACKLE VOID: The Broncos' starting left tackle likely isn't on the roster. And given the lack of tackles in the draft, it might not make sense to reach for one in the first round. The Broncos talked to Cam Robinson, Garett Bolles and Ryan Ramczyk at the NFL Combine, Joseph said. There remains a possibility the Broncos will wait to see if a veteran is released after the draft. King Dunlap remains a free agent, but there could be more alternatives as the Broncos exercise patience. 

ON DT PLAYING LIKE MVP: Denver needs to caffeinate its offense. Running the football better would create better options in the passing game, opening up the route tree. Joseph challenged wide receiver Demaryius Thomas to play like a superstar on Monday. Thomas has struggled with consistency over the past two seasons. Don't be surprised if the Broncos use him in motion more and bring back the bubble screens. 

"I want 88 to dominate every game" Joseph said. "I want him to step out and be the guy every game."

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Want Broncos news? Denver7 Broncos insider Troy E. Renck is your source. He talks to the players, covers the games and reports scoops on Denver7 and the Denver7 app. He is a CU grad who has covered pro sports in Colorado since 1996, including 14 years at The Denver Post. Follow him on Facebook, Twitter and TheDenverChannel.com’s Broncos page. Troy welcomes most of your emails at Troy.Renck@kmgh.com.