Denver's new wrinkle on D

By: Mike Bires
Beaver County Times
http://www.timesonline.com/sports/sport ... -on-d.html

Friday November 6, 2009 12:12 AM

PITTSBURGH — When it comes to defense in the National Football League, there’s been a changing of the guard.

At the midway point of the season, it’s the defenders from Denver who rank No. 1.

“They’re the No. 1 defense in the world,” Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said. “That’s what we’ve heard Coach (Mike) Tomlin say 1,000 times already this week.”

Tomlin has been known to exaggerate when talking about the Steelers’ next opponent. Remember, he called Minnesota running back Adrian Peterson “the best football player in the world” two weeks ago, yet the Steelers limited him to 69 yards.

So Tomlin tagging the Broncos’ defense the “best in the world” is a bit premature.

However, there’s no denying that Denver’s impressive 6-1 record has been dramatically impacted by its defense.

One of the first things 33-year-old head coach Josh McDaniels did when he got the job was hire Mike Nolan as his defensive coordinator. Nolan, the head coach of the San Francisco 49ers the past four years, immediately scrapped the 4-3 defense used in the Mike Shanahan era and replaced it with a 3-4 like the one used by the Steelers.

The Broncos then cleaned house personnel-wise.

The defense which will line up against the Steelers (5-2) on Monday night at Invesco Field at Mile High includes only three starters who were first-stringers last year. They are outside linebacker Elvis Dumervil, who’s making the switch from defensive end, inside linebacker D.J. Williams and cornerback Champ Bailey.

“Mike (Nolan) has done a tremendous job with a lot of new faces,” Steelers offensive coordinator Bruce Arians said. “They have a lot of good players. The chemistry is obviously there. They present a heck of a challenge.”
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Among the new faces signed via free agency are former San Francisco 49ers defensive lineman Ronald Fields, former Cleveland Browns inside linebacker Andra Davis and three starters in the secondary — cornerback Andre Goodman and safety Renaldo Hill, both who played for the Miami Dolphins last year, and former Philadelphia Eagles safety Brian Dawkins, a seven-time Pro Bowl selection.

“They play a very aggressive style of defense,” Arians said. “It’s a system very much like ours. They’ve got the personnel to do it.”

Last year, when the Steelers’ defense was ranked No. 1 for the third time in the last five seasons, outside linebacker James Harrison was the main man. Harrison set a franchise record with 16 sacks en route to earning defensive player of the year honors.

Dumervil, who also wears the same No. 92 jersey number that Harrison does, has spearheaded the Denver defense’s turnaround this year. Dumervil is second in the league with 10 sacks.

“They’re getting quality contributions from a lot guys on every level … not only from guys like Brian Dawkins and Elvis Dumervil,” Tomlin said. “They’re getting quality play from a lot of people. That’s what it takes to play great defense.”

Last week, the Broncos lost for the first time, 30-7 in Baltimore. In that game, it was the Ravens who had the best defense on the field.

Monday night the Denver defense hopes to outshine the highly regarded defense from Pittsburgh.

“Those defenses (Baltimore and Pittsburgh) have been good for decades,” Dumervil said. “They have the reputation, and they’ve earned it. We’re trying to get to that level. We have a long way to go, but we’re working hard to get there.”