Head Coach Mike McCoy made no bones about.
Asked point blank what the most meaningful part of Thursday night’s huge win over the Broncos was, he immediately gave his response.
“I think number one was the way the defense played,” said McCoy. “That is a very good offense. It's one of the best in the history of football through 13 weeks and then 14 weeks now. They are very explosive. They are very efficient. We all know who Peyton Manning is. He is one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time. The game plan that (Defensive Coordinator) John Pagano put together and the way the players executed it is out of this world.”
It’s true the defense came through with a massive defensive effort. The Broncos went just 2-of-9 (22%) on third down, had a season low 296 total yards, including a season low 18 yards rushing. The Bolts also forced Manning and company into four three-and-outs.
So, let’s take a look back at the memorable defensive performance through the eyes of both McCoy and Pagano.
While those on the outside didn’t see a performance like this coming from the defense, the man in charge of the unit certainly did. The major reason for that was the way the team prepared the days leading up to the game.
“Honestly, I did based on our preparation,” he said. “The number one thing about everybody with this profession and as coaches and such, it’s the week’s preparation. It’s how you prepare. Everybody can say how gosh, we practiced great on Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, as long as that carries over to the game and taking those things over from the practice field to the game. I thought our preparation was great. I thought the coaches did a great job of implementing the plan that we put together, and to sit there and say I’m going to walk into a stadium and say we have no chance, that doesn’t ever come into our minds. It doesn’t cross our minds. We understand and we have the belief that if everything goes out there at the level of executing the call, I think in this league, everybody’s got a chance.”
In each man’s 20-plus minute press conference on Friday, McCoy and Pagano lauded pretty much each and every defensive player by name, and with good reason.
Of the many players who came through with clutch performances, Marcus Gilchrist certainly had a day to remember. The safety was thrust back into the nickel corner position he played early on in his career due to the absence of Johnny Patrick. The man the team affectionately call “Gilly” responded with a big sack of Peyton Manning on third down as well as a key pass breakup on a smoke route early in the second half. The day after the game, McCoy lauded Pagano and the defensive staff’s decision to move Gilchrist back to the nickel.
“He did a great job,” he said. “It was a great decision by the coaches to put him in there and do what he did. It says a lot about him, on a short week. Obviously, he has done it in the past, but it was great to have him play in there.”
Pagano was equally enthusiastic in his praise for Gilchrist.
“I thought he did awesome,” he said. “Gilchrist is somebody that was our nickel last year and he’s somebody that brings an unbelievable level of play at that spot. Just his overall understanding of the defense and how he can react, it was just a decision that we made as a staff that I felt was best for us to go win. It gives a guy like Jahleel Addae an opportunity to come in and keep growing in what he’s doing, but it was good to see Gilchrist knock that pass down to when he was coming off the edge, because that was my drill we did the other day. Anytime you get a drill in, and it gets results like that, it’s all good. He played well.”
Another player who surely stood out was Corey Liuget. He forced the key interception of the game by knocking Manning’s arm as he threw, with the ball falling into the waiting arms of Thomas Keiser late in the fourth quarter. Liuget consistently beat not one but often times two blockers at the line of scrimmage, getting great penetration throughout the game. That was never more evident than on the aforementioned Gilchrist sack when he blew past two blockers in no time at all.
“Corey's play is a perfect example of when you play snap to whistle, good things are going to happen,” said McCoy. “They have a double on him and he splits it to keep fighting and as Peyton goes to throw he hits it. It's all about effort. A lot of the game is your attitude, your mindset and the effort of playing until the whistle blows every game.”
Going back to the secondary, Shareece Wright had a week to remember. On Sunday, he recorded his first career interception against the New York Giants and also broke up three passes. Then he responded with another outstanding performance against the vaunted Broncos receivers.
“The last two games, his play’s really taken to the next level,” said Pagano. “And like I said, it’s building that foundation, week after week, game after game, and play after play, and do things that you can build on to grow as a young player, and that validates having a good game and then coming back and then doing it again. It’s something I talk to Corey and Kendall (Reyes) about all the time, about there’s a lot of guys in this league who have those roller coasters. Just keep building. Keep building. Seeing the young players do that, that’s something that we still need for this next game coming up. It’ll be important for us.”
Finally, Pagano praised the job of the entire front seven for both stuffing the run as well as getting pressure on Manning.
“Unbelievable,” he said of the group. “Great effort, great physical play from Corey, Kendall, Cam (Thomas), (Sean) Lissemore, Lawrence (Guy), the whole group. Jarret (Johnson) in there. Melvin (Ingram) had an unbelievable play. I don’t know if everybody got to see it, when he threw the tight end and came down the line on a run play. Guys like that up front and the play of Donald (Butler) and Manti (Te’o) inside of truly understanding where the ball’s going and when you can do that, that gives you an opportunity to play more coverage and take away things that you need to. I thought our front did a great job. I was shocked, because you never know. You don’t know how the game’s going. To say only 18 yards (given up rushing) after the game, I thought that was unbelievable effort by them.”