The Denver Broncos made a drastic change to their philosophy in one offseason. Peyton Manning no longer scores absurd amounts of points to give the team a large margin of error. The 2015 Broncos are defense-first, and they showed how far they’ve come Sunday night as they shut down Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, the best in the game. He looked terrible.

It’s easy to gush about Rodgers, because he’s amazing. His arm strength and accuracy are marvelous. His best skill, however, might be his footwork, which allows him to stay in a collapsing pocket and find an open man where other quarterbacks wouldn’t. Even with Denver’s suffocating pass rush, there were a few plays where Rodgers bounced around and avoided being brought down. Here’s one example from the first quarter:

Rodgers had approximately eight seconds to find a receiver, and the pass attempt was incomplete. That wasn’t his fault, so much as it was the effect of the Broncos’ secondary.

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Defensive coordinator Wade Phillips has squeezed the most out of his players. Cornerbacks Aqib Talib and Chris Harris smothered Rodgers’s options in man coverage while Phillips sent blitzes at the quarterback with DeMarcus Ware and Von Miller. The secondary was aware that Rodgers would use his footwork to keep a play alive, which meant the defensive backs had to keep playing tight after the original plan broke down. Talib said as much to Lindsay H. Jones of USA Today:

“When he’s scrambling around like that, he’s uncomfortable and that’s to our advantage,” Talib said. “So we knew all week we had to guard a guy twice - on the initial route and then on the scramble drill.”

Rodgers threw for 77 total yards in the 29-10 loss, the lowest amount in any of his starts outside of a 2010 Lions game that left him concussed and a 2013 Bears game in which he broke his collarbone. The running game didn’t do much better; Eddie Lacy and James Starks combined for 47 rushing yards on 16 touches. James Jones has been more than serviceable, and Davante Adams just came back from an ankle injury, but Jordy Nelson—who tore his ACL before the season—is sorely missed. Who knows how much space Nelson would’ve found against Talib or Harris, though. The Broncos made a previously undefeated team look like chumps, and the defensive unit is at the top of the league.

As it turns out, it’s prudent for a team to not put all its eggs into the basket marked “39-Year-Old Quarterback Who Can’t Always Feel His Fingertips.”

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Photo: AP


Contact the author at samer@deadspin.com.