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The Broncos played in the nickel 3-3-5 defense for much of Monday night, meaning they played with three down lineman, three linebackers, and five defensive backs.
Normal nickel corner back Chris Harris did not play, taking his place was Tony Carter.
The Broncos played with the extra defensive back for nearly the entire night, as Atlanta's passing game—not it's running game—continued to set the tempo and put the Broncos on their heels. Atlanta frequently lined up in three receiver sets with Roddy White, Julio Jones and Harry Douglas—not to mention tight end Tony Gonzalez.
Because of the four legit receiving threats that Atlanta had, the Broncos saw that their only chance of stopping the Falcons would be to line up in the nickel defense formation with an extra defensive back to offset Atlanta's plethora of talent.
It didn't work for many reasons.
The Broncos couldn't generate a serious pass rush. Von Miller did get an important sack in the fourth quarter to force Atlanta to punt for the last time, and Miller did frequently get close to Ryan. Outside of Miller, however, none of the other Broncos were to be found as far as generating a pass rush on Ryan.
Elvis Dumervil got shut down by left tackle Sam Baker. Dumervil was never a factor in this game. Because the Broncos were constantly on their heels not only because of Manning's turnovers but because of Ryan's passing prowess, Joe Mays and Wesley Woodyard didn't do anything.
They didn't generate pressure on Ryan on the pass rush, and they were repeatedly beat over the middle of the field for important first downs.
If there ever was a game exposing Mays' and Woodyards' weaknesses as linebackers, it was this game.
As good as the run defense was, the pass defense simply could not stop Ryan and his quartet of receivers.
Do I believe this game was indicative of Denver's defense? Not necessarily. Do I believe Denver's defense is better than what we saw on Monday night? Yes. Do I believe that this game was indicative of Denver's defensive level at the moment against top-tier passing attacks? Yes.
The Broncos struggled against Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady last year. They struggled against Matt Ryan, and perhaps, the best receiving core in the NFL. This defense struggles against elite passing attacks, and until they prove they can show resistance in winning efforts against top-tier quarterbacks, the Broncos will never go far in the postseason.
Thankfully, the Broncos still have 14 games left to solve this problem.