Allen Park — For as much as people talk about the talent of Broncos pass rushers Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware, the secondary plays a hand in the front seven having more time to reach the quarterback.
With high-priced cornerback Aqib Talib and strong safety T.J. Ward, along with reliable cornerback Chris Harris, the Broncos have one of the league’s top defensive backfields.
“As of right now, they’re probably the best secondary we’ve faced,” said Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson, who along with his teammates must get past that attack Sunday at Ford Field. “They’re very opportunistic; they have a lot of playmakers on that defense.”
Through two games, Denver boasts the best pass defense in the NFL, allowing 243.5 yards and a 45.1 passer rating to opposing quarterbacks — Baltimore’s Joe Flacco and Kansas City’s Alex Smith.
Talib has two interceptions, and Harris and free safety Darian Stewart have one apiece.
“They’ve got good players all across the board, so when you combine the pass rushers they have with the cover guys they have, it’s certainly challenging,” Lions offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi said of the Broncos defense.
Ward, meanwhile, missed Week 1 because of a suspension, but the Lions are aware of what he can do. Last year, he had 74 tackles, two sacks and two interceptions.
Lions coach Jim Caldwell spent 2012-13 with the Ravens while Ward was playing for the Browns. In 2013, Ward had 112 tackles before signing with the Broncos, and Caldwell said his experience is similar to that of Lions safety Glover Quin.
“He runs and makes plays, and does a nice job just in terms of anticipating what you’re going to do because he’s seen a lot,” Caldwell said. “There’s not a whole lot of things that he hasn’t seen and they can anticipate and adjust, and he’s a good tackler.
“He’s a tone-setter for them.”
For a myriad of reasons, the Lions passing offense has not met expectations. Quarterback Matthew Stafford has three interceptions and has a passer rating of 81, which would be his lowest since 2012. He was also short of 300 yards passing in each of the first two games.
And, Stafford has dealt with injuries — ribs and both arms — as the line has struggled, allowing eight hits in Week 2. Neither Johnson nor Golden Tate has a 100-yard receiving game.
One of the bright spots has been second-year tight end Eric Ebron, but the Broncos have been good against tight ends, too. They held Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce — among the league’s best — to four catches for 58 yards in Week 2.
“Their whole core, from tight end to third receiver, they’ve got a great group over there (and a) strong arm, smart quarterback throwing them the ball,” Talib said.
Despite having a strong arm, Stafford has yet to complete a pass of 20-plus yards downfield. And with Miller, Ware and others coming after him quickly, it could be difficult to reverse that trend, especially with the talented secondary.
“That’s part of what makes them really good is they can hold up in the back end while they’re getting to the quarterback,” Stafford said.
Broncos at Lions
Kickoff: 8:30 p.m. Sunday, Ford Field, Detroit
Records: Broncos 2-0, Lions 0-2
Line: Broncos by 3
Series: Denver leads 6-5