While Peyton struggles, Denver 'D' keeps Broncos in the game

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DENVER (AP) -- Not so long ago, Peyton Manning had the Denver Broncos offense scoring at a record-setting clip. Those days are gone.

Now, it's the defense pulling most of the weight and even providing some scoring.

Six games into the season, the Broncos 'D' is drawing some comparisons, however preliminary, to some of the best. Some look at the statistics - Denver ranks in the top three in eight defensive categories - and immediately start bringing up the 1985 Bears. But that team's offense, led by Jim McMahon and Walter Payton, was ranked second.

A more apt comparison might be the 2000 Ravens, whose top-ranked defense propped up an offense that often went nowhere. The Ravens defenders enjoyed their role.

"There was really no frustration on our part, as a defense," said Peter Boulware, the four-time Pro Bowl linebacker who played alongside Ray Lewis. "We were a team that wanted to do whatever it took to win the games. As a defensive player, we liked the game being on us."

The 2000 Ravens still own the record for fewest points (165) and fewest rushing yards (970) allowed in a 16-game season.

In five straight games that season, the Baltimore offense failed to score a single touchdown and the Ravens still won two of those games.

When the season was over, the Ravens defense ranked first in yards allowed while the offense ranked 14th in total gained.

At first, Boulware recalls, there were some identity issues for the Ravens. How could a team with Priest Holmes and Shannon Sharpe, and coached by offense-minded Brian Billick, rely so heavily on defense? Eventually, Billick and the rest stopped fighting it.

31 PHOTOS
Peyton Manning through the years
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While Peyton struggles, Denver 'D' keeps Broncos in the game
PHOENIX, AZ - JANUARY 30: Peyton Manning attends the SuperBowl Breakfast where he received the Bart Starr award at JW Marriott Desert Ridge Resort & Spa on January 30, 2015 in Phoenix, Arizona. (Photo by Jerritt Clark/Getty Images for Super Service Challenge)
Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning (18) prepares to take the field prior to an NFL divisional playoff football game against the Indianapolis Colts, Sunday, Jan. 11, 2015, in Denver. (AP Photo/Jack Dempsey)
FILE - In this Dec. 7, 2014, file photo, Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning passes against the Buffalo Bills during an NFL football game in Denver. A person with knowledge of the situation tells The Associated Press that Manning will return for a fourth season in Denver and 18th in the NFL. Manning will reduce his salary from $19 million to $15 million in 2015, according to the person who spoke on condition of anonymity because there was no official announcement. However, he can make up all of the $4 million pay cut by reaching certain performance benchmarks. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski, File)
Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning (18) celebrates his 509th career touchdown pass with teammates during the first half of an NFL football game against the San Francisco 49ers, Sunday, Oct. 19, 2014, in Denver. (AP Photo/Jack Dempsey)
Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning looks to the sidelines during the second half of an NFL football game against the San Diego Chargers Sunday, Dec. 14, 2014, in San Diego. (AP Photo/Lenny Ignelzi)
DENVER, CO - OCTOBER 19: A digital display commemorates the NFL record 509th career passing touchdown by quarterback Peyton Manning #18 of the Denver Broncos in the second quarter of a game between the Denver Broncos and the San Francisco 49ers at Sports Authority Field at Mile High on October 19, 2014 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
DENVER, CO - OCTOBER 19: Quarterback Peyton Manning #18 of the Denver Broncos throws as he warms up before a game against the San Francisco 49ers at Sports Authority Field at Mile High on October 19, 2014 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
OAKLAND, CA - NOVEMBER 09: Peyton Manning #18 of the Denver Broncos in action against the Oakland Raiders at O.co Coliseum on November 9, 2014 in Oakland, California. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
DENVER, CO - SEPTEMBER 07: Quarterback Peyton Manning #18 of the Denver Broncos runs the offense against the Indianapolis Colts at Sports Authority Field at Mile High on September 7, 2014 in Denver, Colorado. The Broncos defeated the Colts 31-24. (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
SANTA CLARA, CA - AUGUST 17: Quarterback Peyton Manning #18 of the Denver Broncos stands on the sidelines during their preseason game against the San Francisco 49ers at Levi's Stadium on August 17, 2014 in Santa Clara, California. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - JULY 16: NFL quarterback Peyton Manning accepts award at The 2014 ESPYS at Nokia Theatre L.A. Live on July 16, 2014 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Christopher Polk/Getty Images For ESPYS)
JERSEY CITY, NJ - JANUARY 26: Starting quarterback Peyton Manning of the Denver Broncos addresses the media on January 26, 2014 in Jersey City, New Jersey. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
DENVER, CO - JANUARY 19: Peyton Manning #18 of the Denver Broncos in action against the New England Patriots during the AFC Championship game at Sports Authority Field at Mile High on January 19, 2014 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
DENVER, CO - JANUARY 19: Peyton Manning #18 of the Denver Broncos in action against the New England Patriots during the AFC Championship game at Sports Authority Field at Mile High on January 19, 2014 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
DENVER, CO - JANUARY 19: Peyton Manning #18 of the Denver Broncos celebrates after they defeated the New England Patriots 26 to 16 during the AFC Championship game at Sports Authority Field at Mile High on January 19, 2014 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
KANSAS CITY, MO - DECEMBER 01: Quarterback Peyton Manning #18 of the Denver Broncos watches the scoreboard from the sidelines during the game against the Kansas City Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium on December 1, 2013 in Kansas City, Missouri. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - SEPTEMBER 15: Peyton Manning #18 of the Denver Broncos calls a play during the first half against the New York Giants at MetLife Stadium on September 15, 2013 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
DENVER, CO - OCTOBER 28: Quarterback Drew Brees #9 of the New Orleans Saints congratulates Quarterback Peyton Manning #18 of the Denver Broncos after the Broncos defeated the Saints 34-14 at Sports Authority Field Field at Mile High on October 28, 2012 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Justin Edmonds/Getty Images)
ENGLEWOOD, CO - MAY 21: Quarterback Peyton Manning #18 of the Denver Broncos waits to talk to the local and national media following organized team activities at Dove Valley on May 21, 2012 in Englewood, Colorado. (Photo by Justin Edmonds/Getty Images)
ENGLEWOOD, CO - MARCH 20: Quarterback Peyton Manning (C) poses with majority owner, president, and CEO Pat Bowlen (L) and executive vice president of football operations John Elway (R) during a news conference announcing Manning's contract with the Denver Broncos in the team meeting room at the Paul D. Bowlen Memorial Broncos Centre on March 20, 2012 in Englewood, Colorado. Manning, entering his 15th NFL season, was released by the Indianapolis Colts on March 7, 2012, where he had played his whole career. It has been reported that Manning will sign a five-year, $96 million offer. (Photo by Justin Edmonds/Getty Images)
ORCHARD PARK, NY - JANUARY 3: Quarterback Peyton Manning #18 of the Indianapolis Colts looks on from the side line during their NFL game against the Buffalo Bills at Ralph Wilson Stadium on January 3, 2010 in Orchard Park, New York. The Bills defeated the Colts 30-7. (Photo by Rick Stewart/Getty Images)
INDIANAPOLIS - NOVEMBER 01: Quarterback Peyton Manning #18 of the Indianapolis Colts throws a pass during the NFL game against the San Francisco 49ers at Lucas Oil Stadium on November 1, 2009 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
INDIANAPOLIS - DECEMBER 14: Quarterback Peyton Manning #18 of the Indianapolis Colts waits to be introduced before playing the Detroit Lions on December 14, 2008 at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
MIAMI GARDENS, FL - FEBRUARY 04: Quarterback Peyton Manning #18 of the Indianapolis Colts calls a play to his team in the second quarter of Super Bowl XLI against the Chicago Bears defense on February 4, 2007 at Dolphin Stadium in Miami Gardens, Florida. (Photo by Donald Miralle/Getty Images)
Peyton Manning of the Indianapolis Colts speaks during Media Day prior to Super Bowl XLI at Dolphins Stadium in Miami, Florida on January 30, 2007. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning warms up before play against the Cincinnati Bengals Dec. 18, 2006 in the RCA Dome in Indianapolis. The Colts won 34 - 16. (Photo by Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images)
Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning and Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick at a 2005 American Bowl press conference at the Tokyo Dome Hotel in Japan, Thursday August 4, 2005. (Photo by A. Messerschmidt/Getty Images)
MIAMI, : Miami Dolphins' defensive end Kenny Mixon (R) can't catch up to Indianapolis Colts' quarterback Peyton Manning (L) as he scrambles into the end zone for a touchdown during second quarter action 17 December 2000 at Pro Player Stadium in Miami, Florida. AFP PHOTO/RHONA WISE (Photo credit should read RHONA WISE/AFP/Getty Images)
18 Apr 1998: First overall pick Peyton Manning shows off his jersey after being selected by the Indianapolis Colts in the first round of the 1998 NFL Draft at Madison Square Garden in Manhattan, New York. Mandatory Credit: Ezra C. Shaw /Allsport
INDIANAPOLIS, IN - AUGUST 16: Indianapolis Colts rookie quarterback Peyton Manning looks for a received during a pre-season game with the San Diego Chargers 22 August at the RCA Dome in Indianapolis, IN. (Photo credit should read JOHN RUTHROFF/AFP/Getty Images)
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"Once Brian squared it away with the team, and said, 'You know what, we have a great defense, the objective is to win,' everyone got on board," Boulware said. "We went heavy run, very conservative pass, punt the ball and play field position. We did not try to reinvent that."

The Broncos head into their bye week at 6-0 but with lots of issues on offense.

Clearly not comfortable in coach Gary Kubiak's new system, Manning is struggling. He has seven touchdown passes and 10 interceptions, three of which have been returned for scores. The running game is worse. Kubiak wanted to take pressure off his 39-year-old quarterback with a better ground game, but the Broncos are ranked 30th in rushing at only 85 yards per game.

Overall, the offense is ranked 29th, while the defense leads the league in sacks and is in the top five in yards allowed, interceptions and fumble recoveries. The Broncos joined the 2013 Chiefs as only the second team this century to record 17 takeaways and 26 sacks over the first six games.

In all six games, the defense has made a sack or forced a turnover in the half of the fourth quarter or overtime to either save the game or win it. Denver's defense has scored a touchdown in four of six games.

"We're able to produce. That gives our team the best chance to win," safety David Bruton said. "If we don't produce those numbers, don't play how we've been playing, who knows - we could easily be 0-6. We're 6-0 and have a long season to go and a lot more work to do."

The question is how much Kubiak wants to mess with that formula. Denver's schedule is daunting. Green Bay is next, and there are also games against New England, Cincinnati and Pittsburgh.

"I would never do anything that I don't think is best for the quarterback," Kubiak said. "That's my plan every day I go to work."

If his defense keeps playing like this, he may want to take a page out of the 2000 Ravens playbook.

"We felt like it was OK for us to score 17 points to win a ballgame," Boulware said. "It was OK for us not to put up thousands of yards. Once that got resolved in our minds, we really felt unstoppable."

RANKING EVERY NFL STADIUM:

32 PHOTOS
NFL Stadiums
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While Peyton struggles, Denver 'D' keeps Broncos in the game

31. Qualcomm Stadium, San Diego Chargers

(David Drapkin/AP images for USAA)

30. O.co Coliseum, Oakland Raiders

(AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

29. Sun Life Stadium, Miami Dolphins

(AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)

28. Ralph Wilson Stadium, Buffalo Bills

(AP Photo/Bill Wippert)

27. Bank of America Stadium, Carolina Panthers

(AP Photo/Bob Leverone)

26. FedExField, Washington Redskins

 (AP Photo/Mark Tenally)

25. LA Coliseum, St. Louis Rams

(AP Photo/Nick Ut)

24. FirstEnergy Stadium, Cleveland Browns

(AP Photo/Mark Duncan)

23. Mercedes-Benz Superdome, New Orleans Saints

(Kevin Terrell/AP Images for USAA)

22. Ford Field, Detroit Lions

 (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

21. Lincoln Financial Field, Philadelphia Eagles

(AP Photo/Chris Szagola)

20. Raymond James Stadium, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

(AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack)

19. Nissan Stadium, Tennessee Titans

(AP Photo/Mark Zaleski)

18. Georgia Dome, Atlanta Falcons

(AP Photo/Brynn Anderson )

17. Paul Brown Stadium, Cincinnati Bengals

 (AP Photo/Tom Uhlman)

16. EverBank Field, Jacksonville Jaguars

(AP Photo/Stephen Morton)

15. MetLife Stadium, New York Giants/New York Jets

(AP Photo/Matt York, File)

14. Sports Authority Field at Mile High, Denver Broncos

(AP Photo/David Zalubowski, File)

13. University of Phoenix Stadium, Arizona Cardinals

(AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

12. NRG Stadium, Houston Texans

(AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

11. Arrowhead Stadium, Kansas City Chiefs

(AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

10. Gillette Stadium, New England Patriots

(AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

9. M&T Bank Stadium, Baltimore Ravens

(AP Photo/Gail Burton)

8. Soldier Field, Chicago Bears

(AP Photo/Kiichiro Sato)

7. Heinz Field, Pittsburgh Steelers

(AP Photo/Keith Srakocic, File)

6. Lucas Oil Stadium, Indianapolis Colts

 (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

5. Levi's Stadium, San Francisco 49ers

(AP Photo/Tony Avelar, File)

4. U.S. Bank Stadium, Minnesota Vikings

(AP) 

3. AT&T Stadium, Dallas Cowboys

(AP Photo/Roger Steinman)

2. CenturyLink Field, Seattle Seahawks

(AP Photo/Scott Eklund)

1. Lambeau Field, Green Bay Packers

(Mike McGinnis/AP Images for Panini)

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