Throughout much of the past week, the Denver defense has faced accusations of being dirty. The man who runs the unit takes exception to that claim, #asexpected.
“I think it’s ridiculous,” Wade Phillips told reporters on Thursday. “We’ve never taught that. It’s never happened before. We actually — if there’s penalties that should’ve been called in the game, we get on our players even if they weren’t called. We get on our players because we don’t want penalties. Nobody wants penalties. Penalties can cost you games, so whether it’s a holding penalty or illegal chuck or any of those things, you’ve got to play the game penalty-free if you can, because it gives you a better chance to win. There’s no way that you would want those things to happen. And it almost cost us in the game because there was an intentional grounding play that would’ve put them [out of range] — the game would’ve been over again. We had one on a fourth-and-21. We had another where they had an intentional grounding. In both those situations, the game would’ve been over, so we teach against those things, certainly.”
But they’re also teaching aggressive play. And while no one has claimed that the Broncos were twisting ankles, gouging eyes, and/or burying their fists into the bowl for a handful of mixed nuts, playing with reckless or conscious disregard to the rules that protect quarterbacks against illegal hits eventually becomes dirty, if it’s happening over and over again under circumstances that suggest it was part of the game plan.
Consider these comments of safety T.J. Ward from after Denver’s win over Carolina and Cam Newton: “We wanted to make sure it got to him, so every time he ran, we wanted to put a helmet or shoulder pad on him, and if he’s not going to slide, then we’re really going to put something on you. We’ve seen him limping throughout the game. That running stuff, you can’t do that all game with your quarterback.”
While Ward wisely steered clear of suggesting it was open season on Cam when he was acting as a passer, it’s clear that the goal was to apply what Bountygate godfather Gregg Williams has called “remember me” hits when Cam ran. The defense’s collective actions suggest they hoped to do the same thing when they had a clean shot at him when he was passing.