Trindon Holliday may be Denver's brightest special-teams star, but he's far from their only one. Let's check in on how the rest of the Broncos' third unit is faring:
Denver's coverage units have rebounded from a brutal preseason - during which they allowed 15.3 return yards per punt and 42.6 per kickoff - and cut those numbers to 11.8 yards and 24.2 yards, respectively.
They've achieved this by doing an excellent job of staying in their lanes in coverage.
Placekicker Matt Prater has 42 kickoffs with 29 touchbacks and an average opposing starting field position of the 20-yard line. He's also been perfect on 29 extra point tries and nine field goal attempts. He's struggled during his career from 40-49 yards, but this year, he's a perfect 5-of-5 from those distances.
Britton Colquitt is punting at an average of 43.9 gross yards with one touchback, a 39.4 yard net, and a maximum hang time of 5.30 seconds. He’s punted 15 times so far and only four of them have been returned, adding him to the multitude of weapons that Denver is wielding right now. Nine of his punts have left the opponents inside the 20.
On special teams tackling, PFF has Steven Johnson down for four tackles and an assist, Jacob Tamme has three tackles, and Nate Irving and Kayvon Webster have two each. Tamme had been struggling, but he broke out against the Cowboys with all three of his ST tackles.
The work from the rest of the ST squad has been exceptional. There have been only two missed tackles among 17 returns over five games - one in Week 1, by Virgil Green, who has generally played very well, and the other by David Bruton against Dallas.
Bruton deserves particular credit for his work this season: he’s been voted the ST captain, has accumulated a +4.0 rating covering punts (including a blocked punt and 3 ST stops against the Ravens opening week), a +1.5 rating covering kickoffs, along with a quarterback hit, two hurries, two tackles, and an assist on defense.
You generally don’t hear a lot about special teams, especially when the coaches, quarterback, and offense are as special as Denver’s. But this year is exceptional in many ways, and even the STs are getting some love. Trindon Holliday has brought enough excitement to his aspect of the game that people are also seeing and appreciating what a huge aspect of Denver’s performance the ST players under coach Jeff Rodgers have been.
On Monday, head coach John Fox noted the interaction of offense, defense and special teams:
"You know, all three things feed off each other, and all those areas are places where you can prevent scoring and score," Fox said. "We're working hard in all three of those phases."
Longsnapper Aaron Brewer hasn’t had a miscue this season. The solid performances of Prater and Colquitt have been the icing on Denver’s stallion-shaped cake. Right now, it’s emblazoned with a 5-0 record (and comes with an IV bag for Thunder).
One of the marvels of this season is the lack of weaknesses for Denver.
With Wesley Woodyard, Danny Trevathan, Champ Bailey, Chris Harris, Robert Ayers, and Duke Ihenacho either out or playing hurt in Dallas, the special teams - which are so often ignored - have proven to be one more area where it’s true that the ‘next man up’ frequently plays as well or better than his predecessor.
That’s been the real difference between the common usage of the phrase and its reality: everyone puts their next guy up. Some of them are playing impressively - some are not. Nate Irving, Malik Jackson, Chris Clark, Duke Ihenacho, Robert Ayers, Shaun Phillips, Manny Ramirez, and Julius Thomas are some of those who are.
Denver has a lot of them.