Let’s just point out the pink elephant in the room before we get started. TIM TEBOW. There, I said it. Tim Tebow is the starting quarterback for the Denver Broncos. I said it again. Tim Tebow is not your average NFL quarterback. Hell, Tim Tebow may not even be an average NFL quarterback. In the four games Tim Tebow’s started this season, the Broncos are 3-1. That much is undeniable.

Can I stop saying Tim Tebow now? I think I reached the national media’s requirement of times saying the ever-polarizing Tim Tebow. Whoops, I did it again. My apologies. But in all seriousness, that’s the perception of this Broncos team. It’s the only thing people want to know about. But this team is far more than just their third-string quarterback turned savior. And while Tim Tebow is carrying the burden of national spotlight on his back, it is the defense that is making their success possible.

Mark Sanchez is going to need a lot more than the thin Mile-High air if he expects to soar over the Broncos defense. (JetsInsider.com Photo).

“As well as Tebow’s doing, and playing and running, all that, he’s doing a great job, but that’s the last thing on my mind,” Mark Sanchez said to the surprise of all on Tuesday. “Their defense is tough and they have a lot of veteran leadership. They disguise a lot of looks. They’re fast. They’re always in the right spot it seems like. they apply pressure quickly. They don’t mess around.”

Ranked at a modest 18th in total defense, the Broncos have held their opponents to an average of 18 points per game in their three wins over the last four weeks. Forget Tebow. Get yourself reacquainted with savvy veterans the likes of Champ Bailey and Brian Dawkins and do some research on Elvis Dumervil, D.J. Williams and Von Miller. Their fast, ferocious and versatile. Williams and Miller have combined for 77 tackles, 11 sacks and three passes defended —  proving they can hang in coverage just as well as they can get after the ball carrier. Meanwhile it appears Bailey and Dawkins have drank from the fountain of youth; combining for 55 tackles, 10 passes defended and two interceptions.

Speed and pressure are this team’s strengths. The luxury of Bailey is that of a Darrelle Revis, where his man coverage skills are so superior it allows the defense to focus on one less player. Add in the speed of edge rushers Dumervil and Miller and the Broncos may not need anything more than a four-man rush. The Patriots were able to bull-rush the Jets offensive line and get their paws on Sanchez.

Now, of course, there aren’t many — if any —  similarities between New England and Denver. If the Broncos win this game, it won’t be a blow out, taking away the opportunity for the defense to pin their ears back and just go after the quarterback. But the pressure Sanchez felt last week is what he’s preparing for on Thursday.

“It’s [Miller], it’s Dumervil off the edge. It’s Dawkins sometimes blitzing, sometimes he’s doubling somebody. So we’re gong to have our hands full whether it’s [one of them] or D.J. Williams, they’re all really fast. When they come to pressure the quarterback they’re in there quick, so you’ve got to be ready to get the ball out of you hand,” Sanchez said.

That was a problem for Sanchez on Sunday night. When his first read wasn’t available it appeared that’s when the play broke down — that anxious feeling of pressure coming without notice, the window of opportunity closing faster than the defender to his target. The result? Two interceptions on check-downs that resulted in 14 points. On the tipped interception by Rob Ninkovich, Sanchez admitted to throwing the ball “way too hard” to Shonn Greene, who was only a few yards away. That ball wouldn’t have come out so hard if it wasn’t for the pressure.

In their last three wins, the Broncos have 10 sacks and 23 QB hits. On Sunday night, Sanchez was sacked five times and hit nine times in total. Prone to mistakes and mental lapses —  like the costly timeout before halftime that lefts more than enough time for Brady to score, Sanchez must leave the happy feet to the penguins and Tebow on Thursday.

(Writer’s Note: Tim Tebow counter: 9 Tim Tebow’s + 1.5 Tebow’s = 10.5 Total Tebow’s mentioned.)

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