Commanders DTs Daron Payne, Jonathan Allen have Broncos’ attention

To find the key matchup Sunday between the Broncos offense and the Commanders defense, look no further than the football.


Whenever the ball gets spotted, Washington defensive linemen Jonathan Allen and Daron Payne won’t be far away.

The strength of the Commanders’ defense is right in the middle of the field.

In their season-opening win against Arizona, the pair logged two tackles for loss apiece, three quarterback hits and a sack for Allen.

Not a bad opening salvo after Payne inked a four-year extension over the offseason worth up to $90 million. Allen got four years and up to $72 million two years ago.

Their play matches their status as two of the top 10 paid interior defensive linemen in the NFL.

“They create a lot of minus plays,” Broncos coach Sean Payton said. “Just looking at the (video) cut-ups, you’ll see second-and-12s. I’m not even talking about rushing the passer. Just within the framework of the run game, they’re really active, and they’re athletic. … The defense kind of feeds off that. They’re a handful. You have to look closely at what you want to do in the running game, and then, certainly in the protections, as well.”

It starts with the Broncos’ interior offensive line in left guard Ben Powers, center Lloyd Cushenberry and right guard Quinn Meinerz.

“They’re great power rushers,” Powers told The Denver Post. “They’re powerful, but they still have some slippery to them. So you know you need to be careful in both areas. You can’t go all out and put your head into your block because he’s going to swim you, you know?

“So you’ve got to be fundamental.”

Allen will play mostly to Powers’ side of the Broncos offensive line, while Payne will typically be shaded toward Cushenberry and Meinerz.

The challenge doesn’t stop there.

Washington defensive end Montez Sweat had 1.5 sacks, two TFLs and forced two fumbles against Arizona. Defensive end Chase Young didn’t play because of a neck injury. He was a limited participant in Washington’s Wednesday practice this week.

The defensive ends no doubt benefit from the attention Allen and Payne command inside, and vice versa.

“Everybody has to be on the same page, especially as a tight end,” Broncos tight end Chris Manhertz said. “You think more so of the combination blocks that you have between you and the tackle. Most of it is communication, making sure we’re on the same page, so that’s the biggest thing.”

Payne and Allen, in particular, have been playing together for a long time. Allen was the No. 19 overall pick in 2017 and then Payne the No. 13 pick the next year. Since then, they’ve played six seasons next to each other, each appearing in at least 15 games each season since 2018.

Over the past two years, though, their production has exploded.

According to Pro Football Reference, Allen racked up 30 quarterback hits in 2021 and made the Pro Bowl.

They both made the Prow Bowl last year as Payne collected 11.5 sacks, 18 TFLs and 20 quarterback hits. Allen had 7.5, 16 and 17, respectively.

Over the past two seasons before last week’s opener: 32.5 sacks, 50 TFLs and 82 hits on opposing quarterbacks.

Elite production that will be camped out between the tackles Sunday at Empower Field.

“It’s hard to deal with elite players,” Payton said when asked if interior disruptors are particularly difficult to plan for. “If there’s an elite corner, you can say, ‘We’re going to throw over here.’ When you deal with elite ends, you might be able to nudge one of them. To your question, when it’s inside, which way is the center turning? If I’m the guards, I’d like the center to come to me.

“There are some different challenges in protection that maybe are a little different than with a (defensive) end.”

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