ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP) Cheers are the last thing T.J. Ward wants to hear when he returns to Cleveland.
''I'm definitely expecting boos. What are they going to do, cheer for us when we make big plays?'' Denver's star strong safety said.
Big plays have defined Denver's season.
Despite a sputtering hybrid offense that's more fuel efficient than high octane as it's been in years past, the Broncos (5-0) are unbeaten behind the league's top defense thanks to 22 sacks and 14 takeaways as they head into Sunday's game against the Browns (2-3).
The tone-setter is Ward, who played his first four NFL seasons in Cleveland, where he earned Pro Bowl status in 2013, making 129 tackles after two injury-marred seasons.
With all the change going on in Cleveland after that season, Ward found a change of scenery in Colorado, where general manager John Elway wanted to add toughness to his secondary. Ward signed a front-loaded, four-year, $22.5 million deal and earned another Pro Bowl berth last year while playing in Jack Del Rio's conservative 4-3 defense.
He's blossomed in Wade Phillips' aggressive 3-4 scheme this season. Despite missing a game because of suspension, he's third on the team with 26 tackles and also has two sacks and two forced fumbles.
His last-minute sack-strip of Teddy Bridgewater sealed Denver's win over Minnesota two weeks ago and earned him AFC player of the week honors. He followed with a seven-tackle performance in helping the Broncos escape his hometown of Oakland with another defensive-driven win Sunday.
''Yeah, it's definitely some of the best football I've played,'' said Ward, who also plays linebacker in some specialty looks. ''But it all goes back to what we're doing as a whole. It allows me to make more plays, allows everybody else to make more plays. I think you're seeing a lot of guys making plays because we can expect what's coming, we know what's coming. We're very smart on the back end, the defense as a whole, really.''
Now he's preparing for another homecoming.
''It's definitely going to be some feelings there for sure, being on the other side and being familiar with the team, the city the players,'' Ward said. ''I don't really know what to expect, but I hope it's a little bit of open arms, but I know I'm going to get some boos when I start making plays.''
Ward said he wanted to stay in Cleveland back in 2014 but didn't get the sense the feeling was mutual. Given his history with the Browns, he said he's sure going to play with a chip on his shoulder Sunday.
''I'm trying to make this my next big game,'' he said.
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