Broncos' Defense: Super Bowl Achilles Heel?
The Denver Broncos topped 50+ points again, marking the 3rd time they've eclipsed that mark this year. The Tennessee Titans' defense was no match for Peyton Manning and the Broncos' high flying offense.
The Titans did their best to resist the 50 burger, but against Manning, resistance is futile.
There is no question that the Broncos' offense is an historically prolific unit. With 45 TDs on the season and 3 games left to play, Manning will likely break the single season passing TD record, currently held by Tom Brady, at 50.
It seems as if each week the Broncos' offense sets a new franchise, or NFL record. On Sunday, Wes Welker caught his 10th TD of the year, which helped set a new NFL record. The Denver Broncos are the first team in NFL history to have 4 different players with at least 10 TDs. Demaryius Thomas (11), Wes Welker (10), Knowshon Moreno (10 rushing, 2 receiving) and Julius Thomas (11). That record could conceivably be extended to 5 players, if Eric Decker can notch 2 more TDs in the last 3 games.
This is a Super Bowl caliber offense. But what about the defense? We've all heard the old adage that "defense wins championships" and although that sentiment might be a bit outdated, because now "quarterbacks win championships", playing effective defense is still paramount in going deep into the playoffs and winning a Super Bowl title.
It seemed as if the 2012 Denver Broncos were destined to win the Super Bowl. After all, they not only had the #1 seed in the AFC, but also the 4th best total offensive unit and 2nd best defensive unit. That's two units ranked in the NFL's top 5. But alas, it wasn't meant to be, because the Broncos' defense allowed Joe Flacco to gash them in a series of extremely unlikely plays. But I digress.
2012 is ancient history and the Broncos claim they have learned the harsh lessons that losing to the Ravens in the playoffs has taught them.
And yet, the defense of the 2013 Denver Broncos can't seem to find that dominant form they had last year.
Let's look at yesterday's match up with the Titans. On the season, the Titan's average 22.5 points per game. Yesterday, the Broncos allowed 28.
Now, one can argue that the Broncos only gave up 21 points, because their Special Teams unit gave up a kick return that went for 95 yards, giving the Titans the ball on the Denver 3 yard line. Chris Johnson ran it in for a TD on the very next play, but that's two weeks in a row the Special Teams unit has given up a long return. More cause for concern.
Regardless, the Titans put 28 points on the board in Denver, without the Broncos' offense giving up any turnovers. And all of this at the hands of a back up QB and a team ranked 21st in the league offensively.
Broncos' head coach, John Fox, and defensive coordinator, Jack Del Rio, both went on the record last week essentially saying (and I'm paraphrasing) that they recognize that the defense has been underwhelming and that they're working to fix it.
Many Broncos fans were hoping to see signs of the defense turning the corner towards a playoff-caliber performance vs the Titans. But it didn't happen.
And in the playoffs, the Broncos won't be going against backups and low ranked offenses. They'll be going against guys named Luck, or Dalton, or Brady, or Smith, or even Flacco.
Injuries have certainly played a role in the Broncos' defensive woes thus far. They currently are playing without 4 starters. Free safety, Rahim Moore, cornerback, Champ Bailey, defensive tackle, Kevin Vickerson, and defensive end, Derek Wolfe. And the absence of those players has certainly impacted the unit.
But every NFL team this late in the season is fighting the injury bug. No one will shed tears for the Broncos' plight. Championship teams find a way to overcome it.
It must also be noted that the Broncos' offense has given the ball away a whopping 25 times this year. That obviously can put the defense in a bind and skew the numbers.
The irony is that the Broncos have benefited from several very good individual defensive performances. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Shaun Phillips, Danny Trevathan, Wesley Woodyard, Chris Harris and even Von Miller have been tremendously effective throughout the season, although Miller missed 6 games due to suspension. Many note-worthy performances and yet they can't seem to produce and gel as a unit. It's a head scratcher.
Anyone watching can see that the Broncos' defense has been streaky and inconsistent. In the 1st half vs the Patriots, they were a dominant force, forcing 3 fumbles and scoring a defensive TD. But in the 2nd half, they relinquished a 24 point lead and ultimately lost the game.
It's Jeckyl and Hyde snafus of this nature that concern many in Broncos' Country. They'd like to see the defense dominate for a full 60 minutes.
A 4 time league MVP, like Peyton Manning, can cover a lot of holes in a team, but he can only do so much.
At 11-2, the Denver Broncos are the best team in the AFC, but they still have a long way to go in cementing their status as a true Super Bowl contender. There is still a lot of room for improvement. And that's a scary thought for the rest of the NFL. Firing on all cylinders, in all 3 phases of football, this team would be unbeatable.
But firing on just 1 cylinder will only get them so far. Broncos fans can console themselves with the fact that there are still 3 weeks left in the season and plenty of time to gel and improve. Here's to hoping the defense can turn the ship around. Because Peyton won't be in Denver forever.
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