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Broncos' Defense: Super Bowl Achilles Heel?



On Sunday, Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos defeated the Tennessee Titans 51-28, as they moved to 11-2 and clinched a berth in the playoffs. But the Broncos' defense is giving up 26.5 points per game.

Image Credit: DenverBroncos.com
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 We've all heard the old adage that "defense wins championships" and although that sentiment might be a bit outdated, because now "quarterbacks win championships", playing effective defense is still paramount in going deep into the playoffs and winning a Super Bowl title.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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Follow Chad Jensen @CJ_BroncosPFS for continuing coverage of the Denver Broncos.




13 Comments

I hope the defense can improve all the good QB's will be waiting and if our offense goes against a real good defense and cant score a boatload of points we will lose. Peyton may be the MVP this year but he has had to be great in every game because the defense stinks they dont play as a unit only once in a while a person will make a great play.  If Broncos are to win in the super bowl must play as a complete team both sides of the ball. Does not seem likely sad with a powerful offense.

    • Chad Jensen, Lucas Polglaze and karen like this
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John Wenker
Dec 09 2013 09:24 PM

Defense wins championships for teams with mediocre offenses. The Broncos offense, well-documented above, is not mediocre. The Broncos Super Bowl hopes begin and end with Peyton Manning.

 

Come playoff time, if the Broncos defense can find a way to create turnovers or put pressure on the opposing quarterback, they will be doing their job. They most likely won't shut teams out, so giving Peyton extra chances to put up points will be very important.

    • Chad Jensen likes this
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Chad Jensen
Dec 09 2013 09:47 PM

Defense wins championships for teams with mediocre offenses. The Broncos offense, well-documented above, is not mediocre. The Broncos Super Bowl hopes begin and end with Peyton Manning.

 

Come playoff time, if the Broncos defense can find a way to create turnovers or put pressure on the opposing quarterback, they will be doing their job. They most likely won't shut teams out, so giving Peyton extra chances to put up points will be very important.

The Broncos' defensive talent is not mediocre, but they're play as a unit has been. And it pains me to say it. We allowed 48 points to the Cowboys, for example. 

 

The offense has put them in a lot of bad situations with giveaways, but still, mediocre offenses are able to drive and get points. 

 

I don't believe the weakness lies in the front 7. It's the secondary, and mainly the safety play that seems to bite us in the arse. Ihenacho gets burned in pass coverage on the reg. Moore is gone. 2nd year, converted CB, Omar Bolden, was exploited yesterday and Jammer just looked slow. 

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Chad Jensen
Dec 09 2013 09:59 PM

I hope the defense can improve all the good QB's will be waiting and if our offense goes against a real good defense and cant score a boatload of points we will lose. Peyton may be the MVP this year but he has had to be great in every game because the defense stinks they dont play as a unit only once in a while a person will make a great play.  If Broncos are to win in the super bowl must play as a complete team both sides of the ball. Does not seem likely sad with a powerful offense.

Agreed, Karen. I understand the sentiment, "but  Peyton is the trump card". Tell that to the 2012 Broncos who gave up all those crazy plays to the Ravens. Peyton won't be enough. 

 

Peyton will get you 80% of the way to the promised land. But the defense must make up that remaining 20%. 

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John Wenker
Dec 09 2013 10:06 PM

I don't think looking at the Cowboy game is a great measure for the Broncos defense. They didn't have Von Miller, and that game featured 2 of the best performances by quarterbacks of all-time.

 

In the playoffs, the pass rush will be key. The Broncos secondary is not good, so allowing quarterbacks to pick them apart will not end well for them.

    • Lucas Polglaze likes this
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Chad Jensen
Dec 09 2013 10:30 PM

I don't think looking at the Cowboy game is a great measure for the Broncos defense. They didn't have Von Miller, and that game featured 2 of the best performances by quarterbacks of all-time.

 

In the playoffs, the pass rush will be key. The Broncos secondary is not good, so allowing quarterbacks to pick them apart will not end well for them.

I've advocated the same. They were sans Miller, Bailey and Woodyard (for most of the game). But there's no getting around 26.5 points per game. 

 

The defense is susceptible to the big play and the secondary just doesn't play well as a unit. It scares me as a fan. 

 

The playoffs cometh. And the defense must be ready to ball out. 

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Seth Keysor
Dec 10 2013 01:33 AM
Nice article. The Broncos offense is SO good that they might be able to make it all the way even if the defense never puts it all together.

That said, it's very true that one dimensional teams rarely win it all.

The broncos D has talent. It's a bit odd they're having some issues. But all they need to be is average and they'll be almost impossible to beat.
    • Chad Jensen and Lucas Polglaze like this
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Lucas Polglaze
Dec 10 2013 04:13 AM

Peyton Manning and this offense are an auto-get out of jail free card. You surrender a score, he'll get it back.

 

I heard an interview with Jack Del Rio, Broncos DC. He was asked why the defense had struggled so much.

He put it down them not "playing a complete game" yet. This defense needs to execute. Here we are going into Week 15, and they still haven't put a complete game together. This defense is among the most talented.

 

But it is now when their back is against the wall and the game is on the line that they need to step up. Sure, if they can't compete, people will make excuses.

But their time is now. This is when championship teams are forged. They need to step up and seize the day.

    • Chad Jensen likes this

I think Denver would struggle against Seattle, but that may be the only team (at the moment).

    • Chad Jensen and Lucas Polglaze like this
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Chad Jensen
Dec 10 2013 04:37 AM

Peyton Manning and this offense are an auto-get out of jail free card. You surrender a score, he'll get it back.

I heard an interview with Jack Del Rio, Broncos DC. He was asked why the defense had struggled so much.
He put it down them not "playing a complete game" yet. This defense needs to execute. Here we are going into Week 15, and they still haven't put a complete game together. This defense is among the most talented.

But it is now when their back is against the wall and the game is on the line that they need to step up. Sure, if they can't compete, people will make excuses.
But their time is now. This is when championship teams are forged. They need to step up and seize the day.


Couldn't agree more
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Chad Jensen
Dec 10 2013 05:22 PM

It was bizarre on Sunday vs the Titans how players like Woodyard, DRC, Bailey, and Ihenacho only played sparingly. 

 

Fox told the media that it was a chance to give "other guys who've earned the opportunity" a chance to play. Which is odd, because the Broncos haven't clinched the division or the #1 seed yet. 

 

Vic Lombardi thinks Woodyard was benched. But how could that be? He's been playing very well when healthy. He's been battling small, nagging injuries. That makes more sense to me. Each one of the above mentioned players have been dealing with injuries. That seems more plausible. Rest guys who are particularly banged up, for the playoffs. 

 

But if that's true, why was Woodyard playing on Special Teams running down kicks? 

 

Questions.....

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Seth Keysor
Dec 10 2013 09:20 PM

The Woodyard storyline is weird.  Dude can play.  Like you said, if it's about rest, why is he on ST?  That'd be a really stupid place for him to get hurt.

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Chad Jensen
Dec 11 2013 02:44 AM

The Woodyard storyline is weird. Dude can play. Like you said, if it's about rest, why is he on ST? That'd be a really stupid place for him to get hurt.


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