Hello Broncos Fans!
I absolute love In Thin Air. With the unfortunate demise of IAOFM, a gigantic void was left for many fans. Fortunately, and I can only speak for myself, In Thin Air has saved me from the Mile High Reports of the world. Since this is my first article on this site, I’ll start with a brief bio. I’m currently living in Philadelphia, and although I am quite a bit younger than your average contributor, I’ve bled orange and blue since I was old enough to turn on ESPN. My father, who is one of the few bigger fans than myself, transferred his VHS tapes of every Broncos game from 1982 to 2000 to DVD, so I could watch them in my room at night. So, while I admittedly do know more about the more modern teams, I can still hold my own on 80’s and 90’s Broncos knowledge. Anyways, enough about me.
Everything that I’ve read online about the 2015 Broncos has been largely pessimistic. For instance, Bleacher Report ranked John Elway’s off-season a paltry 23rd in the league here. They also predicted that we will go 10-6 and finish second in our division. Much of the reasoning makes sense. Manning looked off (to put it lightly) towards the end of last season. Our O-Line may return only one starter from last season, pending the RT position battle. We lost one of the best scoring tight ends in the league, as well as a great defensive tackle. I look at our new group however, and I see plenty of reasons for excitement.
Defense Wins Championships. This is a tried and true saying.
It’s that time of this article where I make a bold prediction. The Denver Broncos will have the top defense in the NFL in 2015. I realize that seems bold. Bleacher Report ranked our defense 10th in the league, despite finishing 3rd in total defense last year. I honestly believe that we have the coaching and the talent to achieve that lofty expectation.
Wade Phillips is easily one of the best defensive coordinators in the league. Let’s examine his track record for a second. Over his 23 year coordinator career, Wade has had the 13th rated total defense on average. While that is not tops of the league, to maintain that excellence is something special for that period of time. He has plenty of experience coaching top defenses, and hasn’t always had the talent to back it up. For instance, 1991 he coached the 5th ranked Broncos defense. While this unit had some talent, it also featured journeymen starters such as Warren Powers, Ron Holmes, Michael Brooks, and Wymon Henderson. Mike Croel was also a rookie starter on this unit. Phillips is one of the best at squeezing production from average players.
The Broncos defensive talent is in no way average, and the talents of the unit fit in perfectly with Phillips’s scheme.
Let’s start with the defensive line. Phillips runs a 3-4, meaning he uses 3 down lineman. Denver has a plethora of depth at this position. Tackle is a slight weakness, but with Phillips’s tendency to have smaller than average Nose Tackles (as Doc eloquently explained at IAOFM), I see either Sylvester Williams or Marvin Austin as capable of filling that role. The staff seems to have faith in Williams’s potential as a former 1st rounder. John Elway told Broncos TV:
“I think when we look at Sly, and obviously we’re thrilled by his continued work and his progression, but this is a big year for him,” Elway told Broncos TV at the NFL owners meetings on Monday. “He’s going to be in his third year now and being a first-round draft pick, we’ve got high expectations of him and what we’re going to do to best give him a chance to show what he can do with a new coaching staff.”
While this could be chalked up to ‘coach speak’, it is still nice to see a vote of confidence for the under performer. At end, we will have a great rotation of Derek Wolfe, Vance Walker, Malik Jackson, and possibly Antonio Smith (pending legal issues). Wolfe is not someone I’m high on as a starter, but he’s a great rotation guy if Walker takes his spot. If Smith’s innocent, he’s a great pass rusher.
On our D-Line, the player I’m excited about is Malik Jackson. My biggest criticism of him to this point hasn’t even been his fault. In the 4-3 the Broncos have run, Jackson was a man without a position. He ended up still contributing, but not playing to the superstar potential he possesses, largely because of his low snap count. He has prototypical size for a 3-4 end (6’7, 290), and is an athletic freak. Last year I saw his ability and his technique finally start to coalesce. Watch this clip at the 3:05 mark. This is one of those unselfish, non statistical plays that 3-4 ends have to make. Here he does not get a sack but he uses his size and explosiveness to get off of the right tackles block and bat the pass down. He is also a star against the run, as you can see here. On this play, the team runs a 3 down lineman sub package. Jackson is able to shed a block and bring down the ball carrier quickly. When you combine all of this with his abilities to get after the QB, as well as an increased snap count, it is not a stretch to say that Jackson could become a top 100 player in the league very soon.
The linebacking group is also a point of strength. At ILB, the Broncos have Brandon Marshall and Danny Trevathan, two of the best coverage LB’s in the game today. Both have had injury concerns however, so it’s important that our depth is on point. Lamin Barrow is a young player who essentially redshirted last year. Corey Nelson showed flashes last season, in my opinion. Steven Johnson is a quality special-teamer, and Reggie Walker was a bargain free agent pickup. All in all the team has an above average middle linebacker group.
I would say our most exciting position group is the Bronco’s outside linebacker group. Remember after picking Von Miller up in the draft, all the analysts who said “he’s a great player, but out of place in a 4-3”? Well, he has been a top 5 defender even in a 4-3. Imagine how good he is going to be in his natural position. His combo of speed, power and acceleration of the edge is going to be exciting to watch. I’m predicting a 20 sack season from him. I’m happy that our days of seeing Del Rio drop Von into coverage on 3rd and long have come to a close. DeMarcus Ware is obviously a great talent, showing that he was still capable of double digit sacks last year. He will improve on those numbers this year. Elway wisely added Shane Ray, an exciting pass rusher who will keep Von and Ware rested, as well as take over for DeMarcus eventually. Lerentee McCray is also a talented 4th rusher. All in all, the Broncos will get to the QB.
The secondary is scary. I’m sure I don’t need to tell you how good PFF’s number 1 CB, Chris Harris, is. Aqib Talib is also an obviously excellent player, and Bradley Roby showed superstar flashes last season. I’m hoping that Roby can develop to the point that he can push Harris to his natural slot position vs 3 wide sets. That can only make the defense better. Kayvon Webster is also a talented player who can contribute as a 4th corner. He is a victim of depth, hardly seeing the field because of the talent ahead of him. The team is also set at safety. I see Darian Stewart as an upgrade over Rahim Moore at free safety. Moore would hardly ever impact games, and I feel as though Stewart can be a more aggressive, less passive player. As for depth, Omar Bolden, is a quality players, and Josh Furman is an incoming rookie. Roby or Webster can also slide back in certain packages. T.J. Ward, at strong safety is one of the single most exciting players on this defense. His mildly disappointing 2013 was Del Rio’s fault. This is an aggressive run stopping safety, who should have alternated between nickel defender, dime linebacker and deep safety. He could have been used all over the field as a chess piece of sorts. Too often we played a cover 2 which dropped him into deep coverage.
All in all, we do not have a weak unit on the defense. Our biggest weak link is NT, but I’d call that more of an unknown that anything. I don’t see a way that the broncos defense is worse than top 5 next season.
Yes, our offense has some holes. We will however hopefully have a good running game, if C.J. continues to progress. Offense is important, but Defense is more important. Of the last 15 Superbowl winners, only 6 have had top 10 offenses. 10 have had top 10 defenses. I’m not saying offense is unimportant. Even if Manning regresses however, and all the naysayers are right, we probably still have enough talent to field a top 15 unit. History has shown that a decent running game, a top 5 defense, and a top 15 offense is a Superbowl formula. We all saw what happens when you field an offense leaning Superbowl squad. 43-8 sound familiar to anyone? Here’s to that never happening again. I think Elway has build the team to be tough and stout as opposed to flashy, and the Broncos will be contending for Superbowl 50.
Thanks for reading my first article. Please comment any questions, thoughts, or even criticisms, and go Broncos!
(All stats and depth chart info obtained from Pro Football Reference unless otherwise noted)