Broncos defense has a chance to be one of best ever

Sam Monson explains how the Denver defense is setting an all-time pace so far this season.

| 1 year ago
(AP Photo/Jack Dempsey)

(AP Photo/Jack Dempsey)

Broncos defense has a chance to be one of best ever


It’s time to start appreciating that this Denver defense is something a little bit special. Coming into Sunday night’s game I thought the Packers might be able to get the W because Aaron Rodgers would get enough done against the Broncos to top what Peyton Manning could achieve against Green Bay’s defense, but boy was I wrong.

The Broncos defense it turns out is much, much better than I gave it credit for, and I was already giving it credit for being the best in the league by some margin.

Now we need to start thinking of it in all-time great terms.

Think that’s premature? The 2013 Seahawks defense was one of the best the league has ever seen. It was an all-time great defense that absolutely suffocated offenses, leading them to a Super Bowl and ultimately destroying Manning’s Broncos to win the ring.

Manning was at the helm of an all-time great offense that year and managed to score eight points in the Super Bowl against that Seahawks team, failing to get on the board until the game was 36-0.

That Seattle defense in 2013 allowed an average of 4.4 yards per play, and 273.6 yards per game over the regular season. This year’s Denver defense is allowing just 4.1 yards per play and 261.1 yards per game.

Rodgers, the NFL’s best quarterback, threw for 77 yards last night and it took him 14 completions and 19 attempts to get there. He was under pressure in the game — on 14 of his 27 dropbacks — but what really stood out is how completely the Denver defense was able to blanket cover the Packers receivers, leaving Rodgers with absolutely nowhere to go with the ball and a pocket inevitably collapsing around him.

Green Bay has been struck by injuries and is running a skeleton crew on offense when it comes to receiving weapons, but until this game we thought Rodgers would be able to have success with almost anybody in the passing game. That is true, it turns out, until you play a team like Denver that is capable of sticking to your entire receiving corps at once for four or five seconds per play, every play.

Chris Harris Jr, Aqib Talib and Bradley Roby — Denver’s top three corners — combined to surrender just 33 yards all game, on nine targets.

Denver were already four deep at outside linebacker with Von Miller, DeMarcus Ware, Shaquil Barrett and Shane Ray, but with Ray inactive, Lerentee McCray made some big plays in the run game to go with his sack from two weeks ago. McCray is their fifth guy on the depth chart.

This defense has playmakers at every level. There are pass-rushers and run defenders all over the front, and the secondary can lock down an entire receiving corps rather than one or two players. Top that off with players like linebackers Brandon Marshall and Danny Trevathan in between those two buttresses and this is a unit that has no weakness. The Denver defense is better than you think it is, even if you think it’s freaking awesome.

| Senior Analyst

Sam is a Senior Analyst at Pro Football Focus, as well as a contributor to ESPN.

  • Jaguars28

    Holding Aaron Rodgers to 77 yards… scary.

    • unc54

      Not really, Rodgers falters against elite defenses.

      • Joey

        Interesting. I’d consider the Rams and the Seahawks to be top third of the NFL. Let’s see how he did.

        Rams- 241 yards. 2 touchdowns. 2 interceptions

        Seahawks. 249 yards. 2 touchdowns. 0 interceptions.

        Try again.

        • Brian

          I think what unc54 is trying to say is while rodgers is the most gifted qb in the league and regularly unstoppable in the regular season, he tends to not do enough to win against elite defense many a times and especially the postseason. Consider this, rodgers is 6-5 overall in the postseason. That means he’s made the postseason 6 times & of those 6 trips he’s been one and done 3 times. Half of the times he’s been to the playoffs he hasn’t been able to win a single game! Also consider that aside from his ONE super bowl run he is just 2-5 in the postseason. People tend to anoint rodgers as the guy that can surpass brady as the greatest qb ever & while I agree I strongly wish someone would surpass brady, I hardly think Rodgers is on the right track in the postseason to be the guy to do it. Rodgers is essentially the new peyton manning. He’s absolutely amazing and unstoppable in the regular season and continues to accumulate mvps, but then in the postseason he continually comes up short. He doesn’t have the knack for throwing untimely picks like peyton but he sure doesn’t know how to step up big in the playoffs. Consider the meltdown in Seattle last year. Very peytonesque. Peyton is done, maybe, rodgers is the new manning, brady is 2007 brady, eli looks like he might sneak in the playoffs to play spoiler to brady again, and Russell might be the new brady.

          • http://sgpettis.com 45coltauto

            The sun’s out, shouldn’t you be hiding under your bridge?

          • jody

            I seem to remember the Ravens spoiling Brady’s party in the playoffs more than once – and in some cases winning despite his play. Let’s talk facts, not narratives or myths…

          • Brian

            I am talking facts! U are talking myths! U in fact didnt even state a hard fact. Myth is that any qb will never lose a game in the playoffs or be perfect in the playoffs. Sure brady has lost to the ravens in the playoffs but he’s beat them just as much. He in fact has won more playoff games & has more game winning drives in the playoffs than any qb in history. Also has more game winning drives in the super bowl than any qb. Been to more super bowls than any qb and tied for most super bowls won. Been to more conference champ games than any qb and won more also. Holds every major passing postseason record. Also is top 5 in every major regular season passing record. Probably will be higher when he retires. Those are facts my friend. Myth is that rodgers has been a clutch playoff qb. Even in his ONLY super bowl run, he played the Vick eagles, the ryan falcons, & the cutler eagles. Then Ben and the steelers. He is nowhere near where he needs to be to be in the brady montana conversation. Hes 6-5 in the postseason with half of his playoff trios being one and done.The best qb ever conversation involves brady & montana and that’s it. Montana consistently had trouble w the bears & giants but that doesn’t take away from what he did. No qb is perfect. So u seem to be implying bc brady had trouble w one team a couple times in the playoffs that drops him to the level of Rodgers who has been peytonesque in the playoffs. I don’t think u even know what u are saying other than u don’t want to concede brady is the greatest ever bc u don’t like him. I don’t like him or montana either for that matter but I don’t argue against fact. The greatest ever will never be a fact as there is always room for interpretion but to make a case without stating actual fact in absurd. I like debating thsee topics but when someone clearly has no interest in using facts and logic it’s just annoying.

          • anon76returns

            Brady has more losses vs. the Broncos than he has wins as well, including his first and last playoff losses.

          • Ted Kotoff

            You are talking as if the QB is everything and whom he is throwing to isn’t important! I guess that Brady could throw and catch his own passes! He has had consistently very good receivers year after year and they DO help! They have to get open to throw the ball to and they are good, also!!! So, it is more than just Brady, IMHO!

          • Ted Kotoff

            If you think that PFM is done, you should think again! He has a very elite “D” and they WILL keep him in the game and he WILL come through! This last game against The Packers shows that when PFM and the receivers are on the same page, they will move the ball and the running attack is coming alive! Playing hard nose, smash mouth football is how you win in the post season! They are finally making the right adjustments at the line! Every receiver has 8 routes that can be ran on each play! That is a lot to learn and if the QB and receiver see the same thing, then they will be successful! They just picked up Vernon Davis from the 49rs! That is a great move, IMHO!

          • Usaf Medic

            Whoa there Brian. Outside of Patriots fans there are few that have anointed Brady as the ‘Greatest Ever’. I’ll give you a huge reason why I don’t think Brady is the Greatest Ever. Matt Cassel went 11-5 as a starter. Bill Belichick has more to do with Brady’s success that Brady has to do with Bill Belichick’s success. Absolutely NO denying that fact. Belichick is already considered the greatest coach ever. A defensive genius and no one gets more out of personnel and identifying talent that Belichick. Brady will be in the talk of greatest but rings are won by the entire team, not one player. If rings were a qualifying factor to be considered great then is Trent Dilfer better than Dan Marino?

          • Brian Warttman

            Exactly! Bill belicheck is the goat of coaches and knows Brady and the patriots inside and out sure Brady is great but he has had far different circumstances than Peyton

          • Brian Warttman

            I agree with some of your points but it’s a team game not just a qb game you have to put into perspective the only reason the colts and or packers have even made it to the playoffs is because Rodgers and manning those exact teams without them would be mediocre at best. The patriots without Brady sure they wouldn’t be as good but if you have bill belicheck and have had 16 years with the same coach and organization the patriots would have a far better shot in the past without Brady than the Peyton led teams or Rodgers teams

        • Libbet

          I wouldn’t call this year’s Seahawk defense elite. They’re NOT the same level they were in 2013.

          • Usaf Medic

            They’re rated as the 2nd best defense right now. They may not be as good as 2013 but they still have a very tough defense.

        • Andrew Hopkins

          The last 5 top tier DEFENSES Rodgers faced ON THE ROAD, he got his A$$ handed to him

    • John22

      I don’t know. Id like to see them vs Brady. That will be the test and we will go from there

      • wisconsinsteelerfan

        Agreed.

        If the QB always knows what defensive play is coming and still gets beat, that’s when you know you’re witnessing one of the best all-time defenses.

      • Terry Osborne

        Well in week 12 Brady will get his shot to stay unbeaten but it will not happen! Also if Dalton and the boys pull off a miracle and stay unbeaten at that point, they too get to come to the 5280 for a week 16 game! Oh and that one is nationally televised as well….so….I guess we shall see! GO BRONCOS

      • Terry Osborne

        Brady will be the true test…we get it this month !

  • humper-dinkle dinkle-humper

    I am really happy to see McCray getting some playing time. He has been another of those low draft / UFDA projects that is starting to pay off for the Broncos.

    The aspect of last night’s pass rush that I was really impressed with was the pressure up the middle by Antonio Smith. That is the sort of pressure that spells trouble for the top QBs in the league: Rodgers, Brady, etc.

    • Terry Osborne

      Hump! Great point…talk about the no fly zone all you want it starts up front! They get pressure! AND….what I loved about last night is the DLine KNEW they couldn’t leave gaps! They kept Rogers contained! He had at times 5/7 seconds to throw but NO ONE WAS OPEN! They kept him in the pocket until it was ok to collapse! Pure discipline!!!

  • alexander

    i think the right comparison is the 2000 Ravens

    • Tannim

      Or the ’85 Bears.

  • Leeroy Jenkins

    Aaron Rodgers is now 0-9 against winning teams on the Road since the end of 2012.

  • Terrance Odette

    Aaron Rodgers is missing Jordy Nelson but they’ll regroup. They had a bad night against a very good defense. One game isn’t a whole season.

    • Scott West

      The Packers came into the game with the 22nd ranked passing offense. They’ve been relying on their defense.

      • Derek Dryden

        They were relying on a defense that has faced below average offenses. Not to knock too much on the Packers D, but they faced CHI, SEA, KC,
        SF, STL and SD (giving up 500 yards to Rivers). Though the Denver D has faced some commonly weak opponents, they did face MIN which is considered a strong opponent to the Packers in the NFC North. One note about how good the Pack’s D is/was relates to their ranking as the #1 scoring D. This is a bit skewed as they were ahead of the Broncos D while DEN had ‘given’ up 3 pick-six TDs. As with any stat, the numbers can be made to say anything but…after this game, I think the smell test for the Broncos says they are legit and the same can not necessarily be said for the Pack’s D.
        The 22nd ranked passing attack is a weak argument for that offense also since Rodgers, before this game, was the highest ranked passer in the NFL. Those rankings are solely based on yards while a better ranking (and typically more accurate on quality of team) is scoring offense where GB was top 10.

  • Scott West

    Rodgers is definitely not the NFL’s best qb, and games like this are precisely why. He’s never been able to execute vs. elite defenses. Part of that is the offensive game plan and play calling, but he needs to take more leadership there; they just kept running receivers out on routes that had no chance of getting them open against the Broncos personnel. When Rodgers has the ability to adjust to defenses, read them and change calls at the line of scrimmage to get favorable match ups, then he can be part of the greatness conversation. But, he’s not at that level.

    • jody

      Disagree. Rodgers is the best QB in the league, by a bit…

  • Aaron McFarland

    In all fairness to the Broncos in Super Bowl 48, we were missing Von Miller, Chris Harris, Ryan Clady, Derek Wolfe, and Rahim Moore, kind of hard to be missing 3 pro bowlers and two significant starters against the best defense in the NFL.

    • oljw

      And screw up the first play like they did with all that pressure to start a SB.

      • Michel Davide

        Seahawks were eliminated by the Panthers Sunday. Did you watch the first half? :-)

  • Tim Lynch

    Meh, haters will continue hating until the Broncos D can limit Brady. Let the doubters keep doubting … this defense loves being the underdog.

  • Names Unimportant

    It’s pretty clear the Broncos’ defense is currently the class of the league, but “sic transit gloria”. I agree that they could be historically great, but that requires them to play this way for 16+ games—and the highest standard is to win the Super Bowl. While their depth is pretty darned good, they are a few injuries or a Belichick-coached undressing (I can’t see Hue Jackson doing it) )from losing their chance at history. In addition, if Peyton Manning keeps up with the high turnover rate, the additional possessions will eventually give the Men in Orange a bad day. We will know a lot more after the games against Pittsburgh, New England, and the Bengals, won’t we?

    • anon76returns

      I thought we’d know more after the Packers game. Or is that narrative already out the window.
      Bellichick is a great coach, but he his offenses haven’t performed particularly well against the Broncos, especially not in Denver. We shall see- everyone’s on the schedule, though I’m not sure at this point Pittsburgh should be mentioned in the same category with NE and Cinci.

      • Brian

        In the elway era belichick’s teams have owned the broncos. Are u forgetting the meltdown and historic comeback win ne laid on them. Aside from the playoff win when ne was missing gronk and Talib got knocked out in the first series and brady’s starting wrs were rookie wrs the elway broncos haven’t even beat them. I think the Broncos will beat NE this year bc A. it’s in Denver B. ne’s defense sucks & their secondary is atrocious C. Denver should be pumped up for this game bc ne has long been the class of the afc therefore leaving denver to be second fiddle. However I don’t see the defense doing to brady what they did to rodgers. Brady picked apart the Denver defense last season. Which is pretty much the same players w the exception of swapping a few guys. Minus moore pot roast add barrett ray. To me I think what will be telling is how brady & belichick perform vs wade philipps defense. I don’t know how they typically do but I bet if u look up how they’ve faired against his defenses u will get a good idea how it will play out.

        • anon76returns

          I seem to remember the results better than “u” do. There’s no “aside from the only important meeting” argument. The most important NE-Den game of the Elway era was the AFCCG, and the Patriots were absolutely smothered, in spite of the fact that the Broncos were missing Chris Harris Jr (a PFF top 5 CB in 2012, 2013 & 2015, and #1 CB in 2014), Von Miller (a PFF top edge rusher in 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, and 2015), and Ryan Clady (a PFF top 5 LT in 2012), not to mention many other key contributors like Moore, Wolfe, and Vickerson. Yes, NE was missing Gronk and Wilfork, but Denver was missing better talent and it was still a whipping.
          As for the historic comeback win, it was a very good game by Brady, but it required a lot of bounces to go NE’s way, including the coin toss in OT (to get the wind- every Denver drive in OT would have been in Prater’s range with the wind) and especially the lucky bounce off a Denver player on the final punt in OT. That was a win for the Patriots, but by the thinnest margin imaginable, and it was in Foxboro.
          For that matter, Brady didn’t really pick apart the Broncos defense last year, either. Brady threw for 6.3 yards/attempt, and the NE RBs went for 2.6 yards/clip. The Pats won in lopsided fashion b/c they had a punt return TD (should have been a clipping call), an INT to the 34, an INT to the 10, and another PR setting them up at the D39 yard line, accounting for 24 of the Pats’ 43 points on the evening.
          I do think that NE will lose in Denver, and being in Denver has a lot to do with it. I also agree that NE’s defense isn’t good beyond the LB’s and S (and however you consider Jones and Nink). But mostly I look at NE’s OL and I’m not at all impressed. Brady’s quick release can somewhat lessen the effect of edge pressure (though he has been crushed by Miller in several games in the past), but A Smith and Malik are elite interior pass rushers, and the shifting interior OL of the Pats inspires no confidence in their ability to give Brady more than 2 seconds to throw. Unlike Miami/Buffalo, the Broncos CBs, ILBs, and S can cover for more than 2 seconds, even shifty little guys like Amendola and Edelman.

          • BarrySucks

            You know what you speak! I commend you. Too many NE Brady butt sniffers on every site.

          • T. Kothe

            Preach it, anon!

          • Mikethomp311

            Patriots didn’t have gronk wilfork or talib that year u idiot lol pretty sure those are more important losses than what you’re listig.

          • anon76returns

            Von Miller: All pro, 2011 defensive rookie of the year, runner up to defensive player of the year to Watt in 2012. PFF’s #12 player in the league in 2011 (Gronk was #6), #4 player in the league in 2012 (Gronk was #42), #68 in 2013 (Gronk didn’t even make the list, both players missed half the season), and #10 player in the league in 2014 (Gronk was #11). You may think Gronk is more important than Von, but that’s because you’re a Pats homer.

            Talib’s a great CB. We love having him on the team. But he’s not better than Chris Harris, nor is he more important.
            Wilfork has 5 Pro Bowls and 1 All Pro nod in 11 seasons. Clady has 4 Pro Bowls and 2 All Pro nods in 7 seasons. Hard to compare a DT to an LT, but awards say Clady is better.
            And that’s not even counting our starting DT (Vickerson), starting DE (Wolfe), starting FS (Moore), or the fact that our 12 time Pro Bowler, 3 time All Pro Champ Bailey was fighting through a foot sprain that eventually ended his career.

        • Ted Kotoff

          What I like about the Denver Broncos “D” is that Phillips tells his players just go out there and play your heart out! Play football! That is what makes the Denver “D” so great! They are at the top of their game and the coach knows that they just need to give it their all every play! They look great! Every game the “D” scores points! Can any other “D” say that? A BIG NO! Even the “D” for Seattle doesn’t play like that! Come on, man, you have to give it to The Broncos!

          • Mikethomp311

            They’re are at the top of their game cause they played some of the worst teams in football. They played 1 good game

    • Names Unimportant

      Regarding a matchup with the Patriots: The one thing that will make the Patsies’ coaches lick their chops: Aqib Talib tends to struggle in coverage against quick, shifty types (see last year’s playoff loss to the Colts as exhibit #1). Even a moron like McDaniels can see that and will structure things to put Talib in that matchup. And, well, Gronk is a matchup nightmare when he rolls out of his cave in the morning. I’ll be interested to see if Wade Phillips tries to bracket him some with Brandon Marshall and T.J. Ward. But if the Broncos want to be a historically good defense, they will need to come up aces in that game, among others.

      Interestingly, Football Outsiders is nuts over the numbers from that Sunday night game against the Packers. While the Broncos defense is really good, that game looked like it was a perfect storm of scheme and personnel matchups for the Broncos (Packers don’t really have good schemes to beat quality man coverage, as mentioned elsewhere). We’ll certainly see if this was a case of the Packers’ offense being exposed after they face Short, Kuechly, Norman, and company.

  • Richard

    Denver Bronco’s defense could secure the Mexican border.

  • Darren Kvernum

    Bronco fans don’t get those SB tatoos to fast,,,,Gramdpa Peyton isn’t producing,,, 17pics 9TDS 59%comp

  • JJ

    Update this?