Denver Broncos’ defense on historic pace

Brent Rollins breaks down the numbers to show why the Broncos are on pace to earn the best overall PFF defensive grade—ever.

| 2 years ago
(AP Photo/Joe Mahoney)

(AP Photo/Joe Mahoney)

Denver Broncos’ defense on historic pace

On Monday, Sam Monson discussed the early season individual and team brilliance of the Denver Broncos defense, as they are 4-0 despite Peyton Manning’s struggles and decline. Looking even further into their defensive numbers reveals not only a dominating defense at every level, but one on pace to be, by far, the highest-graded and most productive defense of the PFF era (2007–present).

Before examining the Broncos current dominance, let’s give some PFF historical background. The top three highest-graded defenses in the PFF era are:

Year Team Defensive grade Postseason result
1. 2011 San Francisco 49ers +224.4 Lost in NFC championship
2. 2013 Seattle Seahawks +216.4 Won Super Bowl
3. 2014 Denver Broncos +174.0 Lost in divisional playoff

Currently, the overall +72.2 grade for the Broncos defense puts them at an unprecedented +18.1 grade per game average, and this even includes a +0.9 team grade in their Week 2 escape-win in Kansas City. They are on pace to finish with a +288.8 grade, destroying the 2011 49ers and their own 2014 No. 1 defense.

Next, given the importance of the QB position in today’s NFL and the concentrated effort of defenses to bring down, hit, or disrupt the QB in some way, let’s also compare this year’s Broncos to those other great defenses in terms of total regular season QB pressures (sacks, hits, and hurries).

Year Team Total QB pressures Sacks Hits Hurries
2011 San Francisco 49ers 308 43 58 207
2013 Seattle Seahawks 337 49 72 216
2014 Denver Broncos 303 46 60 197
2015 (four weeks) Denver Broncos 101 18 19 64

Thus, the 2015 Broncos are on pace for a phenomenal 404 total QB pressures. Now, we all know “on pace” numbers this early in the season are fun to examine, but typically not achieved. Schedule, injuries, and strategical adjustments (just to name a few reasons) all play a role over time, and the numbers come down.

Therefore, let’s apply a statistical decline in performance for both their grade and total QB pressure numbers, saying the Broncos will achieve, on average, 75 percent of their current performance level the remainder of the season (or a 25 percent decline in their current per-game averages, even rounding down to a whole number for pressures). That leaves us with the following final numbers:

2015 Broncos (at 75% of current pace) = +234.2 grade, 317 total QB pressures

That grade would still be good enough for the highest-performing defense of the PFF era, with the 317 total pressures also on par with the previous great defenses and the exact number of pressures generated by another well-known pass-rushing defense—the 2007 Super Bowl Champion New York Giants. In the end, no matter how you examine the numbers, the Denver Broncos defense is playing lights out and carrying a middle-of-the-pack offense to a 4-0 start.

  • Kason Edell

    The 2015 Player Grades you guys just put out is amazing!

  • JT

    Til Brady comes to town obviously(I hate the Pats btw). Also they haven’t faced any world beaters in offense.

    • anon76returns

      No world beaters on offense have faced world beaters on defense, either. The closest thing was the Packers facing the Chancellor-less Seahawks, and the Hawks got 28 pressures on Rodgers’ 42 drop backs. If Sherman hadn’t shat the bed and Chancellor had been on the field, the Seahawks might have won that game in spite of the fact that Russel Wilson was also running for dear life on every drop back.

  • sam

    Jets have only given up 55 points, yet the Broncos defense (69 points allowed) is “historic”? C’mon man!

    • DLC

      I see your point, but I think the purpose of the article is to consider multiple ways of measuring a defense in assessing what they call an “historic pace” not just points allowed. I’d be interested in seeing how the Jets Defense stacks up against the Denver Defense this year, though.

      • Trevor Yauch

        Sam, fourteen of those 69 points came from Manning interceptions returned for touchdowns. The offense has constantly put the defense in bad positions with untimely turnovers throughout the year. PPG does not measure how dominant they’ve been.

  • crosseyedlemon

    It’s interesting and fun to look at numbers but there is no way to quantify the intimidation and psychological advantage that great defensive teams hold over opponents. Back in 1985 many of the Bears opponents were mentally defeated before the games even started because they knew Mike Singletary and Co. would be relentless all day long.

  • Sloppyjoewag

    Peyton has thrown 2 pick sixes (don’t know if fitz has thrown any honestly). I think that overall points allowed is the most misleading stat to use to measure defensive prowess, especially with a small sample size. A lot of factors add points to a teams defense that was not nessesarily thier fault; pick sixes, turnovers in geneal, bad field possition, penalties, or in effectiveness with their own offense which increases the time of possession for their opponents. Analyzing the broncos with these factors in mind actually makes what they are doing on defense even more impressive. The offense has been abysmal, keeping their defense on the field and giving opponents prime field position. Turnovers have also quickly put the defense back on the feild minutes after they left. If you had a dominant offense with a dominant defense, the points allowed would be record setting since the defense is fresh and can pin their ears back because the opponent is now one dimensional, the 2015 broncos defense does not have that luxury.

    • anon76returns

      Offense was much better vs. Detroit and Minnesota, with Manning averaging 260 yds/game, and the running game and O line finally waking up. If the offense cuts down on turnovers, they’ll at least be “good”, but nothing like the last 3 years, unfortunately.

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  • Tim Lynch

    Can we update this each week? :) Broncos got 4 more sacks and, you know, another pick six to seal the win on the road….. #NoFlyZone

  • gary80

    How are the 2011 Niners ahead of the 2013 Seahawks? The 2013 Seahawks were the first defense since the 1985 Bears to lead the league in points allowed, yards allowed, and turnovers.

  • JJ

    Where’s the update? Is it true Broncos finished #1?