The Denver Broncos Defense had a rough go of it during the 2013 regular season, with a roller coaster of a ride that rang true of John Fox’s mantra “Next Man Up.” Despite losing arguably it’s two best components in Von Miller (9 games) and Champ Bailey (13 games), they managed to push through adversity and press on. Free Agent Linebacker Stewart Bradley, who was brought in to shore up a position that couldn’t be improved in the draft, was lost just prior to Opening day. Then Starters, Safety Rahim Moore and Defensive Tackle Kevin Vickerson were lost to Injured Reserve within a week of one another. Let’s not forget the mysterious illness that limited Derek Wolfe to 11 games this year too.
Still, all that said, the Broncos only lost 3 games this season. The team was built as an Offensive juggernaut with the purpose of getting a lead and putting it’s opponents into a catch up mode that required them to pass the ball. All the Defense needed to do is protect the lead and pressure the opposing Quarterback into making mistakes. Some of that worked, but how things look on paper isn’t always how reality let’s it happen. Defensive Coordinator Jack Del Rio had to be creative in how he blitzed and how certain players were used. It wasn’t an exact science and sometimes he was wrong. I don’t pin everything on him though. Player performance, mental errors that resulted in too many penalties and simply being outplayed by better players in one on one situations contributed to the unit’s 22nd ranking in the league.
2012 Defense 2013 Defense
POINTS……………………18.1 (4th)……………..24.9 (22nd)
YARDS…………………….290.8 (2nd)…………..356.0 (19th)
PASS YARDS…………..199.6 (17th)………….254.4 (27th)
RUSH YARDS…………..91.1 (3rd)……………..101.6 (8th)
SACKS……………………..52 (1st)…………………41 (T-16th)
INTERCEPTIONS……16 (13th)……………….17 (T-12th)
TURNOVERS………….-1 (19th)………………….0 (16th)
Noticing the differences between last season and this season, the Defense allowed averages of 6 more points per game and 66 more Total yards; 55 via the pass and 10 from the run. In simple numbers per game, that isn’t a huge difference. Where it really showed is in the rankings. Looking at the personnel change, gone are players like Elvis Dumervil, Jason Hunter, D. J. Williams, Joe Mays, Justin Bannan, Keith Brooking, Tracy Porter and Jim Leonhard. Those players were replaced by Terrance Knighton, Shaun Phillips, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and a combination of younger depth transitioning (Danny Trevathan, Malik Jackson, Duke Ihenacho) as well as rookies pushing or being thrown into playing time (Kayvon Webster, Sylvester Williams). Considering the team records between the 2 seasons are identical, I am forced to believe that the league got better.
SHAUN PHILLIPS may have been the biggest bargain Free Agent signing in the NFL this season. For a $1 Million non-guaranteed Base salary, the Broncos got 35 Tackles, 3 Tackles For a Loss, 10 Sacks, 4 QB Hits, 32 Hurries, 5 Passes Batted Down, 1 Interception and 2 Forced Fumbles in return. Shaun led the Broncos in Sacks and Passes Batted Down while playing 74% of the snaps all season. Perhaps that doesn’t impress you, but the guy he replaced (Elvis Dumervil) had 54 Tackles, 1 Tackle For Loss, 11 Sacks, 11 QB Hits, 37 Hurries, 1 Batted Pass, 6 Forced Fumbles and a Safety playing in 88% of the total snaps during the season at a salary of $14 Million. I call that a Jackpot.
TERRANCE KNIGHTON contributed 31 Tackles, 2 Tackles For Loss, 3 Sacks, 5 QB Hits, 25 Hurries, 1 Pass Break up 1 Interception and a Fumble Recovery. On top of that, T-Knight graded out as the 2nd best defender overall and in Run Defense as well as the 3rd best pass rushing on the team this season. Statistically, he had his 2nd-best season in his 5 year career. Compared to the guy he replaced (Justin Bannan), the Broncos paid an additional $1.25 Million for a player 5 years younger, who even though had less Tackles, was better against the run and provided a pass rush up the middle. Knighton is finishing up the first of a 2 year deal and has done what the team needed, including stepping it up during the last month with Derek Wolfe ailing and Kevin Vickerson on Injured Reserve.
MALIK JACKSON has been what I expected this season. After seeing him back in May of this year at a public event, you could tell he was beefed up and ready to push for more playing time and build off the end of 2012. He did just that, with 42 Tackles, 6 Tackles For Loss, 6 Sacks, 4 Batted Passes, 8 QB Hits, 29 Hurries and a Forced Fumble. All career highs at the bargain price of $480,000. Again, you can’t ask for much more than that.
VON MILLER had low numbers this season due to limited play from a six game suspension. He produced 34 Tackles, 7 Tackles For Loss, 6 Sacks, 8 QB Hits, 27 Hurries, 1 Pass Breakup, 3 Forced Fumbles, 1 Fumble recovery returned for a Touchdown in 9 games. Those numbers are half (outside the 18.5 Sacks) that Von produced as a rookie last season and he still dominated the player rankings while improving his all-around game as proven by his 78.5 overall grade per Pro Football Focus. The next 4-3 Outside Linebacker was New England’s Jerod Mayo, who had a 17.1 grade. So we see that Von has been consistent, if not improved ON the field, we just need him to be consistently better OFF the field. Let’s hope that the new year brings about that change.
DANNY TREVATHAN was another player who saw an increase in playing time and produced a career season. Danny led the team in Tackles with 128. He also had 7 Tackles For a Loss, 2 Sacks, 3 QB Hits, 13 Hurries, 12 Pass Breakups, 3 Interceptions, 4 Forced Fumbles and 1 Recovery. Not bad for a guy who didn’t start a game last season. Pro Football Focus graded Trevathan as the 11th best 4-3 Outside Linebacker for the 2013 regular season.
DOMINIQUE RODGERS-CROMARTIE turned into the best Free Agent acquisition for the Broncos on the defensive side of the ball. Shaun Phillips was a steal, but with Champ Bailey’s injury, DR-C was able to square off with the opposing team Number 1 receivers and hold his own. Darrelle Revis may have an island, but DR-C withstood wave after wave and didn’t crash against the shore. He finished the regular season with 31 Tackles, 3 Tackles For Loss, 1 Hurry, a team-leading 15 Pass Breakups, 3 Interceptions and a Touchdown. Dominique allowed 2 completions or less in 10 games this season and graded out as the 5th best overall Cornerback in the NFL per Pro Football Focus. I think it’s safe to say that he will be a priority for the Broncos to re-sign him.
CHRIS HARRIS JR. might just be the Most valuable Defensive Back the Broncos have. Charged with the task of shutting down opposing slot receivers and being the next man up on the outside, Chris has done a stellar job with each task appointed him. He finished with 65 Tackles, 5 Tackles For Loss, 3 QB Hits, 3 Hurries, 1 Batted Pass, 13 Pass Breakups and 3 Interceptions this season. Those marks are very close to the same numbers as last year. Not bad for an Undrafted Free Agent pickup in 2011.
Just like the adage, “You are as good as your record,” a team is as good as it’s ranking. The Broncos Defense will need to be at it’s best and have guys making plays for them to attain their ultimate goal this year–a Lombardi trophy.
– Kaptain Kirk