The Denver Broncos open training camp in a week and as I start to see previews from the national media, I get very confused. Not all of them, but some of them are saying the same thing in looking regards to the 2014 Broncos. Here it is in a nutshell:
The Broncos will be good to very good again, and are still the class of
the AFC with New England. However as good as their offense is,
their defense will keep them from their ultimate goal.
Did these “experts” miss the offseason or just forget about the fact that the Broncos were missing five defensive starters in the Super Bowl, including their best two players on that side of the ball?
Let’s start with the injuries, they are not an excuse for the loss to the Seattle Seahawks but the talent missing from the field on that day was substantial. Von Miller suffered through a lost season in 2013 but he is still one of the most disruptive forces in football when he’s right, and the Broncos defense missed his playmaking ability in the playoffs.
The best defensive player all season was cornerback, Chris Harris who suffered an ACL injury in the divisional win over the San Diego Chargers. His loss changed everything the Broncos were doing in the secondary and the Seahawks took advantage. Harris, like Miller, is on track with his rehab and should be ready to go on opening night.
In addition to Miller and Harris, the Broncos were without Kevin Vickerson, Derek Wolfe and Rahim Moore. Vickerson is very good versus the run, Wolfe provides a pass rush threat from both inside and outside and Moore was having a breakout season before suffering a bizarre leg injury.
Next man up is a good and necessary mantra but those five players are five of the best players on the Broncos defense, and getting them back is almost like adding another free agent class.
Getting those players back would have improved the defense immensely by themselves but the Broncos did not stop in the training room. On the first two days of free agency, John Elway went out and signed three of the premiere defensive players in the game starting with safety T.J. Ward.
Safety has been a black hole for the Broncos ever since Brian Dawkins retired. There have been draft picks who didn’t work out and signings who went bust, but the signing of Ward should remedy that issue. Ward is one of those safeties who will make receivers think twice about coming across the middle and can also provide support in the running game.
The addition of Ward should also allow Moore to free-lance more and that was his specialty coming out of college. They have to do it on the field, of course, but Ward and Moore should be the perfect combination at the safety position.
The Broncos also addressed the front end of their secondary with the signing of cornerback Aqib Talib. Yes there are injury concerns but when he’s healthy, Talib is a top five cornerback in the NFL. His presence, with Harris, gives the Broncos two of the top cover cornerbacks in the league; a must in today’s game.
Talib is also excellent versus the run, something Dominque Rodgers-Cromartie struggled with last season. As good as Rodgers-Cromartie was for the Broncos in 2013, Talib is a significant upgrade.
A secondary, even a great one, is only as good as the pass rush. Even as great as the back four are for the Seahawks, it was the pressure up front that caused the most problems for the Broncos on that February day. With that in mind the Broncos signed defensive end DeMarcus Ware on the second day of free agency.
Ware is one of the top pass rushers in the NFL and will pair with Miller to potentially be the top pass rushing duo in the league. Ware is coming off of an elbow injury that limited his effectiveness in 2013, but he is healthy now and motivated. Elway likes to sign great players with a chip on their shoulder and with something to prove; that would be Ware.
He was released by the Dallas Cowboys and now feels like he has something to prove. If Ware is even close to the player he can be, then opposing offenses have a problem. Do they double team Ware or Miller?
A great pass rush combined with a secondary that can cover is the way defenses have to play in this day and age. The Broncos are perfectly are set up to do exactly that.
Throw in the first-round selection of cornerback Bradley Roby who was projected to go much higher, and the Broncos have as much talent on defense as they’ve had in years; maybe even in decades.
As mentioned before, talent is one thing and production is another. The Broncos must gel as a unit and perform on the field but to point to a defense that has been re-tooled and revamped as a liability is just lazy.
Do some homework and realize that the Broncos defense today is nothing like the one that took the field on February 2nd.