It’s official Denver fans: football is back. Bronco’s football, that is. And as Sunday’s games wrapped up with your Denver Broncos debuting on primetime TV against Indianapolis, there is a lot to be taken away from “Denver vs. Indy part two”. One takeaway was the play of Denver’s defense.
Yes, there were without question many good things. Yet, there were also a couple kinks that still need to be worked out. So where would you like to start Denver? All right, all right…I’ll start with the positives. How couldn’t I, we won right?
Seven months removed from the embarrassment and flop that was Super Bowl 48, Denver had one goal in mind coming into tonight’s game. No not to score 50 points, or to have Peyton throw for 600 yards, or to have five different receivers haul in a score. The goal coming into tonight’s regular season opener was to establish an identity, a new identity. One that exemplified physicality and exuded an attitude. Elway snagged Mr. Bowlen’s checkbook and went on a “swagger-seeking”, “rough-riders only” recruiting expedition this offseason. And as Elway dangled the dollars on the open market, he was able to get three prized targets to bite on the bait.
The first was Safety T.J. Ward. This is a man built like a stout, brick-wall of a middle linebacker with the speed of a safety, who harbors nothing but short-temper and bad intentions. The next chip to fall was a 2013 Pro-Bowler in Cornerback Aqib Talib. Though lean, long, and rangy, don’t underestimate the aggression Talib brings to the opposing team’s number one wide out. He isn’t afraid to mix it up with the big names or the big guys, just ask Jimmy Graham. The third and maybe most crucial free agent acquisition of the offseason for Denver, was the signing of future Hall of Famer, Demarcus Ware. Ware coming into the 2014-2015 season is an accomplished, seven-time Pro-Bowler who looks to prove his doubters wrong as he tries to show he’s got plenty left in the tank. Standing at 6’4 and a lean 254 pounds, Ware is a physical freak of nature and he has the ability to run through you as well as around you. But Ware’s physical attributes weren’t the sole purpose for signing the nine-year veteran. It was his poise, his aggression, and more importantly his leadership that led the Broncos to choose him over Jared Allen.
Although the Broncos were ravished and depleted by injuries last year on defense, they were also devoid of a leader with some nasty to him on that side of the ball. Yes, they had Champ Bailey who was the unquestionable leader of that defensive squad, but no one ever viewed Bailey as a guy who would knock you in the mouth. Ware on the other hand will do so. Don’t be fooled by his calm and humbled demeanor off the field, because when the tape is on, it depicts a monster that seeks to destroy his opponents. Just look at his signature “celebration” after each of his sacks or big plays in which he slams his fists to the ground like that of an intense gorilla marking his territory for all competitors to see. Elway had a mission as soon as the clock reached all zeroes on that cold February night in East Rutherford and he completed it by bringing in three “goons” so to speak. Now, it was up to these three newcomers to show they were worthwhile and worth the money.
Fast-forward to Sunday night’s game against Indy. These three men as well as the defense in general all showed promising signs in the preseason, but who are we kidding? This is the time for them to put up, or shut up. And much to Denver fans’ delight, the defense “put up”. For the most part.
The Denver “D” had its chance to shine Sunday night as they took the field for the first possession of the game against Indy. Six plays and 39 yards later, Denver forced their first punt of the season. Following a Denver field goal, the defense was able to force their first turnover of the season as Rahim “The Dream” Moore (too soon?) intercepted Luck off a tipped interception attempt from Talib. Denver’s “D” would force three more punts throughout the game and another interception again to Rahim Moore on another tipped pass. But the four drives that ended in punts, nor the two drives where Rahim notched an interception were not the most telling and/or important. The two drives this Broncos squad and its fans should be most proud of are the two that had the most impact: the two turnover-on-downs possessions.
The first turnover-on-downs came at the end of a seven play, 44 yard drive with 13:43 left in the third quarter. Already up 24-7 at that point, Denver was facing a desperate Colts squad who had just scrapped their initial gameplan after returning from halftime. Luck had no choice but to open up the offense and start slinging the ball around as Indy needed a quick score to stay alive in the game. This led them all the way to the Denver eight-yard line. After a four-yard run and two short passes, it set up the first “statement” down for Denver on defense for this season. On a fourth and one, Luck tried to sneak the ball in from the Denver one-yard line but was stuffed in all senses of the word by four or five Broncos players, taking him back for a loss. I can’t explain enough the significance of this stop from the Broncos’ defense. A year ago, this team wouldn’t have had the wherewithal to stop such a play; it just wasn’t in their make-up. In fact, the defense from last year would have probably given up a TD on either of the three previous plays in my opinion. But that’s the past and back to the importance of that goal line stand. Denver needed this badly because it shows to them first and foremost, nothing will come easy and we will not go down without a fight. Secondly, it sent a statement to all the 31 other teams in the league that you won’t just have your way with us and run the ball down our throats, you’ll have to be better than that. This goal line stand was exactly what Denver needed to ignite the fire they’ll need to take care of the unfinished business from last year.
The second and arguably most significant stop for the Bronco defense came in the fourth quarter with the game on the line. Luck had helped his team claw back into things by scoring a combined 17 points in the final two quarters of the game to Denver’s 7 points. The Bronco offense had officially stalled for whatever reason and how fitting was it that the game was going to be possibly won or lost according to how the defense responded? This was the side Elway spent a fortune on improving during the summer and it was only right they proved themselves in this moment, on this stage with all of Denver and more importantly, all of America watching. With 2:58 remaining in the game, Indy started their final drive on their 36-yard line. Luck willed his team all the way down to the Denver 39, setting up a fourth and six with the game on the line. Luck took the snap with 1:58 on the clock and with great pressure from the Denver D-line, Andrew was forced to thread in a completion meant for Wayne which ultimately was knocked down by the Broncos first round draft pick Bradley Roby. Let me emphasize that again: knocked down by the Broncos first round draft pick, rookie Bradley Roby. This along with the goal line stand is EXACTLY what Denver needed to prove they had a defense worth giving attention to, to show teams around the league that they won’t get demolished by 35 points anymore when it counts.
Having your rookie corner, who by the way is covering a Pro-Bowl caliber talent and potential Hall of Fame WR in Reggie Wayne, come up big for you with the game on the line and show the fight Denver lacked last year in the Super Bowl is beyond crucial for this team going forward. It wasn’t that Roby simply stepped in front of Wayne and knocked away a pass. No, Roby took it upon himself to fight from behind Wayne and be aggressive as he dove through Reggie making a great play on the ball while avoiding any infraction. This is vital for Denver to have and build off of not only for the regular season, but for their journey back to the Super Bowl. They must retain this same swagger, aggression, fight, and attitude. When the offense bogs down, this defense must have the gall to look Peyton and their teammates in the eyes and say “Don’t worry will win this one for us. Put it on us and you worry about getting back on track. We got this”. If Denver has that ability to do so, they will seal the deal this time around in Arizona. Nonetheless, they must also be consistent.
With that being said, there were a couple mild concerns to be taken away from the week one matchup against the Colts. To begin, Denver absolutely cannot lift their foot off the gas, on offense or defense, if they have a team down and out. Denver’s “D”, just like the offense, seemed to let up as the second half began and it allowed for Luck to get his team back into the game. Granted, the league is currently built for comebacks to occur more often with all the rules lending the advantage toward an offense, this still is no excuse as to why Denver let up on defense. As I said closing the previous paragraph, Denver must be consistent on defense to be successful. Secondly, Denver gave up a total of 408 yards, with 354 coming through the air. While Denver should be noting this going forward and looking to improve on its pass defense, to be honest this stat is a bit skewed. With such a prolific and dynamic offense, Denver’s defense will be out on the field more often than they probably should be because Denver will score a lot of points or stall from time to time as they heavily rely on the pass. This will result in opposing teams fighting from behind, as the Colts had to do Sunday night.
Therefore, causing opposing teams to spread the ball more through the air as they must play catch up. The cons that arise for Denver’s defense from these circumstances is that they will give up more pass yards than they probably normally would because teams will be going to four and five wide receiver sets (as Indy did) and the Broncos’ defensive players will become tired more quickly due to the increased action through the passing game. This will eventually affect the pass rush and Denver’s ability to cover. So, if throughout the season we see Denver have drives on defense where they’re struggling to manufacture a sufficient pass rush or can’t hang with other team’s receivers, it’s probably because they’re gassed more than anything. Don’t confuse this team being tired and lacking a pass rush and/or cover ability as a weakness, because it’s something that when full-strength, the Broncos will thrive off of. Overall, these are concerns that can be dealt with and fixed, but only if Denver takes them seriously. They didn’t last year.
So Broncos fans with the first “W” in the column, what do you think? Are you satisfied or convinced that this team will be back competing for a Lombardi trophy in Arizona? They have the talent to do it, no one is denying that. But they must put it all together. They are a work-in-progress, especially on the defensive side with six new starters thrust into the lineup. They are no “Orange Crush” of the 70’s, so don’t get your hopes too mile high. The league just doesn’t allow for defenses to exist like that anymore. However, if this team builds the chemistry and consistency it needs, it will be a top ten defense and it will be what Denver needs to put it over the top this time. And do yourself and all those around you a favor, quit comparing this defense or hoping that this defense will be anything like that of Seattle’s defense.
What they have in Seattle is beyond unique and special, they have a unit put together through much diligence, hard work, and of course luck (give it a few years though, there might be a drastic makeover due to financials). The reason that defense is so successful is because they are built to stop the pass, hence why they rolled over teams like New Orleans, Green Bay and of course our beloved Broncos. Conversely, if you get a team that can run the ball and take the physicality to them like San Fran or Indy from last year, then you neutralize what they do best and you put them on their heels. Nevertheless, it is only the end of week one, so instead of focusing on Seattle and what they’ve got, let’s cherish this win. We will worry about them in two weeks. It’s on to Kansas City now and another week to improve and another step closer to us achieving what we let slip away last year. We are on our way Denver, we are on our way. #UnfinishedBusiness