No one can blame Broncos fans for being excited for their last minute victory over the hated Chargers on Sunday, and nearly all of the media stories (local & national), as well as fan posts, rave about the sheer scoring machine that the Broncos offense has become. However, most of those stories completely ignore the fact that the Denver defense and special team allowed the Chargers to come back from what at one point was an 18 point deficit to nearly win the game.
What is so obvious is that this year's defense is the same defense that became the laughingstock of the NFL last year. In fact, some of the defensive stats even suggest that the Broncos have become a worst overall defensive team than they were last year. The table below shows that in all but one of the major defensive statistics for the Denver Broncos, the defense on Sunday fared worst than the average of the previous four losses to the Chargers.
|Denver Broncos Defense vs. Chargers|
|2006-2007 Season (avg/game)||Sunday, September 14 2008
|SD Rushing Yards||157.25||80|
|SD Passing Yards||237.5||376|
|SD Total Yards||394.75||456|
And lets remember that many fans gave the Broncos a break with regards to the woeful performances last year due to injuries. In Sunday's game, the defense fielded its first team defensive starters and the Chargers managed to improve it's overall offensive output against the Broncos. Still want to ignore the problem?
While the Broncos defense allowed nearly 80 less rushing yards on Sunday than they did in previous games, they allowed nearly 130 MORE passing yards on Sunday, which translates to an increase in total yards allowed. It is painfully obvious that the Broncos failed to generate any sort of a pass rush, so the Chargers didn't have to run the ball. Phillip Rivers looked good on Sunday, but he had all day to throw the ball. It wouldn't surprise me to see that the average time Phillip Rivers had to stand in the pocket and deliver was somewhere around four or five seconds. That's an eternity for an NFL quarterback. It allowed him to find Chambers and Jackson downfield. I don't care how good of cover corners an NFL team has, it is just impossible to stay with receivers when quarterbacks have all day to throw. What that time also allowed Rivers to do is to go through his progressions and check down to his last options, Sproles and Tolbert, who respectively took it to the house and nearly took it to the house when that happened. To be fair, those accounted for only four or five plays, but they proved to be costly and made our defense look like Ohio State's vs. USC.
The Broncos failed to frustrate Rivers on Sunday and forced one turnover that shouldn't have been ruled one. It's no accident that the teams with the highest takeaway/giveaway differential last year were all playoff contenders (San Diego, Indy, New England, Tampa, Seattle, Green Bay and Jacksonville). What's also common between those teams is that they play physical, hard-hitting styles of defense. They make those receivers coming across the middle reconsider the prudence of doing so with huge hits. They make quarterbacks uncomfortable with constant pressure. I didn't see any of that on Sunday.Finally, the Broncos let Sproles run back a kickoff for a TD. Anyone remember the Broncos/Bears game last year where special teams cost us the game? How can Scott O'Brien possibly be considered "one of the league's top special team's coach", when our punt and kickoff coverage is as bad as it is. This wasn't just a problem against the Chargers, but it was also a blackmark on an otherwise flawless victory over the Raiders.Also, Champ got burnt by Jackson for a costly momentum-changing touchdown. No sane NFL commentator or analyst will deny Champ's effectiveness at shutting down top receivers, but the Broncos desperately need him to return to his double digit interception form. And he desperately needs the offensive line to get to the quarterback.
All of this should be a cause of concern for the Broncos, especially for a team that is so confident and set on being a playoff contender. There is no doubt that with the Bronco's relatively easy schedule and their offensive fire power, the team should be able to win the games against mediocre and poor teams (2-Chiefs, Browns, Dolphins, 2-Raiders, Falcons, and Jets). Including the win this weekend, that would make them at the very least a nine win team. The remaining games the Broncos play are against what looks to be contenders, and if they could win two or three of those games, they look to be a lock for at least the wild-card, if not a division title.
However, the Broncos want a playoff WIN, and in order to do that in the AFC, the Broncos must absolutely field a defense that can stop a drive every once in a while. They must field a team that can disrupt dangerous passers, like Peyton Manning, Ben Roethlisberger and Brett Favre. These quarterbacks are all elite players but they have all struggled, as any quarterback does, under pressure. The pressure allows Champ and Dre to earn their money. The pressure forces frustration, bad decisions, turnovers, and bad field position. As of right now, the Broncos do not appear as if they are capable of mounting such pressure.
Now there is a bright side to the Bronco's woeful defensive performance. First, they played against a very talented San Diego Charger's offense who managed to keep up with our own talented offense. The Chargers have one of the best offensive lines in the league, so sacks will be hard to come by for any defense. The Broncos may not have been ready for Sproles this time around, but they will be next time. Second, it is only the second week of the season, which gives the defense plenty of time to improve. Recall that when the Colts won the Super Bowl, their defense didn't become stout until the playoffs. Maybe our defense just needs to get more comfortable with the schemes and with each other?
Regardless, if the Broncos are to improve on defense, it appears as if they must have a shift in attitude. They must play a more physical type of defense that will force the occasional turnover. If they can successfully implement a bend and not break offense, and force field goals instead of touchdowns, I'll consider that a victory for our defense. Because on the other side of the ball, the Broncos offense should have no problems running up the score on opponents' defenses.