Last year when the Denver Broncos faced New England Patriots late in the regular season and then again in the playoffs. Two glaring problems existed. 1) You need a quarterback that can score a lot of points to keep up with Tom Brady and elite NFL offenses 2) You need a defense that can stop the best tight ends in the league. In the two games against the Patriots in 2011, the Broncos defense gave up a total of 27 receptions, 382 yards, and 5 touchdowns to the Patriots talented tight ends.
Fast forward to 2012. John Elway gets an A+ for landing the NFL's top free agent in Peyton Manning. The Broncos new quarterback has moved the Broncos offense from 23rd to 5th in the NFL and currently is ranked second behind Aaron Rodgers in passer rating. He has also helped make Demaryius Thomas a thousand yard receiver and at week 13 the Broncos are AFC West Champions with a 9 and 3 record.
But some questions still remain about the Broncos ability to cover tight ends. After 12 Games the Broncos have given up 735 yards to tight ends. In almost 60% of all the Broncos games the opponent's tight end has scored a touchdown. Twice this season the Broncos have given up two touchdowns to tight ends. In most cases, at the end of season, opponents have more touchdowns by their wide receivers than their tight ends (mostly because they have more wide receivers) but so far in 2012 the Broncos have given up 9 touchdowns to wide receivers and 9 touchdown to tight ends.
Comparing to other AFC West powerhouse teams. The Houston Texans have seen their opponent's wide receivers score 13 touchdowns and only given up 5 touchdowns to tight ends. The New England Patriots have also seen their opponent's wide receivers score 13 touchdowns and have given up 7 touchdowns to tight ends.
It hasn't always been apples to apples because the Broncos have faced some of the NFL's elite tight ends this year. (Owen Daniels, Tony Gonzalez, Rob Gronkowski, Aaron Hernandez, Heath Miller, Antonio Gates, Jimmy Graham, Dallas Clark, Greg Olsen, Jermaine Gresham, to name a few) but it is interesting to note that three of those tight ends have had their best day of 2012 against the Broncos. Those that play fantasy football should take note that 25% of the time, the tight end that faces the Broncos will have their best performance of the year.
And when tight ends are not lighting up middle of the Broncos secondary, slot receivers can also cause problems. In the two games last year against the Patriots, Wes Welker totaled 10 receptions, 106 yards and a touchdown. Earlier this year the Patriots beat the Broncos again. Wes Welker had 13 receptions (the most receptions for Welker in a game this season) 104 yards, and a touchdown.
As the Broncos move closer to the playoffs it will be important to see them improve in the middle of the defensive back field. Playoff teams like the Patriots and Texans will feature great tight ends and slot receivers that can punish you down the middle. If you make it to the Super Bowl teams like the Giants, Packers, and Falcons will also feature solid tight ends and slot receivers. Understood the Broncos are looking much improved and now have a Hall of Fame Quarterback to keep up with all the scoring but the facts are the facts. The Broncos have lost all three games to playoff teams and it is those teams that will be attacking the middle of the defense once the regular season is completed.
Can our linebackers and safeties keep up with Hernandez, Welker, and Gronkowski (if healthy)? Can they keep Owen Daniels out of the end zone? If they make the Super Bowl can Mike Adams and Rahim Moore keep guys like Tony Gonzalez, Jermichael Finley, and Martellus Bennett and Victor Cruz from breaking the game wide open? Before you answer you should know that going into week twelve, 65 defensive backs had more interceptions by themselves than Mike Adams and Rahim Moore combined. I feel confident John Elway has figured out half of his problem. Peyton Manning has been a offensive genius. Just not 100% convinced he has fixed the Broncos other problem.
Shadd, Bronco Planet