Most of us here at MHR agree that there were some big holes in our defense last year. Our pass defense was either in the bottom half of the league or the bottom third of the league depending upon what stat you chose to cite.
stat - actual value (NFL rank)
opposing QB rating - 93.1 (28th)
passing TD allowed - 24 (16th)
passing yards allowed - 3704 (18th)
interceptions - 9 (28th)
net yards/attempt - 6.4 (21st)
completions allowed - 333 (18th)
passing 1st downs allowed - 182 (14th)
completion % against - 62.4% (23rd)
passes defended - 68 (29th)
passes >20 yds allowed - 46 (8th)
pass >40 yds allowed - 13 (29th)
sacks - 41 (T-10th)
Don't mistake my point here - as mediocre to bad as these numbers look, they are an improvement over 2010 (as sad as that may sound) in almost EVERY category. If you don't believe me on that, go look up the 2010 stats - just make sure that there is a trash can nearby as they are likely to make you vomit. Lets think about the factors that contributed to the 2011 numbers after the jump - and, of course, how we might improve on them in 2012.
(There is no Suh in this year's draft, and even if there were, he sure wouldn't be available at #25)
The first factor is that our two pass rushers were playing injured at different parts of the season. Doom was hurt in the beginning of the year and Von was hurt during the end of the season. There were very few games which showcased VonDoom at 100%. This made it easier for teams to exploit the second factor.
The second factor was that our secondary was hampered tremendously by injury (Squid, Vaughn, Champ, Dawk), inexperience (Carter, Moore, Bruton, Harris, McCarthy) and the ravages of time (Champ, Goodie and Dawk). Add to that the loss of an above average cover guy, Cox, to litigation and you had a secondary that, despite a future HOFer at the #1 CB spot, was fairly easy to exploit. The opposing QB rating of 93.1 attests quite strongly to that.
The third factor - and the focus of this fanpost - is the lack of any interior pass rush. Of the DTs who started the year with the Broncos, the only guys who had shown any pocket-collapsing ability during their careers were Ayers (1.5 career sacks before this season), Vickerson (3.5 career sacks) and Warren (20.5 career sacks). With the injuries to Warren and Vickerson (along with Vick's weight loss), the cupboard was pretty bare in the interior pass-rush department. Ayers did record 3.0 sacks in 2011 playing as a DT on passing downs - doubling his career sack total. Additionally, McBean stepped up and contributed 4.0 sacks (which might have been steroid/HGH enhanced). So the Broncos ended up with 7 sacks from the interior DL and 34 from the rest of the D (the DBs contributed the same number of sacks).
So how did this compare with other teams in the NFL? The sack % from DTs for the Broncos was 17%. The league leading Vikings and Eagles totaled 50 sacks on the year while the league worst Bucs got 23. Interestingly, sacks are not the be all and end of all of pass defense. The Vikings had the worst pass D in the league despite leading the league in sacks. Chem on that for a bit. So what teams had a combination of a good pass D and a lot of sacks? Here are the top 5 with passer rating against and sacks
Ravens - 68.8, 48
Texans - 69.0, 44
Jets - 69.6, 35
Steelers - 71.0, 35
49ers - 73.6, 42
What do these 5 teams have in common (besides above average secondaries)? They generally were able to get pressure up the middle much better than the Broncos. The Ravens DTs combined for 15.5 sacks (Ngata, McPhee, Redding) or 32% of their sacks. The Texans (who ran a 3-4) got 16.5 sacks from the NT/DE players (Smith, Watt, Jamison, Mitchell, Nading) or 37.5% of their sacks. The Jets got 7.5 sacks from their DT/NT position (Wilkerson, Devito, Pouha, Pitoutua) or 21% of their sacks. The Steelers (who also run a 3-4) DT/DEs only got 6.5 sacks (Keisel, Hood, Heyward, McLendon) or 19% of their sacks. The 49ers (who mostly run a 4-3) got 13 sacks from DTs (Justin Smith, McDonald) or 31% of their total. I'm also going to point out the Bengals, not because of their great pass defense (they were average) or their high percentage of sacks from DTs (nope - 24%), but because they were the only team in the NFL whose team leader in sacks was a DT, Geno Atkins led their team with 7.5 sacks. In case you are wondering, Atkins is listed as 6-1, 286 and is an every down DT. I also want to single out the Titans, because the 13.5 sacks from their DTs (Klug, Jones, Casey, Smith, Marks) was 48% of the team total. I would also like to point out that Klug (5th round) and Casey (3rd round) were rookies last year and they combined for 9.5 sacks. So the Broncos don't necessarily have to get our pass rushing DT in the first round - assuming you think that we will get a DT with the #25 pick.
But sacks aren't the only measure of DTs ability to collapse the pocket. Many times a pocket-collapsing DT will allow the OLB or DE to get a sack simply by keeping the QB from stepping up into the pocket. So how do we quantify that? Well, we can look initially to the defending super bowl champion Giants who are widely praised for having the best front 4 in the game. The Giants only got two sacks from guys listed as DTs - both from Linval Joseph, however, Canty (6-7, 286) would play DT on passing downs and he got 4.0 sacks. Still, 6 total sacks from the DT position is a woeful 13% of the team total. The caveat is that the Giants D was peaking toward the end of the season and played extremely well in the playoffs - holding the Falcons, Packers and Patriots to a combined 39 points in three games. (keeping the 49ers from scoring was not a difficult task in 2011). Even when Joseph and Canty weren't able to record sacks they were effective and pushing the OL back into the QB so that he couldn't step up to avoid their stable of stud DEs. Without a paid membership to one of the football stat sites, I was unable to track down QB hurries numbers to see what DTs (and what teams) were good at getting pressure from the DTs without necessarily having the DT get the sack. Here's a call out to anyone who has a membership since I would love to see that data.
With the addition Adams and Porter, the return to health of Squid and Vaughn and the maturation of Harris, Carter and Moore, I think that the secondary will be improved over last season. As much as I hate to say it, if Dawk does not return, it will be addition by subtraction in terms of coverage. How much the secondary improves will depend on a lot of factors, but one of the biggest is how Del Rio chooses to run the D relative to how Allen did in 2011. We still could add a corner in the draft who would be an improvement over Porter and Goodie at the #2 CB spot, but I don't see us spending a high draft pick on a corner unless one of the top three CBs falls to us in the 2nd round.
Go out and do whatever it is that you do to appeal to a higher power for a full year of health for VonDoom. I will stop at Churches on the way home and "sacrifice" a chicken. :-)
So that only leaves the pocket-collapsing DT that needs to be addressed for the Broncos to improve significantly in pass defense. That need can be met by free agency (Okoye, Franklin, ?) or through the draft. I did a fanpost earlier on the top 5 DTs in this year's draft. None of them has a great college track record of being a pocket-collapser. Still probably has the best numbers. Crick looked good after his junior year, but didn't help himself by putting up poor numbers (playing hurt) as a senior. Ty Warren might be able to fill that role if he has anything left in the tank. Marcus Thomas might finally "get it" and become the dominant DT that we have been waiting for - assuming he stays. Ayers might finally blossom, particulary if he is moved to the DT position permanantly (another position change for him - oh joy).
So what do you think is the most likely outcome here?
Less than a month until Draftivus!! Go Broncos!