The 2012 Denver Broncos defense hung their hat on their pass rush. That pass rush inevitably failed to get the Broncos into the championship game. Looking at the 2012 defense and comparing it to the World Championship 1998 defense, a few things stand out as to reasons why the 2012 defense might not have been up to the task.
You’re all thinking CH74 has lost his mind, the 2012 defense ranked higher in almost every aspect. We had two players log double digit sacks and tied for the lead in the NFL in that category. We had a great secondary that was very opportunistic at times. That was a top five defense, and CH74 is trying to tell me that a defense that barely made the top ten was better in some way? HOGWASH!
I am not here to doubt the 2012 defense’s prowess, but I am here to point out what might have been its fatal flaw. Looking at the 2012 group compared to the 1998 group, you can see a few possible reasons that the 2012 Broncos may have fallen short.
The Broncos Pass Rush: Now and Then
If you look at the mind blowing pass rushing stats from 2012, you have to wonder how anyone could say that the pass rush was probably a little better in 1998. After all, the 2012 team logged more sacks. If we look a little closer, the overwhelming majority of those sacks came from the edge rush. In fact, over 64% of the Broncos sack total came from the edge rushers. If you look at the interior pass rush, only 11.54% of the Broncos sacks were logged by interior linemen. That is a huge disparity. Looking a little further into 2012, we see that three players in the secondary logged 4.5 sacks for an 8.64% share of total sacks. That might not seem like much, but we’ll get to the significance later.
In 1998, the Broncos logged forty-seven sacks, five fewer than in 2012. The difference is the 1998 sacks were a lot more evenly spread out. The edge rushers still had the majority of sacks, but it wasn’t an overwhelming majority like we seen in 2012. The edge rush in 1998 logged 43.61% of the Broncos total sacks, while the interior logged 26.6%. That is a lot more even and it is about an ideal mix of interior and exterior pressure. The 1998 secondary only had a half sack and a 1.06% share of total sacks. That is a lot lower than what we saw in 2012. One could assume that the 1998 Broncos didn’t rely on their secondary to manufacture a pass rush as often as the 2012 defense. The interior of the 98 dline was far more disruptive than the 2012 version, letting the Broncos secondary stay in coverage more.
Replacing Elvis Dumervil
There has been a lot of back and forth about the impact of losing a player like Dumervil will have on the defense going forward. I have been guilty of going to war over that subject and it wasn’t always pretty. The more I look at this issue, the more I feel Dumervil leaving could be a blessing in disguise. I am coming around to the opinion it should force the Broncos to address the elephant in the room over the last several years. That elephant just happens to be the fundamental flaw in the 2012 Broncos defense, in my humble opinion.
The Broncos defense was a lot better in 2012 than they have been in recent years in causing turnovers. The Broncos had thirty take-aways on the season. That’s not too bad, but the 1998 defense had thirty-nine. As opportunistic as the 2012 defense was, the 1998 team was better at getting the ball back for the offense. Giving your offense more opportunites to score can go a long way to helping your team win. We seen the affects of turnovers first hand on January 12th. The key to causing turnovers is being able to disrupt the offense. The Broncos defense needs to be a little more disruptive and force more takeaways to help get over the hump.
Covering the Tight End
A lot of us here have been searching high and low for the player who will claim the title of Tight End Killer. The Broncos have been getting victimized for years by tight ends. A lot of us feel that our "TE Killer" could be on the roster already, and he probably is. There is a broader problem at play here though that might be a little simpler to solve than finding the proverbial TE Killer. It's easy to get tunnel vision when looking at this issue, but there is more than one way to skin a cat. Rodney probably knows exactly where I am going here, he did a great article about it back in February. Hopefully, I have expanded a little on that piece here with a little hindsight.
Summing up and Moving Forward
Looking at the numbers, we can see a huge disparity between the edge rushers and the interior linemen as far as sacks go for 2012. Sacks are a sexy stat, but there is also a strong correlation between the number of sacks and the number of pressures. If a player is logging sacks, it is safe to assume that player is also getting pressures. The 1998 Broncos were able to rush the passer with a lot more versatility and without bringing the heat from the secondary. The 2013 Broncos need to be able to do that as well to get over the hump and hoist the Lombardi again.
We can tell by the percentages that the Broncos interior pass rush in 2012 was not nearly as effective as it was in 1998. We can also tell that Del Rio was more likely to send heat from the secondary to compensate for interior rush. Using players in the secondary to rush the passer is a double edged sword. The Broncos need to get to the QB more consistently with the players in the front seven, especially the front four. This will help the back end and might even prove to be part of the solution in covering the TE. If the Broncos don't have to commit secondary players to generate pass rush, the Broncos will have more men in coverage. That increases their chances of limiting opposing recievers, including tight ends.
The 1998 Broncos defense caused nine more turnovers on the season than the 2012 defense. It is not a stretch to say that pressure from the interior linemen helped that team to create more turnovers. Interior linemen have the shortest route to the QB. If they are pushing the issue, it creates havoc in the offense. Nothing makes a QB more jumpy than a big Dancing Bear getting all up in his Kool-Aide, play after play. That is how a defense creates turnovers. We all know, more turnovers mean more opportunities for your offense and they greatly improve your chances of winning.
I am an old lineman, so I am little biased, but I think the Broncos' key to hoisting the Lombardi for a third time is improved play by the interior linemen on defense. The more I look into the subject, the more I feel that losing Dumervil might just be a blessing in disguise. The Broncos can no longer afford to exclusively lean on their edge rush. In order to get where they want to go, the defensive tackles have to get in on the act. The interior pass rush has been the fatal flaw for the Broncos defense for nearly a decade now. Adding Sly Williams and Terrance Knighton might prove to be the difference. If our new Dancing Bears can find their way to the QB more than our guys did in 2012, the Broncos may once again have a Championship Defense. This defense has the talent to be something very special and I can't wait to see how it all plays out!