Defense. Defense. Defense. Pundits and peasants alike, they tell us from the windows to the walls - the message is clear, the message is loud: Defense. Defense. Defense. Yo, we gets it already! Yes, the Denver Broncos will largely focus on defense this off-season, but it won't be for the reasons you've been
told screamed at to believe. There's already a Big D in Denver, it's just that they don't know about it yet. It's a secret, sort of like the 2013 hush-hush of Julius "Caesar" Thomas. And just like last year with Caesar, I'm here to tell you that a hero will rise.
Stand tall and represent the Orange & Blue with a smile boys and girls, a smile that confidently quips to all enemies that, "We know something you don't know...."
Defense, defense, defense? Well, sure. Why not? I mean, the 2013 Broncos broke pretty much every offensive record known to man. As John Elway put it while speaking at the combine yesterday, "I think that when you look at the numbers, offensively, you're going to say we don't have to get much better because you can't put up better numbers than what we did offensively". And there was no "but" to that line of thought from Elway, just FYI. That was it, and then he moved on to talking about the defense.
Offensive Attention? Not much.
Broncos brass is brimming with confidence in second-year, second-round RB Montee Ball - the NCAA record holder with 83 total TD's. As I noted in early December, "Montee Ball is a rising star. Don't believe what you read: pass protection and trust are huge, but eventually it's all gravy and it all comes. Running is the part you either have or you don't. It's born, not made... He's a boss". And his time is now, my friends. "I do want to be a starter, and yeah, I want the football every time," Ball said. "I think I'm going to have a great offseason, and I'm going to have a better season next year for sure."
"Obviously we think very highly of him," Fox said at the combine a a couple days ago. "I thought he had tremendous growth. ... He got better with every week. We look for a big improvement next year and think he's very, very capable."
Montee has already been Ballin' up and down the field and he's just barely scratching the surface. I'm telling you, this kid is a star. And I mean right now. This year. The future is bright, and the Broncos will not miss Knowshon Moreno. So, ya. There's that. It's a simple decision: Ball up, Knowshon out, a bargain-veteran in. Done deal.
At Wideout it'll be Eric out, Wes up, Andre Caldwell/bargain-buy in; one rookie to groom. Easy, peasy - done in a breezy. The third and final issue for the Broncos offense is that of the offensive line, with the pending free agent status of starting LG Zane Beadles. One sizeable resource is the approach to take, and then it's time for a lunch break. Done in sixty seconds, and I haven't even worked up a thirst yet. Nor have I spent hardly any resources.
And when I say done, I mean done. That's all she wrote as far as offensive needs. And THAT is why it's going to be "defense, defense, defense", not because it's the hot mess of Swiss Cheese that all the talking heads tell you it is. Their knowledge is a mile wide but only an inch deep. We know our team better than they do. Believe that.
Defense. The Trojan Horse.
Now, back it up to the last five games played. The Broncos defense gave up 17 points or less in the first four, and then 27 points in the final. As for that last one, don't get jaded and don't get it twisted: The defensive performance during the MetLife Meltdown was actually something to be proud of, something to hang your hats on. The defense held the opposition to just two FG's and a TD in the first-half, even while everything else was crumbling around them. The lone TD came off a drive that spanned less than 40 yards (after yet another turnover). The run-defense stood tall all day long. Just 206 passing yards were allowed as well. There were problems once the game was well out of hand, but they only allowed 13 points for the first 40 minutes. Eventually even the best and the bravest succumb.
"Jack did a nice job with our defense," Broncos executive vice president of football operations John Elway told The Post. "We had a lot of injuries on that defensive side and Jack did a good job holding that side together. Even in the Super Bowl, our defense kept us in the game in the first half."
But five games is a small sample size, so how do we know it's a forward trend rather than some lovely luck? Well, first off, Lady Luck hates us. Secondly, I simply want to remind you to trust the weatherman who tells you to take sunscreen with you to the beach on a beautiful day, rather than the idiot who told you to bring an umbrella.
I detailed the forward trend in a FanPost about the Von Miller Effect right here, and it was prior to all those lovely playoff statistics.That doesn't mean I'm trying to get you to call me Rain Man, just that trends are more credible when they're seen in in real time rather than as somebody's cherry-picked hindsight. Well, to me at least.
If sun was on the forecast, and sun is what you see when you look up, well then, it's probably the duck that quacks like a duck, especially considering you were forewarned to be on the lookout for the little quack monster to begin with.
This is a defense that ranked in the elite column in all major categories in 2012. Same system, and the same coordinator, going on three years in a row now. In other words, the pedigree was there all along. When pedigree meets its potential, it's time to stop looking the gift horse in the mouth and just take it for what it is, for what it was always meant to be.
Sounds like Elway agrees, "Two years ago we were top-5 in scoring and in yards given up, so we know it's there. We'll just try and continue to stay healthy next year and find some players to help on that side of the ball",
The Broncos ranked #1 in run-defense early in the year this season, and then after combating some key injuries in the middle, it again ranked in the #1 spot throughout the playoffs (against some pretty tough runners, no less). As I detailed in the "trends" post prior to the postseason (I've updated the numbers herein), passing yards allowed per game went from an utterly embarrassing average of 362 yards per game over the first five weeks, to then only allowing 230 yards per game the rest of the season - followed by 214 YPG in the playoffs. Points allowed in the four games leading up to MetLife (even against two power-house offenses in tournament games) never climbed over 17, and averaged an incredibly low 15 PPG - a number that would have been good for 2nd in the league had they done it all year.
The trend was clear. The trend was real. History has now told us it was right. Even while missing half of its starters and best players, the defense was dialed in by the end of the year. Eager to get those players back, John?
"Yeah, it's nice to get all those guys back. It was fun putting the magnets back up on the board and taking them off IR and putting them back on the better," Elway said. "All of a sudden the team looked a lot better after we got those magnets back where they should (be)."
By my count, 14 starters and key role-players missed a total of 94 games for the Broncos last season - most of which were on the defensive side of the ball - and it accounted for a cap hit of $28.2M in lost production. That's roughly 1/4th of the team's overall cap. To put that in context, a team that was often compared to the Broncos as far as dealing with injuries last year was the New England Patriots, and their total dollar amount in lost production was right around $15M (roughly half what ours was).
Forget any earlier notions each of you may have had about Defensive Coordinator Jack Del Rio, as well as any frustration you may have voiced along the way. It's in the past, and I'll ask the Bradfather to forgive you. Last year proved exceptional depth and exceptional coaching on the defensive side of the ball. Despite missing all those key players, the defense essentially carried the offense through the playoffs in a lot of ways, and Rio deserves a medal for his accomplishments. Although I guess he settled for an early contract extension instead.
More importantly, we now get to add about five big upgrades to a defense that was absolutely killing it late in the season, even without them, and we haven't even spent a draft pick yet. That's not a whole lot different than adding five free agent upgrades... for free. Granted, the unit still isn't perfect as there are still key weaknesses at Strong Safety and Middle Linebacker.
"Some people say you build from the inside out, others say you build from the outside in. So, we were fortunate in the fact that at the corner position we were pretty strong. We're good on the ends (with) Von Miller - even though, until he missed the first six games (and was then injured and placed on IR later in the year)", Elway said - as he then shifted to talk about the rising importance of a strong safety who can cover.
There's a need for a pass-rushing Defensive End, and corner is always important as well, but finding middle men who can make immediate impact and be play-makers for this defense is priority one - even though that doesn't mean the defense is a bad egg to being with, not by any stretch.
The Wrap Up.
Outsiders think the Denver defense sucks. They think it allowed 43 points in the Super Bowl, and they think that's why it needs some major crisis management and triage attention. But we know better. We're going to buy the pieces they think we're going to buy, but not for the reasons they think we're going to buy them. We simply don't have many other place to spend our resources.. simple as that.
There is a battle getting ready to start, my friends, but it's a battle that nobody knows about yet. It will be quietly waged between the Denver Offense and the Denver Defense during 2014, and it'll be to determine which one of them is the better unit. Outsiders would laugh and poke fun at such a notion, which is why it's still our dirty little secret - our Trojan Horse to ride into battle. Shhhhh....