FanPost

Great Expectations: The Beautiful Denver Defense

Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

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Seriously, how hot is this chick?!

If I told you this girl is a dime, you'd probably think I was crazy. If I told you to imagine her with makeup, with her hair done, and looking a little less, uh, grumpy?

Imagine her with mascara, blush, eyeliner, all the other fancy whatevers that girls like to put on their face. A pretty dress, earrings and a smile? Can you picture it? Can you really get an idea of how pretty she is?

Probably not.

When you're starting from such a rough canvass, most of us just don't have the imagination to track all the moving parts. Tell me she's pretty, that's fine. Tell me she's a "Hollywood 10", and I'm just not buying it. It's just hard to imagine a ceiling so high from a starting point so low.

Trying to figure out how the 2014 Denver Defense will look by comparing it to its 2013 counterpart is not a whole lot different. That 2013 version was without makeup and may as well have been pregnant, too. It was a triage unit with half its starters on IR. And its worst night was, in many ways, the last night you saw it.

Much like the girl above, the Denver Defense is absolutely gorgeous. But you won't even begin to let yourself see her true beauty if you start from such a poor vantage point. She had a bad day, a bad year, whatever. Now your impression is tainted. And I'm here to change that.

Comparing the right stuff; Finding "Par"

The 2012 Denver Defense ranked in the top-5 for pretty much everything: total yards (2nd), scoring (4th), sacks (1st), 3rd down conversions (1st), pass defense (3rd), rushing yards (3rd), rushing YPC (2nd), the list goes on. That 2012 unit was elite across the board. Front to back. Top to bottom. Up. Down. And sideways.

This year it fields the same Head Coach. Same Defensive Coordinator. Same defensive system. And many of those same defenders are still there as well.

So, I beg of you, forget 2013 for a few minutes. There are just too many moving parts to track; too many ugly memories clouding our judgements.

Instead, I submit to you this: 2012 is the only par from which we can accurately add and subtract with any grasp of totality. 2012 is the canvass from which we must weigh change, because we will never allow ourselves to see the true beauty if we can't first forget the uglier, more recent picture that's most fresh in our minds.

And on that tip, follow me down the yellow brick road, won't you?

Defensive Tackle.

2012: Kevin Vickerson (45.1% of the defensive snaps), Justin Bannan (48.9%), Mitch Unrein (36.2%), Ty Warren (0.5%)/Sealver Siliga (0.4%).

2014: Terrance Knighton, Sly Williams, Kevin Vickerson, Mitch Unrein/Marvin Austin.

What's similar:
Denver's best defensive tackle in 2012, Kevin Vickerson, is still around but is currently expected to play as its 3rd best defensive tackle in 2014. Mitch Unrein was the third-string tackle in 2012, and although he's gotten better and more experienced, he's currently fourth or fifth on the depth chart simply due to upgrades around him.

What's different:
Justin Bannan has been upgraded by Terrance "Pot Roast" Knighton, the terror of January. Ty Warren was a no-show again in 2012 (as he was in 2011), but originally he had been expected to be the top dog in that group. He's been replaced by Sly Williams, Denver's first-round draft pick of 2013 - a guy who has already shown flashes of brilliance.

Bottom Line:
This group has improved from the ceiling to the floor. Knighton and Sly both offer more pass-rush ability than any defensive tackle on the 2012 roster. By a landslide. Kevin Vickerson, even while healthy, and with no knock on his own abilities, is now nothing more than a third-string player. That's how much this unit has improved from the one that ranked in the top-3 for run-defense in 2012.

Defensive End.

2012: Elvis Dumervil (86.2% of the snaps), Derek Wolfe (84.3%), Robert Ayers (29.7%), Malik Jackson (10.6%).

2014: DeMarcus Ware, Derek Wolfe, Malik Jackson, Quanterus Smith.

What's similar:
Returning from the 2012 squad are both strong side ends; Derek Wolfe and Malik Jackson. They both play off the edge on the TE side of the formation on base downs and shift inside as interior pass-rushers on passing downs.

What's different:
DeMarcus Ware has replaced Elvis Dumervil as the starting rush-end, while Quanterus Smith has replaced Robert Ayers as the backup rush-end.

Bottom line:
This unit has been upgraded by way of DeMarcus over Elvis, as well as through additional experience from the two holdovers at LDE (both of whom were rookies at the time). And this bears underlining: Elvis Dumervil was good, but DeMarcus Ware is better. Quarterbacks fear him, offensive tackles can't handle him, and young pass-rushers want to be him. He's the bee's knees, a bag of chips, and if he doesn't hit a bare minimum of 13 sacks this season I'll post a picture of me wearing a dress. In other words, you can take his production to the bank.
Q Smith replacing Ayers is the only unknown, but his upside and pedigree are extremely high. Not to mention, Robert didn't exactly set a high bar for Smith to stack up against (16 total tackles, 2 sacks, no INT's or FF's). This group has tremendous ability has been substantially upgraded from its 2012 counterpart.

Linebackers.

2012: Von Miller, SLB (89.8% of the snaps); Wesley Woodyard, WLB (81.9%); Keith Brooking, MLB (42.3%); Joe Mays, MLB (27.2%); Danny Trevathan, Coverage Linebacker (22.4%); D.J. Williams, Coverage Linebacker (12.1%).

2014: Von Miller, SLB; Danny Trevathan, WLB; Nate Irving, MLB; Lamin Barrow, MLB/Coverage Linebacker; Corey Nelson, Coverage Linebacker; Lerentee McCray, SLB.

What's similar:
Von Miller remains in the same role he was in during 2012, playing as the SLB in base packages and then moves up to the line as an edge rusher in sub-packages. Danny Trevathan has replaced Wesley Woodyard as the starting WLB, but this is still very similar in that they are essentially twins in body type, speed and in the roles they're asked to perform. Wesley had a terrific 2012 season in his role as WLB, but so too did Danny in that same role last year. Replacing Woodyard with Danny is basically a draw with only a slight nudge towards Danny.

What's different:
Brooking and Mays were the primary MLB's in 2012, while Nate will take on that role this year. Most often, the Broncos send their MLB off the field during passing situations, and since Von moves up to play as a pass-rusher in those instances, another linebacker comes in as a coverage specialist. In 2012 this role was performed by Danny Trevathan, DJ Williams, or sometimes Brooking stayed on the field instead. For 2014, this is the biggest question mark on the defense, as it is currently unknown who will perform that role.

Bottom line:
Von and Danny as the starting OLB's are very similar to Von and Woody of 2012 and should be called a tie. Nate Irving replacing Brooking and Mays as the MLB shouldn't be hard to do from a base-down perspective, as neither of those guys from 2012 were all that good. This MLB position has been a weakness for the Broncos for quite some time, but it's unlikely 2014 will be a downgrade from 2012's personnel. Coverage linebackers and overall linebacker depth from 2012 was better than this current version, though, and that means this group overall is a downgrade. The starters themselves are on par with 2012, though.

Cornerback.

2012: Champ Bailey (94.6% of the snaps), Chris Harris (84.4%), Tony Carter (46.4%), Tracy Porter (28.2%), Omar Bolden (7.3%).

2014: Aqib Talib, Chris Harris, Bradley Roby, Kayvon Webster, Tony Carter

What's similar:
Three of those five corners from 2012 are still in Denver. Chris Harris remains as the #2 corner, but 2012's #3 CB and #5 CB (Carter and Bolden, respectively) are now #5 and #6 on the depth chart simply due to having a deeper, more talented roster in front of them.

What's different:
Aqib Talib replaces Champ Bailey as the team's top cornerback. Talib made his bones last season by tracking and shutting down the opposition's primary threat just like Champ did for the Broncos in 2012. Champ Bailey was still a top corner in 2012, but Aqib Talib was both a Pro Bowler and an All Pro as recent as last year as well, so it's hard to call this anything other than a draw.
Tony Carter and Tracy Porter essentially took turns as the team's third corner in 2012, as Tracy Porter had some illness issues but was also benched for performance. Those two roles this season will be fought out by rookie first-rounder Bradley Roby and last year's third-round pick Kayvon Webster.

Bottom line:
Aqib and Champ are a wash at the #1 spot. Harris at the #2 spot might take a few weeks to get back into the full swing of things while coming off ACL injury, but by the time the games start to matter in January, it's within reason to expect he's much better these days than he was in 2012 when he was only first finding his groove.
Next, we know by way of simple common sense that if 2012's third CB is 2014's fifth CB, then this current roster is better in seats #3 and #4. It's hard to say just how much of an upgrade that is, but Roby and Webster both have sky-high ceilings.
At the very least, Talib and Harris are both top-10 corners, and the #3 and #4 corners will be anything but a weakness. At the very least, this unit has been upgraded. But, in my own personal opinion, this is the strongest unit on the team and should be in the running as the strongest CB group in the entire NFL by the time January rolls around.

Safety.

2012: Rahim Moore, FS (97.5% of the snaps); Mike Adams, SS (91.7%); Jim Leonhard, SS (24.3%); David Bruton, FS (2.4%).

2014: Rahim Moore, FS; T.J. Ward, SS; Quinton Carter, FS/SS, Duke Ihenacho, SS; David Bruton, FS.

What's similar:
Rahim Moore remains as the starting FS in 2014. He is more experienced and is going into a contract year, so the needle should be pointed upward. Bruton remains in Denver as well, but is now considered the 5th safety on the depth chart rather than the 4th.

What's different:
T.J. Ward replaces Mike Adams at SS, which is a massive upgrade that simply cannot be overstated. Ward was a Pro Bowler and an All Pro last season, as he's one of the absolute top SS's in the game. Leonhard acted as something of a swing safety in 2012, but played mostly up in the box. It can be debated whether it's more likely that this role falls upon Carter or Duke in 2014, but it's hard to debate that it won't be an upgrade either way.

Bottom line:
Moore and Ward as the starters in 2014 is a massive upgrade over Moore and Adams in 2012. A healthy Quinton Carter along with Duke Ihenacho as the primary backups also represents a not-so-small upgrade over 2012's lineup of Leonhard and Bruton.

Conclusion.

The 2012 defense was elite across the board, statistically speaking. But no matter how hard it is to believe, this 2014 defense is just plain better. The defensive line has been massively upgraded from end to end, the current secondary, in a lot of ways, makes its 2012 counterpart look like a bunch of nobodies, and only the linebacker corps remains as being less than improved.

The bar for this 2014 defense is nothing less than that which the 2012 defense achieved. And the ceiling? It's to the moon, Alice.

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Remember the picture from the beginning? This is the same girl, Mila Kunis. She's funny, smart and even speaks a couple different languages. She's kinda pretty, no?

You've really got to get those earlier images out of your head and allow yourself to now imagine a ceiling so high. This is what we look like now, not the picture you saw earlier. We are beautiful... we just had a bad day, a bad year, a bad whatever.

This is a Fan-Created Comment on MileHighReport.com. The opinion here is not necessarily shared by the editorial staff of MHR

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