Sometimes a season with insanely high expectations can appear to be disappointing, even though the team finished with a 12-4 record and the second overall seed in their conference. As crazy as that sounds, it certainly feels like the Denver Broncos fanbase is mostly dissatisfied with the 2014 regular season.
There are plenty of reasons why that sentiment is just plain crazy and one of them has to do with the advanced stats from Pro Football Focus. They are one of only two teams in the NFL to finish in the Top 5 in both cumulative offensive and defensive PFF grades, with the Baltimore Ravens being the other. They would run away with the top defensive score in the NFL (+122.7) and and fifth in offense (+49.6).
To qualify for this review, a player must have been on the field for a minimum of 500 snaps. Let's get this In Focus show on the road!
RB C.J. Anderson +19.8. For a guy who barely made the cut with 510 snaps, C.J. Anderson is certainly deserving for the top spot given how vital he has been to the Denver Broncos offensive production over the final six games of the season. Speaking of those final six games, Anderson racked up 140 carries for 648 yards at 4.63 yards per clip and 8 rushing touchdowns. Those are some huge numbers and six games is a very good chunk to draw conclusions from. He also added 34 receptions for 324 yards and two more touchdowns. I hate to say this, because I am a huge fan of Montee Ball (-1.8) and his potential, but can Ball do this?
I think not.
WR Demaryius Thomas +19.3. There is no doubt that Demaryius Thomas is a special player in this league and deserving of the big contract that he must receive from John Elway this coming offseason. He has done nothing but produce since getting fully healthy out of college. He produced for Tim Tebow and he produced for Peyton Manning (+10.1). This year he joined Jerry Rice and Marvin Harrison as the only wide receivers in NFL history to string together three straight 90 catch, 1400 yards, 10 touchdown seasons. His quiet demeanor and humble attitude has made him the least known great wide receiver in the league today, but the numbers don't lie.
WR Emmanuel Sanders +15.6. The Denver Broncos 2014 X-Factor has to go to Emmanuel Sanders. The guy has been amazing since coming to Denver this offseason, putting together his best statistical season, nearly doubling his production with 101 receptions, 1404 yards and 9 touchdowns. His ability to get behind the defense has opened up the offense more than people realize, with Demaryius Thomas getting more single coverage looks and C.J. Anderson some six-man boxes to tear through. If the Broncos are going to get another shot in the Super Bowl its going to be due to the offensive dimension that Sanders brought. That and these acrobatic catches he makes.
Needs Improvement: The only offensive linemen to post positive grades for the season was Orlando Franklin (+12.0) and Will Montgomery (+4.2). The rest of those guys were not very good in 2014, with Manny Ramirez (-5.1) leading the way. Although, Louis Vasquez (-1.3) was on pace to be one of the top offensive linemen in the NFL until he was moved to right tackle. Overall, John Elway must address the right tackle position this offseason as I believe that to be the source of all of the issues on the line. Ryan Clady (-2.8) is allowed to have an off year as he has proven himself to be mostly consistent and should be the Broncos left tackle in 2015.
LB Von Miller +54.0. Yes, you read that number correctly. Von Miller is a beast on the football field. He defends the run well (+22.0), he rushes the passer well (+33.6), and he even drops back into coverage with some efficiency (+1.8). Von Miller earns the top PFF score on defense almost every week, so its no wonder he ran away with the top spot for the season. He posted only one negative grade all season in Week 15 against the San Diego Chargers.
Von Miller closed out the 2014 regular season with 15 sacks and 25 tackles for a loss. However, he did seem to be less effective than usual later in the season, but hopefully that is just him conserving some of his mojo for the playoffs, because I want to see a lot of this over the next five weeks.
CB Chris Harris Jr +28.4. The best corner in the NFL is none other than Chris Harris Jr. who rightfully got a spot on the 2014 Pro Bowl roster after being snubbed by the fans during voting. John Elway was smart to lock him up for the long haul as it will ensure the Broncos have two top-tier cornerbacks in the NFL for at least the next several seasons. The thing about Harris is that he is a tactician who lets the interceptions come to him. His focus on every play is to deny the other team from getting the big play. His consistency all year long is what is truly remarkable about Chris Harris Jr's season.
|2||Kansas City Chiefs||5||3||60.0%||40||13.3||8||0||0||1||85.4|
|3||@ Seattle Seahawks||6||4||66.7%||24||6.0||23||0||1||1||34.7|
|6||@ New York Jets||6||1||33.3%||13||13.0||2||0||0||0||47.9|
|7||San Francisco 49ers||5||2||40.0%||8||4.0||2||0||0||2||47.9|
|8||San Diego Chargers||6||4||66.7%||37||9.3||12||0||1||1||43.8|
|9||@ New England Patriots||7||6||85.7%||47||7.8||35||0||0||0||94.6|
|10||@ Oakland Raiders||6||4||66.7%||8||2.0||8||0||0||1||70.1|
|11||@ St. Louis Rams||3||0||00.0%||0||0.0||0||0||0||0||39.6|
|13||@ Kansas City Chiefs||6||3||50.0%||13||4.3||11||0||0||1||56.3|
|15||@ San Diego Chargers||7||3||42.9%||33||11.0||5||0||0||1||57.4|
|16||@ Cincinnati Bengals||1||0||00.0%||0||0.0||0||0||0||1||39.6|
DL Malik Jackson +24.2. In one of the more surprising PFF grades, Malik Jackson easily takes the third best defensive score on the season, beating out Brandon Marshall (+18.9) for this spot. He could have challenged Chris Harris Jr too, if it wasn't for the -3.4 mark he gets by committing stupid penalties. In any case, like C.J. Anderson, he has had more of a limited role on the season with just 578 total snaps on defense. However, that just means he has made the most of his opportunities to be disrupted on the defensive side of the ball. Jackson was equally good in both run defense and rushing the passer. Even though he had a quarter fewer snaps than DeMarcus Ware (+4.8) and Von Miller, he finished the season with roughly the same number of quarterback hurries and hits as the Broncos two star pass rushers. It might be time to consider getting Malik Jackson on the field more during the playoffs.
Whenever you ask the question, "Who made that play?" more and more, the answer is Malik Jackson.— Andrew Mason (@MaseDenver) December 28, 2014
Needs Improvement: This section is going to have to go to two John Elway first round picks. Even though Sylvester Williams (-7.6) has been seeing less and less playing time, notching 435 snaps this season he has been exposed in run defense. Bradley Roby (-2.5) also struggled in his first season in the NFL. It's tough to harp on two young guys, but both will need to work hard to start making their way in this league. They didn't log the worst grades of the season, but Quanterus Smith (-12.1) and Steven Johnson (-8.8) were only on the field for 308 and 215 snaps for the entire season. Their poor grades could be a big reason why, though.
The outstanding depth on defense and the continued supremacy on offense has made this years Denver Broncos one of just two teams to finish in the Top 5 in DVOA and PFF Grading. Comparing that to last year's offensive-heavy team and we could be looking at a much better overall football team compared to the one that broke offensive records in 2013. In January and February, that is what truly counts when champions are made.
The evidence is in these grades. Just two defensive players with over 500 snaps finished with negative grades on the season, while the offense is at least keeping a handle on the ball this season and still near the top in the league in scoring. After reviewing the season in total, I feel a heck of a lot more confident about these Broncos than I did just a few days ago.
What do you think Broncos Country?
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