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Wade Phillips' defenses - League ranks

Wade Phillips is a great defensive coordinator, right? That's the prevailing sentiment in Bronco Country, but what does that mean? What have his defenses been able to accomplish statistically? Let's look into the numbers

Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

First off, I'm only going to show years that Wade Phillips was the defensive coordinator (there was a year in Dallas where he was DC and HC, and that will be included).

Most of us were happy to see Jack Del Rio leave. His defenses were great at stopping the other team from gaining yards (we were 2nd, 16th and 1st in yards allowed per play in his three years) but not so great at stopping the other team from scoring points (we were 16th, 22nd and 4th in points allowed).

Now we have Wade Phillips back as our defensive coordinator. I'm going to focus on the defensive stats that I think are the most relevant and I am going to view the stats in terms of league rank (I can give you actual values in the comments if you want them). I'm going back only to 1996 because one of the data sources only goes back that far. Wade Phillips actually got his first defensive coordinator job in the NFL with the 1981 New Orleans Saints. He was previously our defensive coordinator from 1989-1992 (prior to his two year stint as our head coach).

The stats/rankings of most interest in my opinion:

  • Points Allowed
  • Yards allowed per play (YPP)
  • Yards allowed per carry (YPC)
  • Sacks
  • Forced turnovers
  • Opposing QB rating
  • Sack % (sacks/total opponent passing plays)

League Rank (remember that there were only 28 NFL teams in 1996)

Team Pts YPP YPC TOs Opp. QB Rating Sacks Sack%
96 BUF 6 2 1 19 ? 3 3
97 BUF 23 6 6 28 ? 6 6
02 ATL 7 23 28 2 4 5 3
03 ATL 30 32 25 11 31 16 11
04 SD 11 23 7 9 9 30 30
05 SD 13 12 2 27 24 6 6
06 SD 7 7 21 16 11 1 3
07 DAL 13 6 14 16 5 3 4
08 DAL 20 5 18 23 20 1 1
09 DAL 2 12 10 27 16 7 12
10 DAL 31 28 17 9 29 16 11
11 HOU 4 3 13 12 2 6 3
12 HOU 10 8 9 9 10 5 6
13 HOU 24 14 21 32 23 29 18

Points Allowed

Wade's defenses have never led the league in points allowed (going back only to 1996). His stingiest D was 2009 Cowboys who allowed only 15.6 points per game. He has led five defenses that were in the top 10 in scoring and four defenses that were in the bottom 10. Over these 14 seasons, the average ranking for his D in scoring is 14th. Frankly, I was expecting that number to be better. Interestingly, if you average the team ranking in scoring for JDR's three seasons, you get 14th. Now this does not mean that I think our defense is going to be average again this year in terms of points allowed. Why do I think this? Because this is arguably the most talented defense that Wade Phillips has ever coached.

Yards Per Play Allowed (YPP)

JDR's defenses focused on being fundamentally sound (knowing your assignment and NOT missing tackles). If a defender was in a situation to try and force a turnover or to be safe and just make the tackle, JDR coached them to just make the tackle (this is a distinct contrast to what Pete Carroll coaches). This led to defenses that were very good in terms of stopping the other team from gaining yardage and generally poor at forcing turnovers.  I'm expecting that we will regress this year in YPP rank, but if you look at the rankings Wade's defenses have generally been ranked highly in YPP - half of them have been in the top 10. There have been some really bad units (and the 3-4 is known for having glaring holes if it's played poorly), but these have generally been the exception and not the rule. The average YPP ranking for Wade's defenses is 14th - same as points allowed.

Yards Per Carry (YPC)

Some of the more pessimistic elements in Bronco Country feel that our defense is going to really suffer in terms of allowing yards on the ground this year. This is a valid criticism of the defenses that Wade has coached since 1995. For the most part the are average to poor in YPC allowed. That being said he has still had five of the fourteen teams rank in the top 10 and one of the four #1 rankings that show up in the chart above comes in this category (1996 Bills). The average rank in ypc is 15th for Wade's defenses since 1995.


What separates a great defense from a good defense? The ability to force turnovers. The line of thought generally follows that teams which can pressure the QB effectively will force more turnovers (interceptions and strip sacks). While Wade's defenses have done a good job generating sacks (next section), they have not generally done a good job of forcing turnovers.  Only one of the 14 seasons has his team ranked in the top 5 in forced turnovers (three other teams were ranked 9th). The average league rank for his defenses since 1995 in forcing turnovers is 16th. Four of his fourteen defenses have been in the bottom five of the league in forcing turnovers.

Sacks and Sack%

The statistical area where Wade's defenses have consistently done the best is sacks. Only twice in 14 seasons has his team NOT been in the top half of the league in sack%. Nine out of fourteen teams were in the top 6 in sack%. Wade knows how to generate sacks. His team's average ranking in sack% since 1995 is 8th. Wrap your mind around what Wade's defense is going to be able to do this year with two of the premier edge rushers currently in the NFL (and Shane Ray who may or may not become one of the premier edge rushers in the NFL). The 2006 Chargers were his best team in terms of total sacks with 61 (3.8 per game) - 9.1% of all dropbacks against the Chargers that year ended in a sack.  I honestly think that the 2015 Broncos will top both of those numbers - total sacks and sack%. The best defense this century for sack% was the 2001 Saints who had a 10.7% sack rate. That team only had 53 sacks, but teams did not throw that much against them because they were in the bottom third of the league in terms of stopping the run.

Opposing QB Rating

If you can pressure the QB, you should be able to have a good ranking here (low rankings mean that you allow smaller values to the opposing QB). Interestingly, despite being able to generate many sacks, Wade's defenses have been generally poor at stopping the opposing QB from succeeding. This only goes back to the 2002 season (apparently the league didn't track this until roughly the turn of the century), but Wade's defenses have averaged a 16th place ranking in this stat. Three of his defenses have been in the top 5 and all three of those teams were in the top of the league in sack%, but oddly there were years when his defenses were getting sacks but still getting shredded by opposing QBs (05 SD and 08 DAL). This may have been a function of horrible players in the secondary on those two teams. Thankfully, we have the best CB duo that Wade has ever coached playing for us, so for the 2015 Broncos pressure should equate to low opponent QB ratings.