Over the past two seasons the Denver Broncos have had one of the best defenses in the history of the NFL. The 2015 Super Bowl run was followed up by a defense that ranked 4th in the NFL, but number one in the pass. The run defense struggled, but injuries took their toll, which hurt the unit a little.
What is the reason for this greatness? As Ian St. Clair and I discussed on the MHR Radio podcast, the answer is Wade Phillips. Prior to Wade Phillips’ arrival in Denver, the Broncos defensive unit looked almost identical to the players that are on the team now. John Fox and Jack Del Rio had access to the same talent, but could not get the same level of play. The why isn’t important. However, the only thing that ranks higher than finding Gary Kubiak’s replacement is keeping Wade Phillips on the Broncos sideline.
When Fox took over the defense ranked 32nd in the league, and he and Jack Del Rio were able to rebuild. The defense ranked as high as 2nd in the league in total yards in 2012. That was the only year they were a top ten defense under Del Rio. In 2015 the Broncos were the top ranked defense, and won a Super Bowl.
As John Elway goes about interviewing head coaching candidates he needs to ask one simple question, “Do you plan on keeping Wade Phillips as the defensive coordinator?” If the answer is not an immediate yes, then Elway needs to show that candidate the door. Phillips did not build this defense, but he molded it into the most feared group in the NFL.
The No Fly Zone has become an impenetrable force. Von Miller owns the edge, and guys like Shane Ray and Shaq Barrett have become major contributors. Without injuries on the defensive line to guys like Vance Walker and Derek Wolfe, the run defense would likely have been far better than it was.
The uncertainty of Denver’s offense makes this even more paramount. Wade Phillips brings stability to the team. Keeping him on as a coordinator allows the new head coach to build the offense. It gives potential first time head coaches a chance to grow into the position. It is a safety net, and that net is controlled by Phillips.
Still hoping to be with Broncos,of course.— Wade Phillips (@sonofbum) January 2, 2017
There is some speculation that Phillips may also retire, making this point moot. However, Elway needs to give Phillips a reason to stay. Whatever Wade Wants needs to be the mantra of the Broncos vice president of football operations. Some might argue that this is undercutting the new head coach before he even takes the job. If there is a potential head coach out there that wouldn’t want Wade Phillips as his defensive coordinator he needs to be cast aside immediately.