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Stats ride: Denver Broncos stat review for Week 3 in 2022

A couple of different indicators of how good this Broncos defense is and could be.

San Francisco 49ers v Denver Broncos Photo by Jamie Schwaberow/Getty Images

Through three games the Denver Broncos defense has allowed 36 points (12 per game). That’s not sustainable.

In the modern pass-happy NFL, I doubt we will ever see a defense finish the season allowing 12 or fewer points per game. There are 15 defenses in NFL history that have allowed 11.7 or fewer points per game and none of them did it this century. The most recent was the 2000 Ravens (which was last century since this century didn’t start until 2001).

The best scoring defense this century, the 2002 Bucs, allowed 12.3 points per game. There is only Broncos team in that top 15 (11th), the 1977 Broncos of the Orange Crush that allowed 10.4 per game. That team also had four first team All-Pros on defense: DE Lyle Alzado, ILB Randy Gradishar, OLB Tom Jackson and SS Billy Thompson. CB Louis Wright also made the Pro Bowl that season, but was not first team All-Pro. Astoundingly no player from that 1977 Bronco defense is in the Hall of Fame.

This really shouldn’t be a surprise though, since great team defenses seem to get their stars overlooked when it comes to the Hall of Fame.

The best scoring defense in NFL history is largely from a forgotten team - the 1977 Atlanta Falcons. That defense allowed an amazing 9.2 points per game, but they were part of a 7-7 team that didn’t make the playoffs. That defense had two shutouts, two games where they allowed 3 points and another two games where they allowed 6 points. The Falcons lost games where they allowed 10 (twice), 14, 16, 21 and 23 points. The average team in 2021 scored 23.0 points per game.

The 10 teams above the 1977 Broncos had these first team All-Pro’s on defense (that season)

Rank Year Team PPG allowed First Tm All-Pro 1 2 3 4
1 1977 ATL 9.2 0
2 1969 MIN 9.5 1 Carl Eller
3 1975 RAM 9.6 1 Jack Youngblood
4 1976 PIT 9.9 2 Jack Ham Jack Lambert
5 1971 MIN 9.9 2 Carl Eller Alan Page
6 1971 CLT 10.0 3 Ted Hendricks Rick Volk Bubba Smith
7 1970 MIN 10.2 2 Carl Eller Alan Page
8 1968 CLT 10.3 2 Bobby Boyd Mike Curtis
9 2000 RAV 10.3 1 Ray Lewis
10 1977 RAM 10.4 0
11 1977 DEN 10.6 4 Lyle Alzado Randy Gradishar Tom Jackson Billy Thompson

Many of the All-Pros on those defenses are in the Hall of Fame (Carl Eller, Alan Page, Jack Ham, Ted Hendricks, Jack Lambert, Jack Youngblood and Ray Lewis), but a few, including all of the Broncos, are not. This seems like a travesty to me as a Bronco fan. Hopefully this travesty gets remedied in the near future.

Back to the 2022 Broncos, the defense would have to play at this same level for the rest of the season to finish in the top 10 scoring defenses this century (shown below).

Year Team PPG Allowed
2002 Buccaneers 12.3
2005 Bears 12.6
2006 Ravens 12.6
2001 Bears 12.7
2001 Eagles 13.0
2001 Steelers 13.3
2008 Steelers 13.9
2019 Patriots 14.1
2011 Steelers 14.2
2011 49ers 14.3

As the 2019 Patriots showed, great scoring defenses did not end with the 2011 season. To be fair, the 2013 Seahawks just missed the top 10 for this century.

But let’s wait until this defense faces a few “good” offenses before we starting thinking about the 2022 Broncos defense being one of the best scoring defenses this century. There were plenty of Broncos defenses that looked great in the first three games and then fell apart in the final 13 (or so) and this defense isn’t even the best scoring defense in the league right now. That would be the Bucs, who have only allowed 27 points through three games.

This 2022 Broncos defense has yet to really face a strong offense. With two teams yet to play this week, the Broncos opponents so far this season rank 25th (HOU), 27th (SEA) and 28th (SF) in scoring. We have two games with the Chiefs who are fourth, and two games with the Raiders, who are 11th along with Jags (7th), Cardinals (13th) and Rams (15th).

Many tests await this Broncos defense, but the squad should have Justin Simmons back soon and that will be make this good defense even better.

Forcing fumbles a strength so far

One thing that this defense has been very good at so far is forcing fumbles. The 2022 Bronco defense has forced six fumbles in three games, which is the same number of forced fumbles that the Broncos defense had for the entire 2021 season. Obviously this pace is not sustainable (on pace for 34 forced fumbles), but I would not be surprised if this defense finishes as the best Bronco defense ever in terms of forced fumbles. The league only started tracking them in 1991 - although they have back-filled the forced fumble data for some players.

Derrick Thomas was credited with three forced fumbles as a rookie in 1989 while fellow Hall of Fame OLB, Lawrence Taylor, shows zero forced fumbles at PFR. Taylor actually had 33 during his career, according to the official Hall of Fame site. I’m not sure why he is absent from the FF data at PFR.

Two former Broncos are in the top 20 All-time, but neither is Von Miller, who only has 26 for his career. Brian Dawkins (36) and DeMarcus Ware (35) are the two. The active player with the most is current Raider Chandler Jones, who has 33. Jones led the league with eight in 2019. He had six last season for the Cardinals, which matched the Broncos, who were dead last in forced fumbles in 2021. The Jags who only got two fumbles as turnovers in 2021, still forced eight fumbles.

Oddly enough during that 1991 season, when the league began tracking this for every player, the Broncos defense was only credited with 4 forced fumbles, while the team benefitted from 10 opponent’s fumbles that we recovered. That 1991 defense recovered two and half times as many fumbles as they caused, making them the luckiest Broncos defense. Compare that to the 2012 Bronco defense that forced 19 fumbles but only recovered eight. That was the unluckiest Broncos defense on record. The Broncos record for forced fumbles was set by the 2015 Super Bowl winning defense (No Fly Zone) who forced 22.

I found it interesting that the 2020 and 2021 defenses recovered the same number of fumbles, but the 2020 team forced twice as many.

In terms of interceptions, this Broncos defense has actually underachieved with only one through three games. Last season the Broncos picked off opposing QBs 13 times. The most picks by a recent Bronco defense was 18 by the 2014 Broncos defense. Aqib Talib and Rahim Moore each had four interceptions that season, while Chris Harris Jr. had three.

However, that 2014 passing defense allowed 29 passing touchdowns. The 2016 Broncos defense only had 14 picks, but they only allowed 13 passing TDs. That made it one of two modern Broncos defenses to have more interceptions that passing TDs allowed. The other was the 2006 Broncos defense led by Champ Bailey. That defense allowed 13 passing TDs and had 17 interceptions. Champ had 10 picks that year. Darrent Williams (RIP) had four.

It always amazed me that QBs would actually test Champ when he was at his peak like he was in 2006. I see glimmers of that level of play in Patrick Surtain II. Last game, Jimmy Garoppolo targeted the man that PS2 was covering six times, and each pass hit the ground. PS2 was also great against DK Metcalf in the opener. He held Metcalf to one of his worst games of his career as he spent most of the night in coverage of the “unicorn” WR.