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The 2023 Broncos’ defense was terrible at rushing the passer and stopping the run

Even when blitzing, the Denver Broncos could not generate much pressure on opposing quarterbacks.

New England Patriots v Denver Broncos Photo by Dustin Bradford/Getty Images

According to pro-football-reference.com, the Denver Broncos blitzed the 5th most of any defense in the league (35.0%). A blitz is defined as rushing five or more defenders. Only the Vikings, Buccaneers, Giants, and Pats blitzed more frequently. The Colts blitzed the least often at 15.7% while the Vikings blitzed 51.5% of the time on passing plays.

Despite blitzing often the Bronco defense finished 29th in pressure rate at 17.9%. Only the Commanders (16.8%), Cardinals (16.4%), and Panthers (16.3%) were worse at pressuring the opposing QB. The Chiefs were the best in the league at pressuring the opposing QB (26.7%).

If you blitzed at lot, you missed the playoffs (with the exception of the Bucs).

If you were terrible at pressuring the opposing passer, you missed the playoffs.

In fact if you look at the ten worst pass rushing teams in the league, only the Bucs and Rams made the playoffs. On the flipside only two of ten best pass rushing teams failed to make the playoffs (Jets and Seahawks).

Tm Bltz% Hrry% QBKD% Sk Prss Prss% MTkl
Kansas City Chiefs 31.00% 9.50% 9.90% 57 174 26.70% 62
Miami Dolphins 21.50% 7.20% 11.80% 56 170 26.20% 117
Detroit Lions 28.70% 10.60% 10.40% 41 172 26.00% 113
Houston Texans 21.00% 8.50% 11.30% 46 165 25.50% 123
New York Jets 16.30% 9.60% 9.20% 48 154 25.50% 114
Green Bay Packers 29.30% 8.10% 9.90% 45 147 23.90% 99
Cleveland Browns 27.70% 6.40% 10.80% 49 146 23.80% 111
Buffalo Bills 23.50% 6.00% 10.30% 54 150 23.10% 97
Pittsburgh Steelers 34.10% 6.90% 9.90% 47 149 22.70% 98
Seattle Seahawks 22.20% 8.20% 8.00% 47 148 22.40% 127
Cincinnati Bengals 21.60% 5.90% 11.20% 44 144 22.40% 71
Atlanta Falcons 23.00% 7.40% 9.30% 42 139 22.30% 91
Philadelphia Eagles 22.00% 8.80% 8.10% 43 161 21.90% 87
Jacksonville Jaguars 30.00% 8.20% 8.60% 40 150 21.60% 115
Minnesota Vikings 51.50% 9.00% 6.40% 43 143 21.20% 87
Dallas Cowboys 28.50% 5.50% 9.00% 46 125 21.00% 55
San Francisco 49ers 18.00% 5.30% 9.80% 48 146 20.70% 64
New England Patriots 35.20% 9.30% 5.20% 36 125 19.60% 81
Baltimore Ravens 21.90% 3.80% 8.70% 60 143 19.50% 84
Indianapolis Colts 15.70% 4.50% 7.90% 51 125 19.30% 92
New York Giants 45.40% 7.60% 6.90% 34 122 19.20% 114
Las Vegas Raiders 19.40% 5.90% 6.90% 46 123 19.00% 103
Chicago Bears 22.20% 6.40% 8.80% 30 127 18.80% 101
Los Angeles Chargers 30.00% 7.00% 5.00% 48 125 18.70% 93
Los Angeles Rams 24.30% 5.90% 7.50% 41 126 18.60% 102
Tampa Bay Buccaneers 40.10% 5.60% 6.50% 48 126 18.50% 72
New Orleans Saints 22.20% 7.10% 6.50% 34 115 18.20% 78
Tennessee Titans 21.90% 5.90% 6.00% 45 117 18.00% 81
Denver Broncos 35.00% 4.40% 7.90% 42 115 17.90% 92
Washington Commanders 25.50% 5.10% 6.40% 39 111 16.80% 89
Arizona Cardinals 22.50% 6.60% 4.50% 33 94 16.40% 71
Carolina Panthers 28.50% 3.10% 8.70% 27 85 16.30% 126

The Broncos finished tied for 23rd in sacks, but sacks are overrated. Pressures are what you should focus on.

So let’s look more closely at the Bronco pass rush in 2023 (or lack thereof). SISdatahub.com has free data on how often and how effective every pass rusher in the league was in 2023. I gathered the data for all the Bronco front 7 defenders and it is in the table below.

Player POS Pas Rush Snaps Rush% sacks Hurries Hits Knockdowns Pressures PBU sack% hurry% hit% knckdn% Prss%
D.J. Jones DT 289 98.6 2 8 4 2 11 0 0.7 2.8 1.4 0.7 3.6
Matt Henningsen DE 106 100 0 2 1 1 2 0 0.0 1.9 0.9 0.9 2.0
Elijah Garcia DT 14 100 1 0 0 0 1 0 7.1 0.0 0.0 0.0 7.1
Mike Purcell DT 183 97.3 0 2 7 5 7 1 0.0 1.1 3.8 2.7 3.9
Frank Clark DE 24 88.9 0 0 0 0 0 0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0
Randy Gregory DE 73 93.6 1 4 3 1 5 0 1.5 5.5 4.1 1.4 7.3
Jonathan Harris DT 270 99.3 1 9 7 3 11 0 0.4 3.3 2.6 1.1 4.3
Tyler Lancaster DT 20 95.2 0 0 0 0 0 0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0
Zach Allen DE 492 98.8 5 37 29 17 54 1 1.1 7.5 5.9 3.5 10.9
Alex Singleton ILB 66 11.3 2 10 6 4 13 0 3.0 15.2 9.1 6.1 18.2
Nik Bonitto OLB 252 84.3 8 29 30 11 47 0 2.9 11.5 11.9 4.4 18.0
Josey Jewell ILB 57 13.3 3 5 4 1 10 0 3.7 8.8 7.0 1.8 16.4
Jonathon Cooper OLB 362 82.1 8.5 36 22 6 53 0 2.5 9.9 6.1 1.7 15.0
Baron Browning OLB 200 85.5 4.5 20 13 4 28 0 1.9 10.0 6.5 2.0 13.3
Ronnie Perkins OLB 64 79 0 3 1 1 3 0 0.0 4.7 1.6 1.6 4.8
Drew Sanders LB 64 46 0 2 1 0 2 0 0.0 3.1 1.6 0.0 3.1
Thomas Incoom OLB 8 88.9 0 0 0 0 0 0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0

Our two primary ILBs, Josey Jewell and Alex Singleton only blitzed a combined 123 times. Singleton led the team with a pressure rate of 18.2%, but that is average for an ILB. Ideally you want that to be in the mid 20s. Singleton and Jewell only got pressure on roughly one out of six pass rushes. The best ILB/MLB in the league at rushing the passer in 2023 was Cody Barton who only rushed the passer 28 times, but got pressure on 12 of them (40%). There were four other ILBs/MLBs who got pressure 30% of the time or better

  • Alex Anzalone (37.5%)
  • Elandon Roberts (33.3%)
  • Blake Cashmen (31.3%)
  • Jordyn Brooks (30.0%)

The best high volume (100 pass rushes or more) pass rusher in the league was Ernest Jones of the Rams. He rushed the passer 122 times and generated 30 pressures (25.0%). Of the players with 100 or more pass rushes, only “LB”s were better than 17.0%.

  1. Jones (25.0%)
  2. Ja’Whuan Bentley (19.6%)
  3. Andrew Van Ginkel (18.4%)
  4. Devin White (18.2%)
  5. Nik Bonitto (18.0%)

The Bronco pass rush really missed Nik Bonitto when he was out.

Among volume DE/DT/NT pass rushers (SIS classification), the five best pass rushers were

  1. Micah Parsons (21.0%)
  2. Bryce Huff (19.6%)
  3. Josh Allen (18.8%)
  4. Aidan Hutchinson (18.2%)
  5. TJ Watt (17.7%)

Former Bronco Jacob Martin finished 6th at 17.0% and former #1 overall pick, Myles Garrett, finished 7th at 16.9%. Martin barely made the cut-off with only 103 pass rushes, but he got pressure on 17 of them. Despite only getting 2.0 sacks, his sack rate was better than Hutchinson.

Back to the Broncos, Bonitto and Cooper were our most effective pass rushers. Cooper got pressure on 15.0% of his 362 pass rushes and led the team in sacks with 8.5. Zach Allen led the team in total pressures with 54. Baron Browning’s 13.3% was decent, but his injuries limited him to only 200 pass rushes this season and I think he was playing hurt most of the year. He seemed much less effective at rushing the passer in 2023 than he was in 2022, but he was only at 14.0% in 2022. So the difference wasn’t that great.

Randy Gregory’s 7.3% was pathetic for an “elite” edge rusher and that’s why he was jettisoned. Ronnie Perkins and Drew Sanders still need to learn how to pass rush at the NFL level. They rushed the passer a combined 128 times in 2023 and combined for five pressures. The same could be said for Thomas Incoom, but his sample size was tiny (8 pass rushes).

Zach Allen’s 10.9% is good for a heavy front 7 player. Our next best pass rusher as a down linemen was Elijah Garcia but he only had 14 pass rushes so his sample size was tiny. He got one pressure (it was a sack) on those 14. That could have just been a blocking screw-up (a “lucky” sack), I can’t remember it.

Jonathan Harris and DJ Jones were useless as pass rushers. Harris had 270 and Jones had 289 pass rushes. They each had eleven total pressures. Matt Henningsen was worse, but at least he was able to bat down three passes (according to PFR). Frank Clark and Tyler Lancaster didn’t get within sniffing distance of the opposing QB on their limited pass rushes with the Broncos. Clark had 75 pass rush snaps with the Seahawks and got four pressures for them. That meant that he had a pressure rate of 4.0% for the season which might be why he was waived Seattle before the final game of the season.

According to SIS, our front 7 was terrible at batting passes at the LOS with only two on the season (one from Allen and one from Mike Purcell). PFR is more generous (and frankly I remember more than just two). They credit Randy Gregory with one; Matt Henningsen, Baron Browning, Cooper and Bonitto with two; and Mike Purcell with three.

The Bronco defense faced a plethora (yes, El Guapo, a plethora) of back-up QBs this season and generally made them look good with the exception of Easton Stick.

  • Zach Wilson (loss)
  • Joshua Dobbs (win)
  • Dorian Thompson-Robinson (win)
  • Easton Stick (twice) (both wins)
  • Bailey Zappe (loss)
  • Aidan O’Connell (loss)

The Bronco defense also allowed Justin Fields to have his best NFL game. Going 4-3 against backup QBs is terrible. Across the NFL, the win percentage when facing the backup QB with time to prepare for him is roughly 75%.

Opposing QB Day G# Week Date Team Opp Result Cmp Att Cmp% Yds TD Int Rate Sk
Jimmy Garoppolo Sun 1 1 9/10/2023 LVR @ DEN W 17-16 20 26 76.9 200 2 1 107.9 0
Sam Howell Sun 2 2 9/17/2023 WAS @ DEN W 35-33 27 39 69.2 299 2 0 108.8 4
Mike White Sun 3 3 9/24/2023 MIA DEN W 70-20 2 2 100 67 1 0 158.3 0
Tua Tagovailoa Sun 3 3 9/24/2023 MIA DEN W 70-20 23 26 88.5 309 4 0 155.8 0
Justin Fields Sun 4 4 10/1/2023 CHI DEN L 28-31 28 35 80 335 4 1 132.7 4
Zach Wilson Sun 5 5 10/8/2023 NYJ @ DEN W 31-21 19 26 73.1 199 0 1 78.8 4
Patrick Mahomes Thu 6 6 10/12/2023 KAN DEN W 19-8 30 40 75 306 1 1 94.4 2
Jordan Love Sun 6 7 10/22/2023 GNB @ DEN L 17-19 21 31 67.7 180 2 1 90.8 0
Patrick Mahomes Sun 8 8 10/29/2023 KAN @ DEN L 9-24 24 38 63.2 240 0 2 59.1 3
Josh Allen Mon 10 10 11/13/2023 BUF DEN L 22-24 15 26 57.7 177 1 2 59.3 0
Joshua Dobbs Sun 11 11 11/19/2023 MIN @ DEN L 20-21 20 32 62.5 221 1 1 80.3 2
P.J. Walker Sun 11 12 11/26/2023 CLE @ DEN L 12-29 6 13 46.2 56 0 0 58.5 4
Dorian Thompson-Robinson Sun 11 12 11/26/2023 CLE @ DEN L 12-29 14 29 48.3 134 1 0 73.1 0
C.J. Stroud Sun 12 13 12/3/2023 HOU DEN W 22-17 16 27 59.3 274 1 0 106.1 5
Easton Stick Sun 13 14 12/10/2023 LAC DEN L 7-24 13 24 54.2 179 0 0 78.3 2
Justin Herbert Sun 13 14 12/10/2023 LAC DEN L 7-24 9 17 52.9 96 0 1 45.2 4
Jared Goff Sat 14 15 12/16/2023 DET DEN W 42-17 24 34 70.6 278 5 0 134.6 2
Bailey Zappe Sun 15 16 12/24/2023 NWE @ DEN W 26-23 25 33 75.8 256 2 0 117.7 2
Easton Stick Sun 16 17 12/31/2023 LAC @ DEN L 9-16 24 38 63.2 220 0 0 78.8 1
Aidan O'Connell Sun 17 18 1/7/2024 LVR DEN W 27-14 20 31 64.5 244 2 0 110.1 2

When Jimmy Garappolo, Sam Howell, Mike White, Justin Fields, Dorian Thompson-Robinson, Easton Stick, Bailey Zappe and Aidan O’Connell combine to do this against you - your defense has problems: 157/238, 66.0%, 1742, 10 TD, 2 INT

Oddly enough the QBs who the defense fared best against were the ones you would have expected to slice this defense up Patrick Mahomes (second game), Josh Allen and Justin Herbert. Of course Tua Tagovailoa and Jared Goff made the defense look silly by combing to throw nine TD passes with zero picks against the 2023 Bronco D.

I don’t know if this a function of poor talent on defense or poor coaching. I thought Ejiro Evero got more pass rush production out of ostensibly the same players last season (with the exception of Dre’Mont Jones and DeShawn Williams), but the Bronco pass rush in 2022 generated pressure 18.5% of the time which is only a tiny bit better than the pass rush in 2023. No QB shredded the 2022 defense the way that Tua, Goff and Fields did. The best that any QB did against the 2022 Bronco defense was Baker Mayfield who put up a passer rating of 124.7 against Denver. Tua, Goff and Fields bested that and Zappe came close.

The 2023 defense poor against the pass. The Broncos allowed an opposing passer rating of 83.0 in 22. That jumped to 98.0 in 2023. In 2022 the Bronco defense only had one defensive back that allowed a passer rating of 100 or worse (Kareem Jackson allowed a PR of 100.2). The 2023 Bronco defense had four DBs or LBs who allowed a passer rating of 100 or worse with Delarrin Turner-Yell allowing an mind-boggling 158.3. Additionally Fabian Moreau allowed a passer rating of 98.9 so he was close to 100.

But with all that, the biggest difference between the 2022 and 2023 Bronco defenses was the ability or inability to stop the run. The 22 D allowed 4.26 yards per carry while the 2023 run defense allowed 4.97 which was the 27th worst since the merger.

Rk Season Team Att Yds Y/A TD
1 2022 LAC 457 2478 5.42 17
2 2013 CHI 483 2583 5.35 22
3 2006 IND 519 2768 5.33 20
4 2022 NYG 469 2451 5.23 16
5 2022 DET 477 2491 5.22 22
6 2020 HOU 493 2564 5.20 24
7 2003 KAN 453 2344 5.17 18
8 2012 NOR 457 2361 5.17 18
9 2019 CAR 445 2296 5.16 31
10 1976 KAN 555 2861 5.15 24
11 2012 IND 428 2200 5.14 14
12 2008 DET 536 2754 5.14 31
13 2019 JAX 435 2229 5.12 23
14 2020 CIN 463 2368 5.11 13
15 1973 NWE 560 2850 5.09 16
16 2018 LAR 386 1957 5.07 12
17 2011 OAK 430 2178 5.07 15
18 2022 HOU 573 2894 5.05 25
19 2011 TAM 498 2497 5.01 26
20 2019 CLE 463 2315 5.00 19
21 2011 DET 410 2050 5.00 10
22 2008 KAN 509 2543 5.00 25
23 2021 PIT 498 2483 4.99 17
24 2008 DEN 469 2337 4.98 26
25 2020 DAL 510 2541 4.98 20
26 2018 KAN 425 2114 4.97 19
27 2023 DEN 469 2331 4.97 15
28 2012 BUF 470 2333 4.96 23
29 1972 NWE 548 2717 4.96 27
30 2022 GNB 479 2372 4.95 18

It seems like the Broncos really need to invest heavily in the front 7 in the next two or three drafts, unfortunately since we’re back on the QB-carousel, we’ll most likely we’re going to use our first round pick this year on a QB. How do you want the Broncos to spend that first round pick this year?

Poll

What is your preference for the position that we use our first round pick on?

This poll is closed

  • 25%
    no pick, trade down out of the first and stockpile second and third round picks
    (95 votes)
  • 41%
    QB
    (158 votes)
  • 15%
    DT
    (57 votes)
  • 12%
    edge
    (48 votes)
  • 1%
    ILB
    (7 votes)
  • 0%
    TE
    (3 votes)
  • 0%
    WR
    (3 votes)
  • 0%
    RB
    (0 votes)
  • 1%
    CB
    (6 votes)
  • 0%
    S
    (0 votes)
377 votes total Vote Now