By Joshua Bowers
The Empire State Building, the Golden Gate Bridge, the Gateway Arch in St. Louis. These are the buildings and landmarks that look majestic and are awe-inspiring at the sight of them. We see the finished product. We see the shape of the building, the way that the glass, steel, and concrete come together in ways to form something that sometimes shows us what is possible when a human being fully dedicates themselves to something. Few see the work of the architect.
In order for an architect to accomplish such feats as building something majestic, it first takes vision. They have to see the design of the building in their head long before the foundation is laid. Then they must have direction. They must find a way to take the image in their head and bring it to life. They must put a plan in place in order to turn the vision in their head into the finished product that we see today. Some architects have dedicated most of their lives to realize their dreams of designing some of these buildings. The Denver Broncos defense that has been assembled is his masterpiece and the architect is John Elway.
It was 2013. The Seattle Seahawks were on the field celebrating their championship win, a 52-8 drubbing of the Denver Broncos. In a season where the Broncos and Peyton Manning had broken so many offensive records and destroyed so many defenses, how could something like this happen? How could you be so good offensively yet get beat by such a large margin? The Seattle Seahawks defense aka “The Legion of Boom” put on a defensive clinic that night. The Broncos got behind and the Seahawks just played relentless defense all night. It was on that night that John Elway realized something that has been a saying among football fans and coaches alike for years; Defense wins championships.
One of the first traits of most any successful defense is the defensive line play. The tone gets set at the line of scrimmage. Whether it be rushing the quarterback or stuffing the run, when the defensive line plays well it makes everyone else on the defenses’ job easier. In 2012, the Denver Broncos traded back all the way out of the first round and into the second, which left a lot of fans scratching their heads. They used the eventual 36th pick to draft Derek Wolfe. That was a pick that went under the radar and I still personally don’t feel receives its full due. Derek Wolfe was the defensive player of the year in the conference, coming out of Cincinnati when the Broncos drafted him. Analysts were scratching their heads because at the time the Broncos employed the 4-3 defensive scheme and Wolfe played in the 3-4 scheme while at Cincy. Wolfe was known as a player who had a relentless motor that never stopped. He is still showing that trait even to this day and his impact on the defense is undeniable. In 2013, the Broncos spent their first round pick on Sylvester Williams, a defensive tackle out of North Carolina. Sylvester had the type of acceleration that is rare for a player of his size, but he was still a young player so when Terrance Knighton left via free agency, Elway brought in Antonio Smith and Vance Walker. They were the veteran presence that was needed to help Sylvester Williams and it also added depth to our line. In 2002 the Broncos drafted Malik Jackson out of Tennessee in the fifth round. Can you say steal? Again, he was a player that ran the 3-4 defense in college and when we switched to the 3-4 defense last year, Jackson really flourished. This defensive line only allowed 83.6 rushing yards a game last year, which was number one in the NFL last year. To hold someone to that, the defensive line has to be dominant.
Another successful ingredient in a dominant defense is a pass rush. The Broncos led the NFL last year in sacks with 52 sacks last year in the regular season. They consistently applied enough pressure to opposing quarterbacks and never really allowed them to get any rhythm. That all starts with Von Miller. The first pick that Elway had in his tenure as GM of the Broncos, he used it to get Von Miller out of Texas A&M. I believe that was a pick that was well spent as Von Miller dominated in the playoffs last year and absolutely destroyed the Panthers in their Super Bowl win. After their loss to Seattle, one of the players that John Elway signed via free agency was Demarcus Ware. Ware had been let go by the Cowboys after an injury riddled couple of seasons and at that point was considered to be on the downside of his career. He has been a mentor to Von Miller, along with a huge presence in the locker room. His impact on Von Miller has been mind-blowing, as he has shown everybody in the locker what it means to be a professional and most importantly showed them how to carry themselves like one. He was also 2nd on the team last year with 7.5 sacks. Not bad for someone on the downside of their career, eh? In the 2015 draft, the Broncos drafted Shane Ray, who provided depth and did a good job when he stepped on the field last year to relieve players. I also can’t forget about Danny Trevathan, who led the Broncos in tackles last year and had the speed to cover tight ends in coverage, as well as being all over the field. But an undrafted free agent made a huge impact on the team. His name is Shaquille Barrett, an undrafted free agent out of Colorado State. Shaquille filled in the absence of Von Miller and Demarcus Ware due to resting and various injuries. He had 5.5 sacks last year, 5 forced fumbles, and was sixth on the team in tackles. It has been that type of eye that has allowed the Broncos to get steals via undrafted free agents (I’ll bring up another later on).
One of the most important and most vital ingredients of a defense in the NFL today is a dominant secondary. Denver has that in the “No Fly Zone”. Their leader is TJ Ward aka “Boss”. In a 2014 free agency class that included Ware, Aqib Talib, and other big players, Ward were viewed as the biggest signing. It’s not every day that you get to get a Pro Bowl caliber safety in free agency. Ward was 4th on the team in tackles and has been the voice of leadership in the secondary for the Broncos. Then you have Aqib Talib. He was also acquired in free agency in 2014 and he has been a shutdown corner since his arrival. His college teammate, who the Broncos signed as an undrafted free agent in 2011, is Chris Harris Jr. When the Broncos played the Pittsburgh Steelers last year, Antonio Brown caught a TD pass with Chris Harris Jr. covering him. You may be wondering why I bring this up. The reason is that was the first TD pass that Harris had allowed in 2 YEARS!! He has gone from an undrafted player to one of the best cornerbacks in the league since entering the league. Add in Bradley Roby and you have one of the most formidable secondary’s in the NFL. They only allowed 199.6 yards per game through the air for the season, earning their nickname along the way!
The Orange Crush, led by Wade Phillips, was the number one defense last year in the NFL and almost single-handedly won the championship last year. They only allowed 18.5 points per game last year and never allowed over 29 points at any point last year. They were consistently put in bad situations, often with the game on the line, they always stood up and did their job. The 2015 Broncos were built like an NFL team in the 80’s or 90’s. If all else fails, let the defense dominate and take over the game. If the Broncos are able to come out and duplicate the type of season that they had last year, you have to put them in the conversation as the best defense of all time. Especially if they manage to win the Super Bowl again. John Elway had a vision of the type of team that he wanted to build, what type of defense that he wanted. He had a plan to get there and bring it to life and now all of the NFL is getting to witness his masterpiece!