By Rich Kurtzman
The Denver Broncos are definite contenders. Any casual observer might believe Peyton Manning is due most credit, but they would be wrong. While Manning has proven to be an elite QB—bringing the Broncos back three times and leading the league in passer rating—he can be given only partial credit for Denver’s success.
The men that matter most are the linemen. Yes, those big boys that have the unglamorous job of getting down and dirty in the trenches—jabbing, jumping and jawing away—they’re responsible for Denver’s lead in the AFC West. As they say, whoever controls the line of scrimmage, controls the game—the Broncos are proving that true.
The offensive line has given up a league-low 11 sacks, an amazing statistic considering starting center J.D. Walton has missed six games and right guard Chris Kuper has only participated in four contests. Certainly, Manning’s quick release helps keep that number down too, but the Broncos O-line deserves admiration for their top-notch play.
Not only does Denver lead in sacks allowed, but sacks for as well, with 31 total. Von Miller’s a menace for quarterbacks, sitting second in the NFL with 10 total. Elvis Dumervil is close behind with seven, while rookie defensive end Derek Wolfe and linebacker Wesley Woodyard each have three. For the first time in 15 years, the Broncos boast a scary front four that can get after the quarterback and cause havoc.
The people over at Cold Hard Football Facts go even further though, ranking Denver’s front as the best in the NFL. The website uses the Defensive Hog Index to rank fronts, which is explained as,
“The Defensive Hog Index is our effort to quantify which team has the best defensive front in football. It’s proven a huge indicator of success since we introduced it during the 2007 season. Teams that are better in the DHI consistently win the playoffs, especially those teams that consistently pressure the passer, as measured by Negative Pass Play%.”
Denver’s D is second in the league in rush yards per carry, a mere 3.57 average for their opponents. Opposing team’s success on third down is a bit better, 10th overall, at 36.72 percent. Maybe the most shocking is Denver’s Negative Pass Play percentage, a stat CHFF created that is quite interesting. NPP% is calculated by how many times a quarterback drops back divided by the number of sacks and interceptions combined. For example, a QB drops back 40 times, is sacked twice and throws two interceptions, the defense’s NPP% is 10. Denver’s is a fourth-best 11.29, or 11.29 percent of the time an opposing QB drops back he will either be sacked or throw a pick.
The Broncos’ pass rush is currently the best in the NFL; not San Francisco or New York, but Denver. Their profound pass-rush not only creates sacks, it leads to running backs being dropped in the backfield and QBs hurrying throws. When they don’t have time to make the right read, the secondary jumps in and jumps routes for interceptions. Likewise, great coverage by the superb secondary can create sacks as well. It’s cyclical and mutually beneficial for the entire team.
It makes Denver a true contender as winning the line of scrimmage on both sides is crucial, and it’s why the Broncos have won four straight games.
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Rich Kurtzman is a Denver native, Colorado State University alumnus, sports nerd, athletics enthusiast, and competition junkie. Currently writing for a multitude of websites while working on books, one on the history of the Denver Broncos and Mile High Stadium. Find more of Rich’s Denver Broncos pieces on Examiner.com.