By Rich Kurtzman
What makes the Broncos the most scary team in the NFL right now?
Denver is dynamic.
When the season started, all the focus was on Peyton Manning and the many questions that surrounded him. Could he bounce back from multiple neck surgeries to play at an elite level again? Was his arm strength there? Could he take the physical beating of an NFL season at 36-years old? Will he be able to implement his intricate offense with a brand new cast of characters? And so on.
Manning started out sluggishly, as did the Denver defense – the team stumbled to a 2-3 record to start the season. They lost to the Atlanta Falcons after Manning through a season-high three interceptions in the first quarter, and were beaten by the Houston Texans and New England Patriots when the defense was run over.
In Week Six, things looked dire as the Broncos were down 24-0 to the Chargers in San Diego at halftime, needing the win to even up the division standings at 3-3 each. The team came together at halftime, and it took an extraordinary effort from everyone to pull off the crazy comeback victory. Manning and the offense picked it up, but it was the defense – which forced a season-high six turnovers in the game – that won the contest for Denver. Elvis Dumervil forced a sack that Tony Carter returned for a touchdown, and Chris Harris had a pick-six of Philip Rivers to seal the 35-24 win. That game marked a jumping-off point for the Broncos, boosting their confidence to a new-found level and jump-started their 11-game winning streak.
It’s truly amazing what the new-school Orange Crush has done on the win-streak to push Denver to victory.
They allowed a mere 77.9 yards per game against on the ground, letting an opponent go over the century mark only once during that span. Kansas City, led by Jamaal Charles in Week 12, rushed for 148 yards, though the Broncos held the Chiefs to a mere 93 yards rushing on Sunday. There were numerous other remarkable running backs they stopped during the streak, too; Darren Sproles managed five yards, Johnathan Stewart had 31, Doug Martin gained 56 and for Ray Rice, only 38 yards rushing.
The Defense also forced 20 turnovers during the win streak, with at least one a game for the first 10 contests, failing to force one against Kansas City in Week 17. Still, in their most recent outing, they allowed only 119 total yards to the Chiefs – including 26 net passing yards – which were both season-highs.
Of course, there are playmakers at all three levels of the defense, with the most important men up front. Von Miller and Elvis Dumervil combined for 29.5 sacks and 12 forced fumbles, finishing the season as the best pass-rushing duo in the NFL. And they were a major reason why the Broncos ended the year with a league-high 52 sacks. In the middle, outside linebacker Wesley Woodyard has been a versatile and important player for Denver this season. He led in tackles with 114, recording 5.5 sacks with three interceptions and a fumble recovery. And in the secondary, nearly every player has stepped up to play at a career-high level. Champ Bailey is still one of the best corners in the game, while second-year men Harris, Carter and Rahim Moore have all developed into deft defenders as the season has gone on.
And leading them all is new defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio, who’s schemes have worked to near perfection. He demands teamwork, which is evident in the way the Broncos play together, gang-tackling ball-carriers and punishing them with physicality. Del Rio’s not afraid to dial up a blitz, and he has often when critical times arise. While there are some new players to the unit, most of them remain from last year’s squad that was not nearly as productive as they have been this season; Del Rio’s the reason why.
As the playoffs begin, the Broncos will have to get stellar play from not only their offense, but their defense as well to continue winning games and step closer to a franchise’s seventh Super Bowl appearance. If their play on the 11-game winning streak is any indication, Denver will do just fine on D.
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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.