Being first in the NFL in almost every offensive category is great and all, but what’s the old adage again? Oh, yeah: “Defense wins championships.” Based on that mantra, the Broncos have opened up this season’s free agency with a vengeance. And who could blame them? After being routed 43-8 in Super Bowl XXIV, John Elway and the Denver Broncos decided to use the optimal cap room acquired by parting players and started loading up defensively.
It definitely surprised most people when the Broncos decided to part ways with long-time veteran, and future Hall of Fame cornerback, Champ Bailey after 10 seasons as a way to address the Broncos defensive needs. However, the pass defense Denver was inevitably addressed in full force this week with the two key signings of defensive backs Aqib Talib (six-years, $57 million) and T.J. Ward (four-years, $23 million).
Speculators of Talib, who just turned 28-years-old, question the enormous contract given to him by the Broncos ($26 million guaranteed). Talib has yet to play a full season, the closest coming in 2009, his second season in the NFL, where he played 15 games. The upside if he remains healthy, however, is tremendous. In 2010, he was named defensive back of the year even though he only played 13 games. When healthy, Talib is a versatile interception threat with the breakaway speed to return it for a touchdown every pass thrown.
T.J. ‘Boss’ Ward on the other hand is not quite as marquee of a player at his position. But with a nickname like ‘Boss’ inking a brand new $23 million dollar deal ($14million guaranteed), there has to be some kind of upside about this guy. Ward, unlike his recently signed teammate playing now on his right, does in fact play like a true ‘boss’ on the field. Ward, coming off of a pro-bowl season, is a multi-talented safety that will come up to make the big tackles against the run and still have the speed to cover the pass.
So now that the Denver Broncos closed up the leaky faucet in the secondary, what about the creaky floors of the defensive line? With the recent departures of Elvis Dumervil and veteran Shaun Phillips, the team was left with some major shoes to fill… then there was the most recent signing of DaMarcus Ware. The 31-year-old Ware, the Cowboys all-time leader in sacks with 117 and seven-time Pro Bowler, has been a little bit more weary as of late seeing his sack total cut nearly in half from the 2012 season. However, the team is hoping to get the same kind of production this year from Ware that they had gotten from Shaun Phillips last year. Phillips, who was 32-years-old last year, had a strong performance out of the 4-3 defense and racked up 10 sacks in 12 games started. If the Broncos can see that same kind of production out of Ware, the lucrative $30 million ($20 million guaranteed) deal they just gave to him would be well worth it if they can hoist Mr. Lombardi next year.
It is important to remember that although the Denver Broncos did give up 43 points in the Super Bowl and definitely had to make a move defensively, those weren’t all defensive woes. The number one ranked offense in the league and the Broncos special teams definitely played a part in the Super Bowl maylay. On the very first snap of the game, the snap flew over Peyton Manning’s head resulting in a safety. Along with that, Manning had four interceptions (one returned for a TD) and the special teams gave up a kick-off return for a touchdown to start the second half
And although the saying is “defense wins championships,” it is not necessarily of supreme importance. Only six of the past 10 Super Bowl champions had top 10 defenses; and the other four winners had top 10 ranked offenses. That being said, only two of the past 10 Super Bowl Champions had a worse points-per-game defense than the 2013 Broncos (Peyton Manning’s 2006 Colts; Eli Manning’s 2011 Giants).
With that being said, statistically speaking the Broncos on the year were still quite lackluster defensively and any moves on the defensive side could only help the quest for a championship. The Broncos were 22nd in the league in scoring defense, 27th in pass defense, and just middle of the road when it comes to sacks (t-13th), interceptions (t-12th), and defensive touchdowns (t-19th).
But with the recent signings of Aqib Talib, T.J. Ward, DeMarcus Ware and now with their eyes set on veteran Pro-Bowl defensive-end Jared Allen, the Broncos have answered the critics and look like a team primed for another championship run. So after last year’s Super Bowl debacle, it may have looked at first like the aging Peyton Manning’s championship legacy could have been tarnished; but John Elway and the Denver Broncos saw this very window of opportunity closing on them, knew would they had to do in order to win a championship and started thinking defensively. Look for them to be coming into this season as the number one favorite to lift the Lombardi Trophy.
Commentary by Ryne Vyles