If Denver wants to repeat its form from 2015, they need help up front. The Broncos only had eight forced fumbles last season. For reference, Jacksonville had 17. Yes, most were from sacked quarterbacks, but they also knocked the ball out from running backs and receivers. I’ll address this part later, but it matters when we address the entire defense.
Like a game of dominoes, when one piece goes down, it ripples. 2017 should’ve been golden, we had Domata Peko to plug up the middle. Adam Gotsis had a mentor to play next to and Derek Wolfe said he was healthy. Plus, we thought we’d have bookend rushers in Von Miller and Shane Ray.
What happened next, set all the pieces tumbling. Ray got hurt. This caused rookie DE DeMarcus Walker to be moved to outside linebacker, not a position he’d spent much time playing, plus he needed to drop weight. When Wolfe showed he wasn’t truly healthy, and with Ray out, our front five took a mighty blow.
The Jags’ DE Yannick Ngakoue accounted for six FF and 12 sacks. I’m using Jax because they were tops at wreaking havoc up front. Wolfe had 2 sacks, no FF. Adam Gotsis and Peko each had 1 sack and no FF (Calais Campbell had 14.5 sacks and 3 FF). Where they did equal the Jaguars was in stopping the run up the middle.
Which was awesome, except it just sent plays around them and this is where Ray going down was the first domino that changed our defense from great to good. While Shaq Barrett did have two FF, and four sacks, his edge rushing wasn’t that great. This allowed teams to double and triple Miller. Which meant we had no pressure from the front three or the outside line backers.
Also to note: when you only force eight fumbles anywhere on the field, it says you’re not ferocious. That Scare Factor is missing, it allows teams to play bolder. That’s a bad thing. Another note: the Jags used the same line-up 17% of the time, the most in the league. We were at 5%. It could go to creativity or not needing to change often because you’re healthy or figure your ground and pound is simple and effective. No matter the reasons, so many personnel changes says Joe Woods was searching for the right players.
When QB’s have time to throw, bad things happen…to defenses. This where our inside linebackers and nickel guy became pawns. Instead of being forced to throw check downs or hoppers, they could take time to assess the field and use the play action (or Run Pass Option) to great effect.
Yeah, we’re definitely working on it. I’m not sure where we were in sacks last year, I think maybe in the 20s. We have these periods where we have first-, second- or third-down pressures—we want to put pressure on the quarterback. I think that’s what made us so successful in 2015 when we won the Super Bowl. We put pressure on them. We played [Patriots QB] Tom Brady in the AFC Championship Game and we hit him 20-some times. I think that’s the key. Last year we kind of lacked on it and so they want to work on it.” Brandon Marshall
With options, this made it tough on Brandon Marshall and Todd Davis to anticipate where the ball was going because QB’s had time to fake. If you see the QB is rushed, it limits where the ball can go, making it easier to jump the route.
Without that extra edge guy, QB’s could pass more, especially since we shut down the run, leading Denver to need 5 DB’s.
The questions surrounding the five up front leads one to hope John Elway brings in another. If Chubb has rookie issues, Wolfe isn’t who he once was, Adam Gotsis has legal problems, what happens? Can Walker, Zach Kerr and Shelby Harris make up for Wolfe and Gotsis? Will Clint McDonald be healthy?
It can’t be stressed enough how important it is having a NT and two DE’s who can not only stop the run, but pressure the QB. These three are facing five guys and without two good linebackers flanking them up front, it’s going to be a losing battle for the ones behind them. I believe if everyone is healthy, they will be a scary bunch, but another body who can play up or down should be a consideration.
The hiring of future HOFer DeMarcus Ware to coach up the edge rushers was a huge step forward in shoring up this weakness. Plus, he and Miller will help speed up Chubb’s progression.
Make sure to read Part II which addresses the other seven positions.