When Jack Del Rio first came to the Denver Broncos in 2012, he had some expectations to live up to. The Broncos defense had made a name for itself in 2011. But that was under Dennis Allen.
Allen, as a first time coordinator, coordinated the Broncos’ defense so well that it earned him a job as the Head Coach of the Oakland Raiders. We all remember that defense, led by Champ Bailey, Von Miller, and Elvis Dumervil, wreaking havoc and keeping the Tebow-led offense in contention, so that he could work his 4th quarter miracles. Well, *cough* Tebow and Matt Prater.
In his first season as Defensive Coordinator, Del Rio hit the ground running. The high flying offense, led by Peyton Manning, ran up the score and it allowed the defense to pin back it’s ears and be aggressive and creative. By season’s end, the Broncos were the 2nd best defensive unit in the NFL. Only the Pittsburgh Steelers allowed less yards per game.
Between the 2012 Broncos offense and defense, it looked like a formula destined for the Super Bowl. And then Joe Flacco and the Baltimore Ravens came into Denver and through a series of their own miracles, pulled of the upset in the Divisional Round.
Going into the 2013 off-season, everyone expected the defense to continue their dominance on the field. But then we had the Elvis Dumervil “Fax-gate” fiasco and he was subsequently released, only to sign with the Ravens. To replace him, the Broncos signed Shaun Phillips.
But then Von Miller got suspended for 6 games for violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy. He didn’t see the field until week 7 vs the Indianapolis Colts. And when he did return, he was 20lbs heavier.
Then Champ Bailey injured his foot in the pre-season and never quite returned to form and Derek Wolfe went down with a neck injury. The odds were beginning to get stacked against the NFL’s 2nd ranked defense, before the games began to even count.
The entire 2013 season was plagued by injuries for the Denver Broncos and the pain was felt most acutely on the defensive side of the ball. By the time the Broncos reached the Super Bowl, the team was without 5 defensive starters. Von Miller, Chris Harris, Jr, Kevin Vickerson, Derek Wolfe, and Rahim Moore all watched the big game from the sideline.
There’s no getting around the fact that as an organization, the Denver Broncos overcame some monumental odds to earn their 7th Super Bowl berth. But it wasn’t enough. The team fell short of the ultimate goal.
But a new season brings with it a new life. Guys are getting their health back. The Broncos have added an immense level of talent via free agency and the draft. DeMarcus Ware, T.J. Ward, Aqib Talib and first round pick, Bradley Roby, will all impact the Broncos defense in a big way in 2014.
And it’s a good thing, because the Broncos schedule is fraught with some tough matchups. Not only will the Broncos have to play the entire NFC West, but they’ll also have to do battle with the Colts, Patriots, Bengals, and of course, the Chiefs (twice) and Chargers (twice).
Del Rio knows it’s an uphill battle. And that the Broncos will have to regain their 2012 form if they’re to repeat as the AFC’s best team and win the Super Bowl.
I like what Chris Harris, Jr had to say on the matter:
“We can be one of the best groups in the league,” Harris said. “ … I mean, two years ago we were a top-five defense in the league. I think we have the people to do that again and in secondary I think we have a chance to be one of the best.”
Del Rio has all of the tools he needs. With Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware coming off the edge, getting after QBs, it’s going to be very difficult for opposing offenses. Add to that a healthy and revamped secondary, and it becomes very disheartening for the opposition.
The big boys on the defensive line, like Terrance Knighton and Sly Wiliams, won’t make it easy to run the ball. I’m excited to see players like Danny Trevathan, Malik Jackson, Derek Wolfe, Nate Irving and Rahim Moore, all continue to improve and take their game to another level.
Can Del Rio orchestrate a rebirth of Orange Crush? All of the pieces are in place. We’ll have our answer very soon. But if I were a bettin’ man, I’d put my money on the Orange and Blue.