Super Bowl 2014: Denver Broncos Defense Has Improved With Injuries


January 19, 2014; Denver, CO, USA; Denver Broncos defensive tackle Terrance Knighton (94) celebrates after sacking New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady (12) on fourth and two in the second half of the 2013 AFC Championship football game at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Lost in all the talk about the Broncos’ offense vs. the Seahawks defense is the matchup between Seattle’s offense vs. Denver’s defense.

I’m sure you’ve heard it mentioned, since by now this game has been covered by every angle not once but probably about 1o times over. We’ve heard all the stories there are to tell, all the secrets that could be given away, and every meal that Peyton Manning has had has basically been documented.

This is a huge game, the biggest sports event of the year, and the Broncos have a shot at winning it for the first time since John Elway hoisted up his second Lombardi Trophy.

If the Broncos are able to win this game, it will certainly have to be a team effort. When they’ve struggled this season is when they can’t get off the field on third downs defensively, which is something they will have to do frequently to keep Seattle’s defense from wearing them down with the power running game.

The power run game is nothing the Broncos haven’t seen before, or even a dual-threat offense featuring probably a better running back. The Broncos have played against Kansas City twice, taking on Jamaal Charles and Alex Smith, and the rest of the KC crew. The Chiefs were thought at one point to be the team that had the best chance of beating the Broncos straight up because of their talented defense and running game, but the Broncos beat them both times they played.

Seattle’s offense has some different dynamics, and more talent at WR than Kansas City, but the Broncos will actually be facing a pretty favorable matchup to their personnel.

Since Von Miller went down in the Houston game, the Denver defense has been making big plays all over the field, especially up front. The volume of sacks hasn’t been near the same as it was when Miller/Elvis Dumervil were lining up for the Broncos, but the timing of them has been nothing short of perfect.

Case-in-point was two weeks ago when on a fourth down that could have helped keep the Patriots in the ball game, Terrance Knighton burst past Logan Mankins to sack Tom Brady, something the Broncos haven’t been able to really do in recent years.

Even as good as the Broncos’ defense was a year ago, they couldn’t stop Joe Flacco because of an inability to get pressure on third downs. Against San Diego and New England, the Broncos’ third down defense has been very good, allowing just 10 of 24 third downs to go for first downs in the playoffs thus far. Seattle’s third down defense has been better, allowing just six of 23 third down attempts from opponents this playoff season, but the offense has been equally bad, converting just 10-of-28 third down attempts in two playoff games.

Another really great stat that I saw was that Denver has allowed just five rushing first downs in the playoffs thus far, giving up one to San Diego and four to New England.

And in case you haven’t heard, the Patriots ranked 9th in the NFL in rushing this season and the Chargers ranked 13th. Those are no slouch running teams.

Seattle is the fourth ranked rushing team, a stat we have previously looked into and can confirm that while Marshawn Lynch is, indeed, a beast, Russell Wilson deserves a lot of thanks for that lofty ranking, unlike the aforementioned Philip Rivers and Tom Brady, who don’t provide much of a threat with their legs.

The Broncos’ defense has been stout against the run all season long, and while Seattle will probably have its share of plays, I think Denver’s defense can handle the Seattle running game enough to force them to try and do some other things.

Denver’s defense has grown some teeth over the last few weeks, not allowing more than 17 points in a given game dating back to week 16.

The Broncos’ week 15 loss to the Chargers was a major wake up call, and has ignited them to this point. Despite having injuries to major players like Von Miller, Rahim Moore, Derek Wolfe, Chris Harris, and Kevin Vickerson, the Broncos’ defense has actually been significantly better down the home stretch of the season than what they were at the very heart of it.

Not that those players don’t make a positive difference, but the guys on Denver’s defense are clicking right now, and it couldn’t be more perfect timing.