Denver Broncos’ defense on an historic pace in 2017

DENVER, CO - OCTOBER 1: Defensive end Derek Wolfe #95 of the Denver Broncos celebrates after sacking quarterback Derek Carr #4 of the Oakland Raiders at Sports Authority Field at Mile High on October 1, 2017 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Justin Edmonds/Getty Images)
DENVER, CO - OCTOBER 1: Defensive end Derek Wolfe #95 of the Denver Broncos celebrates after sacking quarterback Derek Carr #4 of the Oakland Raiders at Sports Authority Field at Mile High on October 1, 2017 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Justin Edmonds/Getty Images) /
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Since the Denver Broncos drafted Von Miller in 2011, the culture of the team has shifted defensively. This year, they are on an historic pace…

The Denver Broncos’ defense will be talked about for decades to come as one of the greatest in the history of the league. Not just the 2017 unit, but the group that has been around since the 2014 season when John Elway signed some of the most impactful free agents in one class any general manager ever has.

Here are some quick figures to get an idea of just how dominant this defense has been since 2014 (Pro Football Focus metrics):

2014 — Coverage: 2nd; Run defense: 4th; Pass rush: 5th
2015 — Coverage: 3rd; Run defense: 1st; Pass rush: 1st
2016 — Coverage: 1st; Run defense: 12th; Pass rush: 9th
2017 — Coverage: 4th; Run defense: 1st; Pass rush: 24th* (*Shane Ray’s presence missing)

As you can see from the figures, just in terms of Pro Football Focus grades, the Broncos are playing at a stunning level that is relatively unmatched when you look at the rest of the league and how tough it is to be that consistent across the board.

This is a complete defense, but the Broncos are dominating in one particular category unlike any other team in the last 17 seasons. That category is in run defense, where the Broncos are on pace to break a single season record (albeit through four games) set by the 2000 Baltimore Ravens, another group that is regarded as one of the best defenses in league history.

Here’s an excellent stat posted by Zac Stevens earlier on Tuesday:

That statistic is astounding, even considering how teams are moving more toward pass-dominated offenses.

So far in 2017, the Broncos have shut down the likes of Melvin Gordon, Ezekiel Elliott, LeSean McCoy, and Marshawn Lynch — Pro Bowl players — en route to this record pace.

These guys are no fluke, and they are paving the way for the Broncos to make another deep playoff run.

The depth of this unit is unbelievable. The Broncos have a number of different rotations they use up front, but the top unit in run defense so far this season has included left defensive end Derek Wolfe, nose tackle Domata Peko, and right defensive end Adam Gotsis.

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Of the 25 defenders that have played even a single snap for the Broncos this season, only four players have ‘below average’ run defense grades according to Pro Football Focus. The Broncos have several players well above average against the run, including edge defenders Von Miller and Shaquil Barrett.

This is a well-coached, disciplined, deep group of players that is going to get even better as the season goes along. The defense has yet to see significant contributions from Zach Kerr, a big (literally and figuratively) free agent acquisition from Indianapolis. They have yet to see any of Shane Ray. They haven’t heavily utilized free agent pickup Ahtyba Rubin, who has five snaps this season.

Just a quick look at the Broncos’ two-deep depth chart on the defensive line and at the linebacker positions (where Brandon Marshall and Todd Davis have been exceptional against the run as well) reveals an embarrassment of riches, especially considering two players who would have played a lot of snaps aren’t even on the active roster right now.

That’s right. Jared Crick and Billy Winn, a starting defensive end and backup nose tackle respectively, were placed on season-ending injured reserve. The Broncos’ depth on the defensive front is both scary and enviable for opponents.

Next: Broncos' potential milestones vs. NYG

This is monumental for the Broncos, because stopping the run forces teams to throw at the best secondary in the NFL, and allows the Broncos to unleash their MVP Von Miller.

That was the formula for winning Super Bowl 50, and it could very well be the formula for winning Super Bowl 52.