If you happened to read this headline five weeks ago after the Denver Broncos allowed 31 points to the Chicago Bears and 70 points to the Miami Dolphins, you probably would feel like this is a dream. In fact, Denver's defense has been playing like this is a dream they have yet to awake from.
The Broncos went from allowing 36.2 points per game through their first five games to allowing just 16.8 points per game in their last four games. It is without a doubt a remarkable turnaround and perhaps the greatest in NFL history. One figure in particular who deserves massive credit is defensive coordinator Vance Joseph.
Returning as the defensive coordinator despite being fired as the team's head coach just four years previous, there were numerous concerns with Joseph's ability to continue Denver's success as a coach, play-caller, and leader to the same pedigree of former defensive coordinator Ejiro Evero who had the unit playing at a top-five level even when the offense was historically inefficient. And to be fair, through the first five games of the season, things did not shape out how anybody had wished for.
In Weeks 2-4, the Broncos allowed 136 total points which consisted of 45.3 points per game. The unit was on track to be the worst of all time and recorded the lowest DVOA (defense-adjusted value over average) in NFL history with 39.3%. Since then, they have tremendously improved as a unit playing like a top-10 defense in football.
Since Week 6, the Broncos' defense ranks second in takeaways, second in scoring, and fourth in touchdowns allowed. Denver has significantly increased the usage of nickel coverage in their defense and has quickly reflected the difference in production as opposed to the first five weeks of the season. Despite accumulating the third-fewest sacks in the NFL (17) through nine games, the Broncos' secondary has battled adversity and ultimately been the strength of the unit.
Defensive coordinator Vance Joseph decided to bench second-year corner Damarri Mathis who severely struggled during the start of his sophomore campaign. In his six starts this season, Mathis allowed 356 receiving yards on 75.7% completion and a 132.2 passer rating. In simpler numbers, for every target, he allowed 9.6 yards and for every four targets, he allowed three receptions. On the flip side, since starting veteran addition Fabian Moreau opposite Patrick Surtain ll, the secondary has witnessed massive strides of improvement.
The Broncos defense has allowed significantly fewer passing yards and has even turned the ball over eight times in the previous two games as opposed to just five takeaways through the first five games of the season. The credit also deserves to be handed to first-year Broncos head coach Sean Payton. Since trading outside linebacker Randy Gregory to the 49ers, releasing outside linebacker Frank Clark, and waiving slot cornerback Essang Bassey, there have been numerous young players emerging, waiting for the opportunity to make plays.
Edge rushers Nik Bonitto and Jonathon Cooper have stepped up in a big way while slot corner Ja'Quan McMillian is currently the third-highest-graded corner in football by PFF (85.9). The numerous roster substitutions, adjustments, and scheme changes have ultimately paved the way for the greatest defensive turnaround in NFL history and are a massive reason why the Broncos are in the midst of a three-game winning streak hoping to make a legitimate run at the postseason.