In 2023, the Denver Broncos' run defense has been a huge disappointment to many fans and understandably so. The unit ranks 32nd in the NFL with 149.7 rushing yards allowed per game and has been an obvious weakness of defensive coordinator Vance Joseph's unit. However, in recent weeks, the group has improved mostly due to a specific unsung hero on the interior defensive line.
Starting nose tackle Mike Purcell has quietly put together an impressive season that has gone under the radar due to Denver's defensive troubles that anchored the team's success through the first five weeks of the season. In Week 13, the Broncos' defense allowed just 89 rushing yards and three yards per attempt against Houston's red-hot running back Devin Singletary and second-year stud Dameon Pierce. A big component in stopping Houston's running game was the outstanding play of the veteran Mike Purcell in the middle of the defensive line.
Consistently filling run gaps and making Houston's offensive line uncomfortable in the run game was a big factor in what Purcell's showing in Week 13 an impressive one at the least. And not only against the Texans, but throughout the season Purcell has been an underrated piece to Denver's defensive turnaround. While the Broncos run defense has put out many poor defensive showings against the run, Purcell has missed just two tackles on the year and never seems to be on the wrong end of the stick in terms of players who deserve blame for being terrible against the run.
Purcell, 32, is in his fifth consecutive season with the Broncos and has been cut 11 different times by NFL teams. His story is more than an inspirational one and deserves more recognition for the adversity he has battled to now be one of Denver's more dominant run defenders in several years. The eighth-year nose tackle has batted three passes at the line of scrimmage this season and also recovered a fumble earlier in the year.
Despite players like linebacker Alex Singleton and defensive end Jonathan Harris severely struggling to stop the run this season, Purcell has come to the rescue on multiple possessions for the Broncos' defense. The stat sheet may not signal a lot of production however, Purcell's impact on offensive lineman have forced opposing running backs into cutting and being tackled by other teammates. It is very important to acknowledge how well Purcell has performed in his role this season.
Scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent in the 2024 offseason, the Broncos will have an interesting decision on their hands. Do they retain their veteran defensive lineman who has been an anchor in stopping the run? Or do they save the cap space and get younger on the defensive line? The final five games will more than likely determine that verdict.