Has the Broncos Defense Returned to its Super Bowl Form?

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In the first game of the 2018 season, the Denver Broncos faced the Seattle Seahawks, in a rematch of Super Bowl XLVIII. Despite public opinions of a weak Broncos team, Denver should have been viewed as the favorite. Not only has the team upgrade many of its positional deficiencies during the offseason, including adding Case Keenum as the new quarterback, but the Broncos have an absurd early season record at home over the past three decades, winning 31 of 34 home games in the first two weeks of the season.

The last time Denver had a top-five pick in the draft, they used the second overall pick in the 2011 draft to select All-Pro edge rusher Von Miller. This time was eerily similar, as John Elway eyed the top pass rusher in this year’s draft, when he drafted Bradley Chubb, to man the other side of the defensive line. Chubb’s first ever snap as a pro, resulted in a half sack, which he shared with Darian Stewart. It was certainly a promising way to launch what the Broncos hope will be a stellar career. Chubb’s performance was actually far better than the box score suggests, as he was able to get pressure up front throughout the day. 

Nevertheless, the real star of this game was clearly Von Miller, who posted an absurd statistical line that included seven tackles, three sacks, two forced fumbles, and a fumble recovery. Miller took over the game, in incredible fashion, to post his best effort since his infamous performance in Super Bowl 50 against the Carolina Panthers’ top ranked offense led by Cam Newton. 

The Broncos’ defensive line created strong pressure throughout Week 1, with Chubb and defensive end Shelby Harris wreaking havoc along Seattle’s hapless offensive line. Derek Wolfe is a terror in the running game as well, and when this unit is clicking, they could be as dangerous as any in the NFL. Overall, Denver was able to sack the mobile and normally elusive Russell Wilson a staggering six times on the day. Even cornerback Chris Harris was able to get a sack, leading the secondary in the team’s first game without Aqib Talib. 

The most impressive part of Denver’s immense pressure on the quarterback, was the fact that they didn’t need to blitz in order to get the job done. Three of the six total sacks were recorded when the team rushed just four pass rushers. They also only rushed five (or more) defenders on nine of Wilson’s 41 dropbacks. The fact that Denver is able to create so much pressure with minimal pass rushers, enables the unit to drop back a lot of defenders into coverage. That is a dangerous combination for opposing aerial attacks, and it creates a lot of flexibility from a defensive scheme standpoint.

Moreover, the Broncos were able to overcome three Case Keenum interceptions against the Seahawks, which is a challenge for any team. But the defense showed up and played so well, that they were able to limit Seattle’s output throughout the day. Denver held the Seahawks to a measly third down success rate, only permitting them to convert two of their 12 attempts on third downs. Those are critical plays that put an end to opposing offenses’ drives and get the defense off the field.

Overall, Week 1 was a highly promising beginning to Denver’s 2018 season. Denver’s defense stands to improve as the season goes on. Even Adam Jones got an interception on the final play of the day, despite signing with the team so close to the start of the season. If the offense, and Case Keenum in particular, can minimize turnovers and other mistakes, this team is going to be very difficult to beat.