FO VIDEO: Denver's Defense Could Cost Them the AFC West

This week's Sabermetrics Video Network contribution talks about why the Denver defense is overrated and could cost them the AFC West. Included: Why Champ Bailey is no longer elite, and why Elvis Dumervil and Von Miller can't overcome the other issues.

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58 comments, Last at 28 Aug 2012, 7:03pm

3 Re: FO VIDEO: Denver's Defense Could Cost Them the AFC West

Good data all the way around, but where's the analysis of it? Will Fox be able to scheme away some of these problems? Will this make the defense worse than it was last year? How bad does this translate to, relative to other teams? Can we expect the Broncos to be as bad or worse than say last year's Patriots?

4 Re: FO VIDEO: Denver's Defense Could Cost Them the AFC West

I wonder if Jack Del Rio will have a positive impact this season. From 2003-2007 Del Rio coached teams have been good in terms of basic defensive measures like yds/game and pts/game, often being ranked in the top 10 in both. Then there was the 2008-2010 period where his teams were awful in those stats before regaining their form in 2011.

5 Re: FO VIDEO: Denver's Defense Could Cost Them the AFC West

I say: Vince looks nothing! like his caricature. This defense and really the broncos in general look like a carbon copy of the late era colts. Essentially- peyton manning, some receivers, and two book ends surrounded by a black hole for the rest of the team. Well thats unfair, the o line at least feels much better than the late era colts o linemen, but the defense is sadly a mirror image- no talent at linebacker, d tackle, safety, or corner depth. Still, those manning era colts won 12 games every year despite this type of concept and even though denver's defense is probably not very good, they should still be capable of winning the division.

7 Re: FO VIDEO: Denver's Defense Could Cost Them the AFC West

Alas, Peyton himself may not resemble the late era Colts. The trouble throwing to the right is worrisome. The footage of his passes is not encouraging--some of the throws resemble late era Chad Pennington in terms of spiral tightness/zip. Moreover, we have no idea how he'll hold up under contact. Admittedly, Manning seldom takes hits, but he may be more fragile than we're used to.

15 Re: FO VIDEO: Denver's Defense Could Cost Them the AFC West

If Peyton can reinvent himself as a late-career Chad Pennington, who was quite effective despite having the worst arm in the league, Broncos fans should be very satisfied. I don't think the player that could singlehandedly drag a team that flat-out sucked into the playoffs, as Peyton did in 2010, exists anymore. People expecting that are setting themselves up for a large disappointment.

17 Re: FO VIDEO: Denver's Defense Could Cost Them the AFC West

Yeah, that i think is the problem. And the worst part is, in many ways, manning still has that "yeah but..." cloud hanging on him so he almost needs another superbowl to validate his career. This isn't my view, of course, but the lazy media in general. Thats why i really felt like sf would've been the best landing spot for him, instead hes going to the broncos who are better than the colts sure, but not good enough to support a lesser version of manning all the way to the superbowl.

22 Re: FO VIDEO: Denver's Defense Could Cost Them the AFC West

The media are absurd. The Colts never did that well in the playoffs, but Manning put together a body of work that makes him most likely the very best player to ever play his position. I am a huge Patriots fan, and I spent years trying to come up with any rational reason to dislike Manning and cast aspersion on his play. After 2006, I gave up. It's easier to simply sit back and enjoy the man and realize that you're watching something you're not going to see again. I have the sinking feeling that Manning should probably have retired. I'm just hoping that he doesn't exacerbate this spine injury in some gruesome way in the next year or so...

11 Re: FO VIDEO: Denver's Defense Could Cost Them the AFC West

Cool - I'd say it started out mostly fair, but then the emotional momentum kind of got carried away into putting a negative slant on just about everyone in the defensive line. I think there's every reason to believe that the DL is vastly improved this season - all indications are that Warren is looking great, and from what I remember, that characterization of Wolfe is pretty inaccurate - maybe some scouts overlooked him, but weren't there plenty of others that had him rated right where he was picked, and the top pass-rushing (penetrating) tackle in the draft? He's already gotten three sacks so far in preseason, too.

At any rate, when you look at the loss of Bunkley but the addition of Warren, Wolfe, Bannan, and 40 new pounds of muscle on Vickerson, I think there's clear improvement there.

Linebacker - I can't argue there. Fanboys will say that Woodyard is every bit as good as DJ Williams, but he's not even close. There's a rookie Trevathan that seems to have a knack, but he's a rookie. Mays is still missing tackles. Irving looks improved but he's still strictly a backup. We definitely have a linebacker deficit compared to last year.

As for safety, I wasn't impressed with Carter last year, but Moore seemed strictly to be a case of a young kid who hadn't adjusted to the speed of the game. So I'm not quite doubtful about him, but the jury's definitely out. Still, it's a big dropoff from where Dawkins was.

As for the secondary, with Florence, Porter, and Harris (and Champ) we do have a chance of having a better nickel/dime defense than we had last season. Last year we only had Champ, Goodman, and Harris and then there was a dropoff. But I still like Goodman better than Florence and Porter.

12 Re: FO VIDEO: Denver's Defense Could Cost Them the AFC West

Miller's play dropped off severely at the end of the season, after a thumb injury against San Diego. I would be very interested in those pass rush stats before and after that injury. Of course, Miller was healthy for the shellackings delivered by the Green Bay and Detroit offenses. Chris Harris deserves mention when discussing the Broncos' secondary; while I am not sure Harris (an UDFA) has the physical tools to be a starting corner, he has been a high effort guy and I will be surprised if Florence and Porter knock him out of the nickelback slot.

I agree with the general point that the Broncos defense has holes in it and is not nearly as good as it seemed during the 6 game 2011 winning streak, but I don't feel like it has really regressed from last year. Porter and Florence aren't good but neither was Goodman. Wolfe looks like he will improve, or at least add depth to, the rushing-down-DE-passing-down-DT position occupied last year by Robert Ayers. I would expect Miller to improve at 4-3 LB on running downs relative to last year, where he made numerous rookie mistakes and was benched at times. And LB Nate Irving, a 3rd rounder from 2011, has looked a lot better this preseason than last preseason so there is a chance he can contribute as well. Last year the defense, for all its holes and all its 40 point collapses, ended up 18th in DVOA; I expect similar results this year - unless Dumervil or Miller gets a severe injury.

18 Re: FO VIDEO: Denver's Defense Could Cost Them the AFC West

i think people are going overboard here. I actually didn't feel like manning's velocity was that bad. It was actually pleasantly surprised and i think it was fine. Its his touch that i think thats been off. Hes the most accurate qb ive ever seen and use to be absurdly consistent with ball location. Lately, even on some of his regular short throws, the ball placement hasn't been spot on and in some cases, its been terrible-behind receivers, over their heads, flutter balls that lead to picks..etc. Overall, i think he's still good enough from what ive seen to be a top 10 qb. MAybe with more practice and conditioning it will come back.

19 Re: FO VIDEO: Denver's Defense Could Cost Them the AFC West

and btw, don't buy into preseason too much. Outside of his recent bengals game, i thought rodgers looked terrible in his first two preseason games. Is that likely to continue into the regular season? maybe, but i would never bet on that proposition.

24 Re: FO VIDEO: Denver's Defense Could Cost Them the AFC West

Really? A lot of Colts fans would tell you this.

Many of his most famous and important throws were wobbly: his 49th TD to Stokley, his pass over the middle to Clark for 50 yards in the 2006 Title Game, his pass to Fletcher later in that game, the TD to Clark to wrap up the 2009 AFC Title Game.

Of course, most of the time the spiral is fine, but Manning throws a non-spiral (but still amazingly accurate) more often than most top QBs, from what I have seen.

27 Re: FO VIDEO: Denver's Defense Could Cost Them the AFC West

I hate to disagree...but after watching all the way back since 1998(i began as a colts fan that year incidentally)...mannings arm strengh never appeared weak outside of his rookie year. Outside of 2010 when his receivers were in and out of the lineup, he looked perfectly fine. 2004 in fact was literred with deep passes with him launching them with perfect velocity. PPl tend to confuse touch and velocity and try to formulate an equation to determine accuracy. I think u can be good accuracy wise short and poor medium and deep(see tom brady). Arm strengh is less clear.

28 Re: FO VIDEO: Denver's Defense Could Cost Them the AFC West

Ok ... what the video is failing to explain to me is if the Broncos numbers are so bad and they are overrated ... and I assume they had the crappiest QB in the league ... how on earth did they make the playoffs last year? Greatest special teams ever? Weak schedule? Weak division?

29 Re: FO VIDEO: Denver's Defense Could Cost Them the AFC West

Briefly, this year is not last year.

The Broncos are far from a complete defense. They have their share of weaknesses, maybe even a little more. They gave up a lot of rushing yards last year despite a rash of injuries to the running games of their divisional foes, facing some of the less able running teams via the NFC North and AFC East (though some of them are quite able).

But look at their schedule this year, in place of the NFC North there is the NFC South. While the Vikings may be an excellent rushing team, the Saints are better, etc. And their SOS matchups? Patriots and Texans. Last year they took what they were given, held on as they could, still didn't control their own destiny, but took care not to squander the favor of the Football Gods.

This is a different season, demonstrated consistancy is (good and bad) more reliable than Providence. If anything, the Football Gods reward the bold and the humble. A sense of entitlement to a replay of last year's fortune seems to court disaster; or it would, were I a superstitious man.

Now I'm not saying you should expect long overdue payback from 1998, but the burnt offering of a young, white bull probably won't do any harm.

42 Re: FO VIDEO: Denver's Defense Could Cost Them the AFC West

Just by DVOA, 1992 was THE year of bad QB play. The Giants' Brown, The Jets' Blake, Seattle's MacGwire and Chicago's Furrier all put numbers amongst the worst all of time with -118%, -125%, -99% and -127% DVOA respectively. For comparison, Ryan Leaf's rookie season, he was at -53%. Krenzel & Hanie are downright respectable in comparison with their -85% & -79%, respectively. It disappoints and shocks me that Bobby Hoying's -68.3% in 1998 doesn't really deserve comparison to the worst of the worst, as awful as it is.

As far as guys expected to be starters and long-term solutions, Ryan Leaf's -53%, McNabb's -51.6% and Gabbert's -48% rookie seasons are pretty bad. But Alex Smith's -88% bests them both by a healthy margin. Jamarcus Russell's worst year was 62.1%, so there seems to be a threshold of -60% where you can give up on QB. McNabb is really the only example of a guy to go as low as the high negative 40's and then have a real career - Stafford was bad -41%, but he was playing for one of the worst teams during one of the worst runs in the history of the NFL.

Other famous busts include Akili Smith at -51.4%, David Carr at -47.4%, Beck at 54.9% and J.P. Losman at 62.3% .
Other potential starters to post terrible numbers are Trent Edwards at -58% and Skelton at -53%. Alex Smith really is gold standard for time wasted developing a talentless player - all these other guys lost their jobs in half the time it took Smith to reach mediocrity.

Without a doubt, Chicago has the strongest traditional of QB play and bottom of the barrel players consistently making the worst showings of any given year.

45 Re: FO VIDEO: Denver's Defense Could Cost Them the AFC West

The 1992 numbers are just jaw-dropping. If you go through year by year, I don't think there's any other starters who goes lower than -100% and then you have basically have 4 in a single year. Granted with how DVOA is calculated now, there's a year to year difference in what those numbers mean, that basically, the worst QB's of the DVOA era came in a single year and maybe Alex Smith's worst year could be brought into the conversation, but probably not. It's nuts. He likely would have had the 5th worst numbers for that year (at worst 4th)... but then his -88% is likely the worst starting QB for every OTHER year when you 1992 exclude.

It should be pointed out that a lot of guys who came into the game occasionally or started a game or two have numbers down with the worst - 1994 Browning Nagle's -124% for example. And a lot of guys are in -40% through -60% range on a year to year basis. It surprised me that Leaf and Russell really didn't set any special standards in awfulness, they just were unbelievably awful for where they were drafted. Smith did set some standards for terribleness - especially if you discount whatever the heck was going on in'92 - and he was a #1 overall to boot. He has to be one of the worst draft picks of all time. It almost feels unfair that guys like Hoying and Krenzel get lumped in with those #1 or #2 overall picks as "the worst of the worst" because I don't think they were any real expectations that those guys would be able to carry a team. Their terrible seasons at least didn't have the triple whammy of being terrible in and of themselves, wasting a valuable pick and setting the franchise back at 3 years minimum (that the 49er's have wastes damn near a decade on Smith only adds to the case he's the worst pick of all time.)

I'd actually be interested to read something from FO about '92 and its astoundingly terrible QB's. In the 1992 DVOA RATINGS AND COMMENTARY article, they only write about the Seahawks, but McGwire didn't even have the worst year in the league. Otherwise, the anomalous putridity goes unremarked upon. Also, goddamn that article for reminding me of how good that Eagles team was and how the Cowboys stole their best shot at a ring. Kotite with a ring, it would have been beautiful.

53 Re: FO VIDEO: Denver's Defense Could Cost Them the AFC West

Two of the astoundingly terrible performances were in seasons that barely met the 10 dropback minimum:

Blake's awful 1992 was basically a couple of bad drives (1 of 6 for 3 yards, int, fumble) in the final week of the season under conditions terrible for passing (32 degrees, 20 mph winds).

Dave Brown got sacked in 5 of 12 dropbacks, which isn't any worse than, say, Kellen Clemens's non-qualifying 4-sacks-in-5-dropbacks 2006 (-253.1% DVOA).

48 Re: FO VIDEO: Denver's Defense Could Cost Them the AFC West

I actually did a study on this. The answer is basically big plays. I used Advanced NFL Stats' WPA tool to measure the win-percentage likelihood before and after every single play of the Broncos season. The plays with the widest swing (up or down) were their biggest plays.

And it turns out that the Broncos top ten biggest plays of the season were all "positive" plays.

Tebow in particular. Like him or hate him, his mistakes tended to not matter a lot to outcomes of games, while his positive moments were huge.

41 Re: FO VIDEO: Denver's Defense Could Cost Them the AFC West

Garret Wolfe is 'too tall to start at defensive tackle'.

Shenanigans! Wolfe is 6'5", pretty good size for a DT. I give you off the top of my head: Albert Haynesworth (6'6"), Ted Washington (6'5"), Marcus Stroud (6'6"), John Henderson (6'6"), Richard Seymour (6'6"). There are more. When big men play low with good knee bend they tend to be rather good, 6'5" is not in any way problematic for a DT.

(It's also nice to know how to pronounce Verhei.)

54 Re: FO VIDEO: Denver's Defense Could Cost Them the AFC West

Not everyone, I mentally pronounced it correctly. Then again while I'm not revealing my actual last name here in public (I suppose the FO staff that has access to my info that is correct for the billing info can go look) I'll just say it has a silent 'u' in it and it rarely gets pronounced 'correctly'. I quote correctly because I assume the way my parents and grandparents pronounced it was correct, but I'm not sure why that has to be the case and I respond without thinking to at least 4 of the common 'mis'-pronunciations.