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

#1 by GMan (not verified) // Aug 23, 2012 - 6:13pm

There's no link to the video.

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#3 by Paddy Pat // Aug 23, 2012 - 7:39pm

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?

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#39 by theslothook // Aug 25, 2012 - 11:34pm

I have to say, on the basis of talent alone, the pats defense was horrendous. But people forget, in totality, it got plenty of turnovers and given how porous it was, it was good in the red zone too. All that to say, i think of bellichick deserves a boatload of credit.

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#4 by Lell87 // Aug 23, 2012 - 7:43pm

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.

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#5 by theslothook // Aug 23, 2012 - 8:05pm

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.

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#7 by Paddy Pat // Aug 23, 2012 - 9:42pm

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.

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#15 by Aloysius Mephi… // Aug 24, 2012 - 3:40pm

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.

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#17 by theslothook // Aug 24, 2012 - 4:05pm

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.

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#22 by Paddy Pat // Aug 24, 2012 - 5:30pm

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...

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#11 by tunesmith // Aug 24, 2012 - 12:07am

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.

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#12 by solarjetman (not verified) // Aug 24, 2012 - 12:52am

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.

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#13 by Nathan // Aug 24, 2012 - 10:51am

Not to derail but in the 2 preseason games I have watched I have yet to see Peyton Manning make what I would call an intermediate throw with acceptable velocity.

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#14 by Reinhard (not verified) // Aug 24, 2012 - 3:38pm

Shhhhh!!! you can't say that about Peyton.
Seriously though, his throws look like dog shit. Kind of hard to understand... he lost his spiral? I guess the surgery + the rust or something. When Tebows throws look good in comparison.........

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#16 by Thomas_beardown // Aug 24, 2012 - 3:42pm

He had a nerve in his neck messed up. He has to partially re-learn how to throw, to get the commands through the nerve to his arm to make the right motion.

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#18 by theslothook // Aug 24, 2012 - 4:09pm

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.

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#19 by theslothook // Aug 24, 2012 - 4:10pm

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.

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#20 by dmstorm22 // Aug 24, 2012 - 4:17pm

Rodgers didn't look all that great against hte Bengals either.

Yeah, preseason is mainly useless. Manning never really had that true fastball since about 2006. He never had the tightest of spirals. He looks acceptable to me.

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#24 by dmstorm22 // Aug 24, 2012 - 8:22pm

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.

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#26 by Nathan // Aug 24, 2012 - 11:34pm

Yeah. I always thought it was pretty accepted that Manning didn't have the best spiral in the world. Not that he wasn't accurate, just that he wasn't throwin Jurgensen NFL films beauties out there.

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#27 by theslothook // Aug 25, 2012 - 12:21am

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.

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#30 by dmstorm22 // Aug 25, 2012 - 11:08am

He had great arm strength and one of hte most deadly deep balls in the league from 2003-2006. Somewhere around 2007-2008, he lost the accuracy and velocity on his deep throws. It's not that he can't, but there were countless times that he would overthrow a deep route in the past few years.

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#23 by bravehoptoad // Aug 24, 2012 - 7:30pm

Yeah, preseason is mainly useless.

Except that it isn't:

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#25 by dmstorm22 // Aug 24, 2012 - 8:24pm

I'll be honest, I didn't read the link, but the Manning era Colts were absolutely awful in the preseason year after year and kept cranking out 12+ win seasons.

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#28 by Bright Blue Shorts // Aug 25, 2012 - 2:28am

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?

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#29 by Insancipitory // Aug 25, 2012 - 7:15am

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.

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#33 by theslothook // Aug 25, 2012 - 2:02pm

THat brings me to an interesting question: WHo is the worst qb you've ever seen play? My nominees are jonathan quinn and jimmy clausen with a slight slight edge to quinn holding the title. Man, what is it with bears and horrendous backup play?

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#35 by dmstorm22 // Aug 25, 2012 - 7:19pm

That will give you a nice trip down Horrible QBing Lane.

My personal favorite was Craig Krenzel, who was barely good as a starter at OSU and was abjectly awful in his brief stints with the Bears in 2004.

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#37 by Insancipitory // Aug 25, 2012 - 10:01pm

This isn't even fair for me to bring this up, but I've seen Dan McGwire, and Kelly Stouffer at quarterback. In lieu of condolances, I'll accept compromising pictures of CatholicMatch girl.

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#42 by chemical burn // Aug 26, 2012 - 11:45am

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.

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#45 by chemical burn // Aug 26, 2012 - 3:25pm

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.

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#46 by theslothook // Aug 26, 2012 - 5:28pm

obviously citing dvoa and dyar is just cheating! Honestly, i was going with personal subjective opinions. In addition, my viewing of the nfl doenst go further than 1997 and even then, I don't think I followed the league as a whole until 2003

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#53 by Travis // Aug 28, 2012 - 8:08am

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).

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#57 by Jerry // Aug 28, 2012 - 6:18pm

The worst quarterbacks would be so awful that they wouldn't get the chance to drop back much. I'm sure the worst QB I ever saw played one bad series in an exhibition game and then went on with his life's work.

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#32 by Vincent Verhei // Aug 25, 2012 - 1:30pm

Shortest answer is weak schedule and division. They made the playoffs at 8-8 (going 3-0 in overtime games) despite giving up 81 more points than they scored. Only four teams on their schedule made the playoffs, and Denver went 1-3 in those games.

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#48 by tunesmith // Aug 26, 2012 - 7:56pm

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.

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#41 by Karl Cuba // Aug 26, 2012 - 10:13am

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.)

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#44 by chemical burn // Aug 26, 2012 - 3:16pm

I thought that was weird, too. DT is one of the few positions in football (maybe the only one besides tackles) where there are plenty of great players getting up to basketball player heights. 6'5" seems maybe a little tall, but nothing crazy.

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#49 by theslothook // Aug 26, 2012 - 10:07pm

Yeah did anyone else think vince's last name was pronounced vher hee rather than vher hi?

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#54 by DisplacedPackerFan // Aug 28, 2012 - 8:57am

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.

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