Any Given Sunday: Broncos Over Packers
by Andrew Healy
On Sunday night, the Broncos did much more than beat an undefeated Packers team to remain undefeated themselves. They turned in the best single-game overall performance of the 2015 season, with the defense leading the way. That defense held the best quarterback of the last five years to just 77 yards passing, barely half of his previous low in the 108 games he has started and finished. It was the equivalent of a team holding Michael Jordan to 8 points in a playoff game when his previous career low was 15 points. And Jordan putting up single digits in the playoffs sounds only slightly less likely than seeing Aaron Rodgers look as completely hopeless he did against the Broncos.
The game said much more about a now-great defense than it did the Packers' not-quite-so-potent offense. Like the Seahawks at their peak in Super Bowl XLVIII, the Broncos on Sunday seemed to play with 13 swarming defenders. Chris Harris was everywhere and often in Randall Cobb's hip pocket, Brandon Marshall flew around ruining screens that always seem to work against other teams, and DeMarcus Ware consistently created one end of a quarterback vise with Von Miller providing the other.
The 29-10 score misses the extent of Denver's defensive domination. They recovered none of the Packers' three fumbles. They forced another Packers fumble on a great strip by Harris that was incorrectly ruled down by contact. So even their advanced stats for the game could have been even a little bit higher. As it was, the Broncos' single-game defensive DVOA (-62.8%) ranks second this season (behind only Arizona's 47-7 stomp of San Francisco in Week 3).
Sunday's performance pushed the Broncos' defense further towards a pace among the best of any defense in the past 25 years. Denver currently has the No. 4 defense ever measured by DVOA through Week 8. The Broncos' pass defense is even more extreme, with a defensive DVOA of -50.3%. Only the 2002 Buccaneers (-51.9%) have ever put up a better pass defense DVOA over an entire season.
|BEST DEFENSIVE DVOA THROUGH
WEEK 8, 1989-2015
Like most of the defenses on that list, Denver's will likely fall back a little bit over the rest of the season. But here is one important reason why they are likely to end up somewhere on the list of the greatest single-season defenses: the Broncos are younger on defense than many people realize. By snap-weighted age, the 2014 Broncos had the second-youngest defense in football. By age adjusted for Approximate Value, they ranked fourth. Recent high-profile signings DeMarcus Ware and Aqib Talib are long-time veterans, but the Broncos are young almost everywhere else. Standouts Chris Harris, Von Miller, and Brandon Marshall are all 26. Defensive end Malik Jackson is just 25.
With most of the core players returning from last year, growth from young players is one big reason the Broncos have taken a big leap from the defense that was already very good in 2014 (-13.2% DVOA, ranked fourth). The other big reason is 68-year-old defensive coordinator Wade Phillips, who arrived in Denver this year and has continued an uninterrupted pattern of sprinkling magic dust on all the defenses he encounters.
|Wade Phillips Improves Defensive Performance|
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