ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Shoot for the stars, never stop chasing your dreams and pursue things that have never been done before. Those are a few typical sayings that most people are told in their childhood to inspire and give hope.
For most, those ambitions turn into fairy tales over the years, however, for the Broncos’ pass defense, they have become a reality. After leading the league in passing yards allowed the past two seasons, with a Super Bowl victory in that time, the Broncos’ secondary began its third season together in April with the start of the team's offseason workout program.
While goals, and spirits, are high at every organization around the league this time of year, they are especially high in the defensive back room in Denver this year, and for good cause. As the ‘No Fly Zone’ prepares for another season attempting to be the best, their secret to success is fairly straight forward according to cornerback Bradley Roby, “Just play to our standard.”
“We’ve been the No. 1 passing defense in the league for two years straight, and no one has ever done it for three years. I think that’s our biggest goal to do it, be the No. 1 pass defense for three years straight,” he said. “Just to really show, in the history, they can always go back and say that the Broncos’ secondary was one of the best, if not the best secondary that ever played. And the numbers don’t lie. I think that’s just us staying to our standard and not backing down and not regressing at all.”
Since at least the turn of the century, no team has led the league in passing defense three straight years. In fact, since 2000 the Seattle Seahawks (2013-14) and the Pittsburgh Steelers (2011-12) are the only teams other than the Broncos to lead the league in pass defense two straight years. However, neither was able to string the success together for three years.
The ‘No Fly Zone’ doesn’t just want to lead the league for a third-straight year, they want to improve from where they were a year ago, much like they did last season. In 2015, the Broncos allowed 199.6 passing yards per game and cut that to 185.5 in 2016. For 2017, they want to continue to dwindle down that number.
“If we can cut to 175 [yards], that would be amazing,” Chris Harris Jr. said. “I think it’s possible though. I’m not going to say that we can’t do that. I think our run defense is going to be so much better now. They’re going to have to throw the ball now. They’re going to have to throw to us, so I think that we’ll have more chances to get more picks too.”
Although 175 yards would be an impressive feat, as it would put them in contention to lead the league in passing yards allowed for a third-straight year, it isn’t impossible.
Since the turn of the century, the Oakland Raiders have the best single season against an air attack, only allowing 150.8 passing yards in 2006. In 2009, the New York Jets had a league-best 153.7 passing yards allowed and just a year before the Steelers only gave up 156.9.
In the past two seasons, the league’s best pass defense has been crucial to the success of the team. The pressure doesn’t phase them either, in fact, they are well aware of how important their play is to the entirety of the team.
“I want to keep getting All-Pro, keep stacking them. I know that if I am playing at an All-Pro level, our defense is playing [well]. That is really what it comes down to,” Harris said. “If I’m playing bad, then I know we’re not winning a lot of games, and we’re definitely not No. 1 in the pass defense. It definitely counts on me to play well with Aqib [Talib] and everybody else. The main thing is just stacking the All-Pros, that’s for sure.”
Even though many players, including Broncos, don’t want to discuss their lofty goals until they are accomplished, the ‘No Fly Zone’ has no problem putting the pressure on themselves before the season even begins.
“We talked about [All-Pro’s] before the season, we talked about during the season and of course we talked about if after the season,” Talib said. “It was a goal that both [Harris and I] had going into the year. It’s always great when you can accomplish a goal.”
It’s no secret the Broncos ‘No Fly Zone’ has lofty goals for themselves entering the 2017 season. Reaching them will not only put them in the record books, it will likely determine the success of the team.