ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Since Peyton Manning “hung ‘em up” following the Denver Broncos’ Super Bowl victory in Feb. 2016, the organization boasting three world championships has seen more losses than victories.
In 2016, the team went 9-7, but now is eyeing a top pick in April’s 2018 NFL Draft as the franchise currently sits at 3-8. With questions surrounding many different parts of the organization—including the quarterback—one question that has loomed over the town since the start of 2016 has been, “Is the Broncos’ championship-caliber defense being wasted?”
After Denver's 21-14 defeat on Sunday—where the offense again failed to score at least 20 points for an eighth time in the team’s last nine games, the Broncos’ franchise player admitted what many have been thinking.
“I can’t really say that I’m not frustrated,” Super Bowl 50 MVP Von Miller said, dejected after the team dropped their seventh-straight game. “I feel like this is the best shape that I’ve been in. This is the smartest that I’ve been and I feel like I’m on the top of my game and I just want the opportunity to go out there and prove that. That’s the frustrating part, me being on top of my game like I’ve never been before and not being able to put it out there for everybody to see. Wasting a prime year, that’s the frustration.”
Last season, it was clear Denver’s offense let down their defense. Led by a first-year starter at quarterback, the Broncos’ offense scored the eleventh-fewest points, only averaging 20.8 per game, while their defense, at least in terms of scoring, remained at an elite level—giving up the fourth-fewest points, an average of 18.6 per game.
Through the first 11 games of 2017, however, the statistics paint a different picture. While the offense is still among the league’s worst—their 17.9 points per game clocks in as the seventh-fewest—their defense has given up the sixth-most points, averaging 25.5 points per game allowed by opposing teams.
Broncos’ head coach Vance Joseph, however, doesn’t peg the defensive struggles solely on that unit alone as the defense itself has only given up the third-fewest yards. When asked if the defense is being “wasted” following the team’s first shutout since 1992 in Week 7, Joseph said, “I wouldn’t say wasted, but I’ll say this about playing defense in this league.”
“When you don’t score points, it’s hard for our defense to cause havoc because everything is being played close to the vest,” the former defensive coordinator said. “It’s hard for our defense to control a game without having a lead. If we get a lead, this defense will show up big time. It’s hard for us on defense to be the difference if it’s not with a lead because teams are just going to run the ball, run the ball, third down, try their luck and punt it back.”
When opposing teams can play extra conservative, as Joseph explains, it plays directly against what the Broncos’ defense is built to do: defend the pass with the “No Fly Zone” and attack the quarterback with Von and Co.
“I just want to go out there and show the great player I truly am,” Miller pleaded.
In the first two weeks of the season—when the team went 2-0—the team’s formula to win was working. The offense averaged 33 points while the defense was only allowing 19 per game—not allowing team’s to abandon the passing game. In the team’s fall since, they’ve lost eight of their last nine games scoring only 14.6 points per game and allowing 26.9 per game, including the Philadelphia Eagles dropping 51 on them in Week 9.
“I just think that it’s sad to see. For me, I’m watching possibly one of the best defenses to ever play the game just be kind of average. Not be as great as we can possibly be when we have the players to do it,” defensive end Derek Wolfe told 104.3 The Fan on Tuesday. “We’ve just beat ourselves all season—Penalties, and the lack of turnovers and turning the ball over. We just beat ourselves. We took a championship team and just went to mush... Man, this is just sad, man. Like this is just sad... The whole thing’s sad. It’s disappointing. It makes you angry. You just have to try to learn from it. You have to try to learn from all of this.”
The remedy to the frustration and the feelings of waste is simple, yet easier said than done: “I just want to win,” Von said. “That’s all it is.”