Defending against the pass in the NFL has never been more difficult. With two weeks left in the season, there have already been 104 300-yard passing games. Compare that to 10 years ago when there were 65 300-yard passing games the entire season.
Rule changes designed to better protect quarterbacks and receivers, new-age schemes and specialized personnel — think uber athletic tight ends like Rob Gronkowski — have all played a part in the passing revolution.
Over the last two seasons, no team has defended against the pass better than the Denver Broncos. Their pass rush and secondary, more than anything, fueled a Super Bowl run. And there’s a case to be made that this incarnation of the pass defense is even better than the one in 2015.
Denver has allowed one 300-yard pass all season, and that was against Drew Brees in the Superdome. However you slice it, the Broncos have been dominant defending the pass.
You probably don’t need me to tell you that Von Miller is an enormous reason for this. Miller ranks second in the NFL in sacks (13 1/2), fourth in hurries (29) and eighth in QB hits (21). Miller will probably win Defensive Player of the Year. Deservedly so. But he’s part of a stable of talented pass-rushing linebackers Denver has on its roster.
Second-year player Shane Ray (7 sacks) has come on strong, and the Broncos also have DeMarcus Ware (4 sacks) and Shaq Barrett (1 1/2 sacks) at outside linebacker. This gives defensive coordinator Wade Phillips an embarrassment of riches to throw at opposing quarterbacks.
Sometimes during obvious passing downs, the Broncos will trot out three of their four OLBs. Tom Brady encountered this on third-and-9 Sunday. Miller lined up on one side and Ware on the other. That allowed Ray to take advantage of a slower offensive lineman in the interior of the Patriots’ line and sack Brady.
The Broncos’ talented pass-rushing core is one component of the NFL’s best pass defense. The other is an insanely talented secondary.
Aqib Talib is somehow having the best season of his career despite being 30 years old and six months removed from literally shooting himself in the leg. Chris Harris Jr., who might not grab as many headlines as Talib, is arguably just as good at the other outside corner spot. Kayvon Webster is an excellent No. 3 cornerback. With T.J. Ward and Darian Stewart at the safety spots, this is as good of a secondary as there is.
Denver is allowing an NFL-best passer rating of 67.5, as @NFLResearch pointed out. Recent history tells us that’s an indicator of a team capable of advancing to the Super Bowl.
Denver doesn’t even look like it’s going to make the playoffs at all this season. The Broncos’ anemic offense, and to a much lesser extent, their struggles stopping the run, have them needing to win their final two regular-season games and receive some help to get in.
It’s a shame the work Denver’s secondary and outside linebackers have done this year probably won’t amount to a postseason appearance. It would be fun to see them wreak havoc for at least one more game after Denver’s regular-season finale on Jan. 1.
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