Where Does the Bronco’s Defense Stand in History?

The Denver Broncos just gave us one of the most dominating defensive Super Bowl performances in NFL history. Now that the game is over it is time to ask where this Broncos defense stands in history. Buddy Ryan’s ’85 Bears are probably the most famously dominant defense, and in recent years the ’00 Ravens, ’08 Steelers, and ’13 Seahawks suffocated opposing offenses on their way to Super Bowl titles. First, let’s compare these teams’ defensive stats.

Yards Allowed per Game (including playoffs):

  1. ’00 Ravens: 240.2
  2. ’85 Bears: 240.5
  3. ’08 Steelers: 246.8
  4. ’13 Seahawks: 284.3
  5. ’15 Broncos: 293.5

Points Allowed per Game (including playoffs):

  1. ’00 Ravens: 9.9
  2. ’85 Bears: 12.2
  3. ’13 Seahawks: 14.3
  4. ’08 Steelers: 14.9
  5. ’15 Broncos: 17.8

Sacks:

  1. ’85 Bears: 65
  2. ’15 Broncos: 52
  3. ’08 Steelers: 51
  4. ’13 Seahawks: 43
  5. ’00 Ravens: 35

Turnovers Forced:

  1. ’13 Seahawks: 52
  2. ’85 Bears: 43
  3. ’00 Ravens: 42
  4. ’15 Broncos: 36
  5. ’08 Steelers: 32

These stats may not look very promising for the Broncos defense, but stats are often deceiving. There are two other important things to take into consideration when looking at these stats. The effectiveness of each teams’ offense during the season and the strength of the offenses that each defense faced. Both of these have the potential to seriously skew the statistics of each defense, and help the Broncos defense’s case as one of the best ever. First, let’s look at the strength of the offenses each team faced. This is done simply by adding the OSRS (Offensive Simple Rating System) score used by Pro Football Reference of each team a defense faced that season.

Strength of Offenses Faced:

  1. ’15 Broncos: 35.8
  2. ’13 Seahawks: 20.7 (This is given a 14.1 boost for facing the Broncos’ historically rated offense in the Super Bowl)
  3. ’08 Steelers: 15.7
  4. ’85 Bears: 7.8
  5. ’00 Ravens: -6.4

While an imperfect rating system, this is one of the best ways to show the aggregate strength of the offenses faced by these teams. It is also important to take into account the rule changes since 2000 that have favored offenses more and more (this is reflected by a general increase in OSRS over time). The Broncos defense faced the most difficult offensive schedule of any of these great defenses, but they were also hindered by the ineffectiveness of their own offense. Now let’s look at the OSRS of each of these teams.

Strength of Own Offense:

  1. ’85 Bears: 6.5
  2. ’13 Seahawks: 4.1
  3. ’08 Steelers: 1.6
  4. ’15 Broncos: 0.3
  5. ’00 Ravens: 0.0

The ’85 Bears are known for their dominant defense, but many people forget they had the league’s second-best offense that year led by dominant running by Walter Payton. The Seahawks similarly, had a fantastic running game in 2013 and the league’s third-rated offense (in a down year for offenses outside Denver). The Steelers, Ravens, and Broncos defenses all had to carry anemic offenses throughout their seasons. The Ravens and Steelers offense turned the ball over on about 12% of their drives and the Broncos offense on about 15%. The Steelers and Broncos each averaged about 105 rushing yards per game, the Ravens 137 yards. With the run game being the best way to compliment a strong defense this cannot be overlooked.

Then there are the intangibles and in-game context of these stats that will be forgotten years from now. The word “clutch” is often thrown around when discussing quarterbacks, but Denver’s defense this year deserves the same moniker. The Broncos set an NFL record this season of 11 wins by seven or fewer points and the defense set a record for most fourth-quarter leads protected. Fittingly, in the first game of the year against the Ravens the Broncos were given the lead with an Aqib Talib pick-six and the game was sealed with a Darian Stewart interception in the endzone. Against the Chiefs in week two Bradley Roby recovered a fumble and took it for a touchdown with 27 seconds left to give Denver the lead. In week 4, T.J. Ward strip sacked Teddy Bridgewater with 35 seconds left to secure Denver’s three point lead. There are too many plays to mention here but almost every week the Broncos defense came through when it mattered most. And in the final game of the season with 4:51 left Bowl it is no surprise that Gary Kubiak felt comfortable punting to the league’s best offense with only a six-point lead, and the defense delivered one last time.

All of these defenses have arguments that can be made against them being the best ever. The Bears lost to the only top 4 offense they played in ’85 (the drop-off from 4th to 5th was significant), the Steelers were torched by Kurt Warner in the Super Bowl and counted on a legendary drive ending with a Santonio Holmes catch to win the game. The Seahawks scored the 8th most points in the league in 2013 and had a dominant rushing attack that helped their defense tremendously, and the ’00 Ravens faced an incredibly weak offensive schedule. In addition to this, the rule changes that have taken place over the years and many variables that are inherent to football muddy the waters when deciding on the best defense to ever play. It is not only impossible, but also not necessary to declare any of these defenses number one. Statistics often lie in football, but anyone who watched these Denver Broncos play knows that they deserve to be called one of the best defenses of all-time.

 

By Alex Rigberg

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