The “No Fly Zone” wasn’t just the best defense in Denver Broncos history, it was also the best defense in the 2010s.
That, according to Pro Football Focus’ Wins Above Replacement metric for defenses:
Best defenses of the decade, per PFF WAR:
1. 2015 Broncos
2. 2018 Bears
3. 2017 Jaguars
4. 2013 Seahawks pic.twitter.com/OpbZTimO1h
— PFF (@PFF) June 27, 2020
Those 2015 Broncos were brilliantly built on defense, topping other phenomenal units of the decade like the 2018 Bears, the possibly underrated 2017 Jaguars and those 2013 Seahawks who beat the Broncos in Super Bowl XLVIII.
The “No Fly Zone” was special because they were able to utilize pressure up front and superb coverage on the back end to completely overwhelm opponents. Von Miller (11.0) and DeMarcus Ware (7.5) helped the orange and blue led the league in total sacks with 52.
Sacks, of course, are great for ending a play while also forcing the opponent to lose yardage. But, they also work by getting into the quarterback’s head, forcing him to then throw more quickly later in the game and possibly into coverage for interceptions. That year, Denver totaled a league-leading 123 QB hits and picked off 14 passes. They also led the league in passing yards allowed (199.57 YPG) and net yards per attempt.
But, what made that defense all the more special is they were no one-trick ponies. The Broncos held opponents to a mere 3.3 yards per rushing attempt, which was best in the NFL. In 9-of-16 games, opponents couldn’t break the century mark on the ground. And in four of those games, Denver held their foe to under 50 yards of rushing.
Simply, opposing offenses couldn’t run the ball, and when they tried to drop back and pass, couldn’t throw it either. Miller and Ware were rushing off the edges, with Shaquil Barrett stepping in when Ware was injured. And don’t forget about Malik Jackson and Derek Wolfe providing pressure on the inside of the line as well. When QBs could get the ball off, they were throwing against Aqib Talib and Chris Harris Jr., each in their respective primes.
That season, Talib picked off three passes and returned two of them to the house for six, while also defending 13 more.
Of course, all of these splendid statistics only show some of the picture because these are only representative of the regular season. In the playoffs, the Broncos continued to dominate.
They were able to hold the Steelers and Patriots to under 100 yards rushing and forced three turnovers combined in those AFC games. In that epic AFC Championship Game, Tom Brady was sacked four times and the defense had to come up with a clutch fourth down stop late to win the contest.
Then, Super Bowl 50 was yet another defensive showcase. Denver forced four turnovers, two of them strip-sacks of the NFL MVP Cam Newton. Newton was a nearly unstoppable force in 2015; he threw for 35 touchdowns and ran another 10 in during the regular season. But, not only was he rendered useless in the game, his career took a major downturn after that embarrassing loss.
We’d be remiss to not mention the fantastic coaching of Wade Phillips during 2015; he was fearless when sending multiple “dogs” and blitzes throughout games. Wade, too, won over his players with a zest for life rarely seen in NFL coaches.
Broncos fans probably already assumed their 2015 defense was the best of the decade, and now, thanks to PFF, we know it’s true.