Broncos have to hide Rahim Moore

The task ahead of the Denver Broncos is daunting, yet their swagger entering a fourth-straight playoff appearance remains. The extra bye week gave the team time to heal, plan and take a breath. Orlando Franklin, T.J. Ward, Brandon Marshall and other players badly needed a break.

The Broncos are headed into the divisional round matchup against Andrew Luck’s Colts feeling confident, but there is a weakness lurking, one that is masked well among the crowd. Denver’s success will hinge on continuing to hide Rahim Moore.

Moore enters Sunday’s game as the Broncos biggest question mark, outside of Brandon Marshall’s status. All season, Moore was hidden amongst a talent-laden secondary. But late in the season, when injuries hit the defense, he was once again exposed. With Luck and the most potent passing game in the NFL coming to town, the weakest link in the defense will likely only become more apparent. It once again could be the undoing of Denver’s season.

Moore has always been tough on himself, if you can believe it. He’s tougher on himself than most fans post-2012. In a season in which he is tied for the most interceptions on the team he still knows he doesn’t get a passing grade.

“I give myself a D+,” Moore said from his locker during the recent bye week. “There are things I am still trying to work on and mistakes I need to correct.”

Moore has yet to become physical enough to be an elite safety. Ironically, his best season was 2012, the season that came to an end thanks in part to his infamous gaffe against Baltimore in the playoffs

Statistically, it appears that he has improved. He played more snaps than anyone on the defense, had four interceptions, forced two fumbles and made 50 tackles. But stats can be misleading.

During the late-season, Monday night game versus the Bengals, when the Broncos were banged up on defense, they needed their fourth-year safety to make plays. Instead, Moore was once again exposed in coverage and showed he’s still a poor tackler. Criticism of Moore came pouring down as hard as the rain in Cincinnati, leaving many wondering if he’s learned anything since the disaster in 2012.

When asked of his progress through his first four seasons in the NFL, he was quick to answer saying, “I’ve gotten a little better. “

His progress may not be enough for a defense that’ll need him to step up on Sunday afternoon. Luck is a horrendous matchup for Moore. He exploited safeties all year long, with T.Y. Hilton, Reggie Wayne, Donte Montcreif and Coby Fleener hauling in Luck’s passes en route to 4,761 passing yards.

Moore has spent the early part of the week showering Luck with praise and using the words like “great,” “superstar,” and “the NFL’s future” often. Read between the lines of Moore’s comments and you can see the insecurity in his own ability. He seems content on conceding major yards on Sunday, which will add pressure on the rest of the defense.

It’s no secret that the Colts are one-dimensional on offense; they rely solely on Luck and the passing game. If the secondary, and Moore in particular, can’t keep the passing attack in front of them, there’s little doubt they’ll end up on the wrong side of the score.

“I read today that they lead the league in explosive plays, so that’s kind of crazy,” Moore said Wednesday with emphasis. “You have to be aware of it, for sure. You always want to be as deep as the deepest. You never want to let anyone equal with you or behind you because that’s not a good thing for a safety. The safety is the last line of defense.”

Moore’s own words are terrifying because he’s shown an inability to do just that. He’s also failed on make tackles when the ball is in front of him.

The problem with Moore and his road to redemption is that he simply is not as talented as those around him. Luckily, he’s had Aqib Talib and Chris Harris Jr. to shut down wide receivers, helping him hide in coverage. And Marshall (when he’s been on the field) and Ward make his tackles for him. Unfortunately, the playoffs are a different animal. Luck will be focusing on the Broncos weakness in the secondary, meaning Moore must prove his ready for his chance at redemption.

Hopefully, Denver will be able to continue to hide him amongst the talent and get enough of a pass rush to eliminate the deep ball. Hopefully, Marshall plays and continues to be a tackling machine. Hopefully, Talib and Harris handle the load in coverage. If not, Moore could once again end Denver’s season in heartbreaking fashion.

To his credit, Moore seems optimistic and has weathered the storm of criticism. He is entering a new year with a new defense. “The good thing is we have got a new season. When that’s over, we can talk,” Moore said with a smile.

Optimism doesn’t make plays, though. Broncos Country has to pray and hope the season does not end this week. If it does, Rahim Moore surely will not be smiling.