Denver’s success still hinges completely on the defense

Denver Broncos defense

Quarterback, schmorterback.

Raise your hand if you’re not sick of the never-ending news cycle surrounding Denver’s starting quarterback.

No takers? That’s what I thought.

Quarterback fatigue is at an all-time high in this town, and understandably so. It’s Aug. 19 and the defending Super Bowl champion still has an open competition at the most important position in sports (quiet hockey fans, quarterbacks are infinitely more important than goalies). That makes for an interesting storyline, but the three guys at that position aren’t an unsolved mystery.

You don’t need an enigma machine to figure out Mark Sanchez. His career touchdown to interception ratio is nearly 1-to-1; don’t expect that to change all of a sudden. Sanchez has also never been the guy to carry a team on his shoulders. He is who he is; don’t expect an overnight transformation.

Trevor Siemian and Paxton Lynch both have little to no experience and neither has shown that they’re ready to become stars in this league. They can’t beat out Sanchez for crying out loud.

Sanchez, meh… Siemian, meh… Lynch, meh. It’s all bland and unimpressive.

It’s no secret what Denver needs from that position. They need a guy that isn’t going to turn over the football and cost this team games. They need a quarterback that can stay out of the headlines for all of the wrong reasons and can stay out of the way. Normally that’d be a death sentence for an NFL team, but this isn’t a normal NFL team.

The Denver Broncos are going to ride or die on the defense’s ability to continually play historically great football. That was the case last year and this year will be no different. Therein lies the biggest question. Can Von Miller and Company replicate their 2015 season?

Last year’s numbers are staggering. Denver allowed the fewest passing yards per game, they were third in rushing yards per game, fourth in total points allowed, they led the league in sacks and were 14th in takeaways. That seems low, but remember, sustaining a drive against this defense was impossible, which meant they had fewer opportunities for turnovers. Stats don’t tell the entire story.

If you watched this team on weekly basis it was easy to tell just how menacing they were. The defensive line dominated; they lived in the backfield. Opposing wide receivers were smothered by the secondary and the linebackers were tackling machines. They played fast, physical and made sure you knew about it.

When it comes to doing that again, history isn’t on the defense’s side. Very few defenses, if any, have played at such a high level across seasons, for multiple reasons – injuries chief among them. Outside of Vance Walker and Derek Wolfe (cross your fingers his ankle injury doesn’t linger), Denver has been lucky enough to avoid the injury bug. During Denver’s first preseason game against the Bears they demonstrated championship depth, undoubtedly. But, a few injures at key positions can derail the best of the best pretty quickly. Injuries are always the NFL equalizer. Even if Denver stays healthy they still have a huge task ahead of them.

Offenses in the NFL are great at quickly adjusting and adapting. With a full season of game film on Wade Phillips’ squad (that’s largely remained the same), you have to expect teams will find creative ways to attack Miller and Company. This is going to be their true test.

Phillips must find new ways to attack opposing teams. The same old formations and blitz packages aren’t going to work. To his credit, Phillips has been around long enough to know that. Knowing that and doing that are two different things, though. This is at the heart of Denver’s success this season.

The defense has to not only maintain a high level of play, but they’ll once again have to carry this team. That isn’t a secret to most, but it’s somehow been lost in the wash of the quarterback feeding frenzy.

Gary Kubiak is going to ask his quarterbacks to win games by not losing games. Frankly, that’s all that should be expected of these quarterbacks based on their skill sets. Every team makes this their goal, minimizing mistakes at the quarterback position, but it’s more important for the Broncos. That’s because they don’t have the horses (pun intended) at quarterback to make up for their mistakes. They need someone to pick up the slack for them. That someone is the defense.

That philosophy leaves little room for error for the defense. It’s a philosophy that squarely puts the fate of the season on the defensive group. Luckily, it’s the best group.

The defense won this team a championship last season. They imposed their will on every snap, turned games into slugfests and made things easier on the offense. Denver’s season rides on them doing that again, not on which middle-of-the-road quarterback starts under center.

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