The greatness of the Denver Broncos defense is based on a symbiotic relationship between its pass-rush and the secondary. Known as the No Fly Zone, Chris Harris Jr., Aqib Talib and Bradley Roby are the benefactors of the pressure that Von Miller, Shane Ray and Derek Wolfe provide. The formula is effective, if simple: pressure the quarterback, fluster them into making bad decisions and make a play on the ball. In the end, this equals turnovers and beaten down signal-callers.
In looking back at the secondary that played in Super Bowl 50, the Denver defense still boasted Harris, Talib and Roby but also had solid role players in reserve in Kayvon Webster and Omar Bolden at cornerback, to go along with versatile David Bruton Jr. at safety. The defensive line also had a surplus of talent amongst its ranks with vital substitutes like Antonio Smith and Vance Walker. The ability to come at any offense in waves was critical in taking home the Lombardi trophy that year.
Now, two years removed from that moment, the Broncos still have the framework for a defense that figures to be a top-10 unit once again. What is missing, though, is key role players who can provide depth from the starters without a noticeable drop-off in play. Gone are the likes of Bruton, Jr., Webster and Smith and in their place, are players like Adam Gotsis, Taurean Nixon and Lorenzo Doss. With those young players taking snaps last year, the defense took a step backward from its championship-winning form.
It makes sense for some to be concerned about the hole at left tackle that could be plugged with someone like Garett Bolles or Ryan Ramczyk. In a historically bad offense, another weapon in a Christian McCaffrey or John Ross could help either quarterback that becomes the starter this season. But in a draft that figures to be rich in defensive line and defensive back help, the Broncos should seriously consider fortifying its hard-nosed defensive identity.
Defensive tackles like Michigan’s Chris Wormley or Iowa’s Jaleel Johnson have the ability to come in and instantly shore up a porous run defense that also failed to generate much of a pass rush in the absence of departed Malik Jackson. A cornerback like Colorado’s Chidobe Awuzie can instantly fill the void of Webster and be a force as a dime package defender and special-teams terror. With a young quarterback in either Trevor Siemian or Paxton Lynch figuring to see the field a lot this year, having an elite-level defense can still greatly aid in their development.
It’s a luxury to have all three phases of the game: offense, defense and special teams playing a high level, but in the era of free agency, it isn’t always feasible. With an offense that will be learning Mike McCoy’s scheme and a special teams group that figures to be inexperienced, Denver will likely lean on its defense heavily again. Denver is fortunate to have a proven commodity in the No Fly Zone and, with a few tailored improvements, can return to its dominant form of yesterday.