BRONCOS

For the first time in six years, the Broncos defense is under pressure

Apr 13, 2022, 6:00 AM | Updated: 6:35 am
(Photo by Dustin Bradford/Getty Images)...
(Photo by Dustin Bradford/Getty Images)
(Photo by Dustin Bradford/Getty Images)

Ask anyone in Broncos Country why the franchise has struggled since Super Bowl 50 and one of two answers will be uttered almost 100 percent of the time. Denver’s offense has been awful. And they’ve hired the wrong coaches.

Pick a name, any name. There are plenty of people to point the finger of blame at when looking for the culprit to explain the team’s six-straight seasons without a playoff appearance and five-consecutive losing seasons.

Trevor Siemian. Paxton Lynch. Case Keenum. Joe Flacco. Drew Lock. Teddy Bridgewater. The quarterbacks guiding the Broncos offense have been less than stellar, to say the least.

Vance Joseph. Vic Fangio. Rich Scangarello. Pat Shurmur. The head coaches and offensive coordinators who’ve tried to right the ship have been underwhelming, by almost every measure.

Want someone to blame for the Broncos futility? Look no further than those two lists. Throw in Brock Olivo and Tom McMahon to round out the usual suspects.

It’s hard not to notice that one side of the ball has escaped all blame. For six years, the Broncos defense avoided any and all ire.

Coming off of the Super Bowl win, this was understandable. After all, the “No Fly Zone,” plus Von Miller and a tenacious front seven, carried Denver to their championship. That provided a grace period that lasted a year or two.

Having back-to-back head coaches who came from the defensive side of the ball also played a factor. Joseph and Fangio were given the benefit of the doubt, given their resumes and track records.

And of course, the fact that the Broncos offense was dreadful was the biggest reason. In an offensive-minded league, Denver couldn’t get out of their own way in that phase. Reaching 24 points in any given week seemed like a major accomplishment.

All of those things are true. And all of those suspects deserve plenty of the blame for the Broncos failings.

But Denver’s defense hasn’t been perfect. Under Fangio, there were repeated failings.

Everyone remembers blown leads against the Jaguars, Bears and Colts in 2019. The same thing happened against the Titans and Raiders in ’20. The offense wasn’t great, by any means, but they did stake the Broncos to late-game leads, which the defense couldn’t hold.

Throw in a lack of pass rush, an inability to force turnovers and a failure to create opportunities for the offense by putting them in good field position, and it’s not hard to see that Denver could’ve been better on that side of the ball, as well. Being the best of three subpar phases isn’t exactly something to brag about.

But they got a free pass. Others took the arrows, while the defense skated.

Those days are over. With the hiring of Nathaniel Hackett, an offensive-minded head coach, and the trade for Russell Wilson, a legit franchise quarterback, things have changed in Denver.

Suddenly, the Broncos defense is under pressure. For the first time since Peyton Manning was behind center, they’ll be expected to do their part on Sundays.

Ejiro Evero’s group will need to make plays. They’ll need to force turnovers and get after the quarterback.

The defense will need to get opposing offenses off the field. Wilson doesn’t do anyone any good if he’s standing on the sidelines.

And they’ll be expected to close out games. When staked to a lead, they’ll need to get after the opposing quarterback and finish.

That’s a new pressure. It’s one the defense seems to embrace.

“We want to compete and hold up the Lombardi Trophy at the end of the year,” Justin Simmons said on Tuesday. “It’s no doubt going to come down to how we play on the defensive side of the ball. And that’s going to be the attitude and the mentality all year.”

The All-Pro safety has never been a part of a winning team during his NFL career. He’s ready to change that fact in 2022. And he knows what it will take.

“All phases have to step up now,” Simmons said about the new sense of urgency with Wilson in the building. “Especially the defense.”

The Broncos defense has been fine in recent years. Not great. But certainly not bad.

Their mediocre play has largely gone unnoticed, however. They’ve avoided criticism because everyone else around them was so dreadful.

That’s all about to change. The Broncos defense will be in uncharted waters, suddenly under pressure to perform.

Hackett and Wilson will fix the offense. The special teams can’t possibly be any worse.

Can the defense answer the bell? Their best player seems to think they’re up to the task.

“It’s gonna be great season,” Simmons stated on Tuesday.

If the defense holds up their end of the bargain, that’s certainly a possibility. The pressure is on.

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