A Betting Overview of the Denver Broncos’ Defense
One of the most puzzling aspects of Sunday’s divisional round playoff game between the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Denver Broncos was the gargantuan cushion that the Broncos’ defensive backs were giving the Pittsburgh receivers. Sure, the Broncos’ pass rush was breaking through, but that huge gap meant that Ben Roethlisberger was able to get rid of the ball quickly and avoid a number of sacks — and keep moving the team up and down the field, passing for more than 300 yards against the Broncos for the second time this season.
— Denver Broncos (@Broncos) January 19, 2016
The premise behind the gap is a sound one — if your corners are in too tightly, especially in a man situation, it just takes one speedy receiver to break a big play. So in normal circumstances, a bit of a cushion is normal. However, that sprain and those two torn ligaments inside Big Ben’s right shoulder meant that he couldn’t heave the deep ball reliably. Even passes that were longer than 15 yards down the field tended to sail on him. But the Broncos kept sagging back, and the Steelers kept driving up and down the field, moving easily into field goal range enough times to keep the game competitive.
While many people are billing the AFC Championship game (featuring Denver and New England) as Manning vs Brady V (their fifth meeting in the playoffs), the real battle next week will feature the matchup between Tom Brady and Wade Phillips, the defensive coordinator of the Broncos. While Phillips has been a mess as a head coach, he has earned kudos as a solid defensive coordinator everywhere he has held the post. However, he will need to do a better job of reading the context of drives against the Patriots. If Fitzgerald Toussaint had not fumbled the ball late in the fourth quarter, as the Steelers were driving down the field once again, the Broncos might have given up a touchdown instead of scoring one on the ensuing drive, and we would be talking about Big Ben vs Brady. So while you have to give the defense credit for creating a turnover, defenders are going for the strip on just about every play, and Toussaint was the one who made the mistake. You can’t expect the Patriots to make those sorts of mistakes for you.
One strong presence on the Denver “D” in the divisional game was defensive Derek Wolfe. He hurried Roethlisberger five times and sacked him twice. Von Miller had seven hurries. As a unit, the Bronco defense had four sacks and 20 hurries, applying pressure on almost half of Roethlisberger’s dropbacks. Can you imagine what those numbers would have been like if the corners had been up?
Tom Brady won’t have the same arm issues that Roethlisberger had. Chris Harris Jr. was particularly generous in pass coverage, giving up 70 yards on four catches and missing a big tackle. Bradley Roby was only targeted on three passes, but the Steeler receivers caught all three of them for a whopping 116 yards — 78 after the catch. The Broncos permitted 191 yards after the catch — a number that will turn next week’s AFC Championship into a loss if it recurs.