The Denver Broncos that will play in Super Bowl 50 are a very different squad than the one Seattle walloped in Super Bowl 48.
The 2013 Broncos were the best offense in the league that year, and one of the worst defenses. The 2015 Broncos team allowed the 4th fewest points in the league, and ranked 19th in points scored.
Broncos general manager John Elway said:
“Well, I think that we had the number one offense (two years ago), had a tremendous year. We broke all of those records that year, but we had the opportunity that offseason to get better on the defensive side with DeMarcus coming available, T.J. Ward was out there, Aqib , and then Darian Stewart this year to be able to add to that side of the ball. Plus, we’ve drafted on the defensive side of the ball, and I think it’s all come together. It’s allowed us, offensively, to try and run the ball a little bit more and take some pressure off the quarterback.”
Denver’s 52 sacks were good for best in the league. The four pick-six interceptions tied for the NFL best. As does the 283 yards allowed per game.
In nearly any facet, the Broncos have turned in the best numbers of any defense, even Carolina.
The roster has a lot of free agents that have come in since the 2013 season, and a few others have developed into premier players since being drafted.
Rookie pass rusher Shane Ray came to Denver with a late first round draft pick, the Mizzou edge aficionado being considered a top 10 talent before some off-the-field mishaps.
Ray said that the veteran leadership has been huge in developing a nucleus of talent that is one of the best the league has ever seen:
“Being in a room with Von and Demarcus, it makes you continue to be competitive. It makes you smarter as a player. Because you’re always trying to figure things out. I look at Von sometimes and think, ‘Von got to the quarterback in this many steps. It took me five. Okay, what did I do different?’ You’re always breaking yourself down to get better as a person and as a player.”
The depth of the team goes into the realm of football elder, with 34-year-old Antonio Smith coming to Denver after being cut by Oakland a week into free agency after posting one of the best interior pass rush grades of 2014 from Pro Football Focus.
“You gotta do good in free agency. When you got positions, and holes that you have to fill, every year there’s a few free agent guys that end up being paramount on those teams that they’re on. You gotta give it up to Kubiak and Elway, man.”
The Broncos defense has played well under pressure this season. After much of the responsibility laid with Peyton Manning and the offense, Denver has become a defensive team.
Carried by the defense, even, many of their wins came on big sacks or turnovers created by a solid pass rush and ball-hawking secondary.
And defensive coordinator Wade Phillips thinks that the ability to perform in tough situations will be the difference on Sunday:
The oddsmakers say that we’re not the favorite, which we like because we’ve been there the last few games. I think our team thrives on that and our defense especially plays well under pressure.”
Jason Leskiw is SFBay’s Oakland Raiders beat writer and member of the Professional Football Writers of America. Follow @SFBay and @LeskiwSFBay on Twitter and at SFBay.ca for full coverage of the Oakland Raiders.