2015 Broncos Top-Graded Defense of the Decade by PFF
Anyone who watched the 2015 Denver Broncos knew they were witnessing something special defensively. Long before the Broncos finished their inexorable march through the postseason, the defense made a habit of almost single-handedly snatching victory from the jaws of defeat as the team limped along without Peyton Manning for seven weeks.
Defensive Coordinator Wade Phillips used a relatively simple scheme that featured one-gap penetration up front and man coverage on the back-end to smother opponents. Phillips' preternatural gut intuition to call the perfect pressure package in key situations was on full display all year long.
But mostly, Phillips just let his guys play. GM John Elway, over the course of the preceding two offseasons, had pivoted away from an offense-first approach to roster building to prioritizing the defense as Manning began to lose his battle with Father Time.
Elway stocked the personnel cupboards well so that when Phillips took over the defense, all the venerated coach had to do was point the players in the right direction and unleash them. It led to the Broncos bringing home their third Lombardi Trophy after defeating the Carolina Panthers 24-10 in Super Bowl 50.
Just to get to the big dance, Phillips' defense had to get through future Hall-of-Fame quarterbacks like Ben Roethlisberger and Tom Brady. Both were vanquished and the last obstacle was the recently-named league MVP — Cam Newton — who had torched all comers in the NFC playoffs. We all know how that turned out in the Super Bowl.
There's a reason for this nostalgic look back at the 2015 squad. Pro Football Focus, the leading advanced analytics site on the internet, recently released their top-4 defenses of the last decade, based on one of their metrics called WAR. Here's where the 2015 Broncos ranked.
If you're looking for an explanation of the WAR metric, this article pretty well details it. But the truth is, the WAR metric isn't telling us anything that we didn't already know.
If there was one defense that potentially rivaled the 2015 Broncos over the last decade, it was the 2013 Seattle Seahawks. The No Fly Zone ultimately emerged as the superior unit, but the Legion of Boom was a sight to behold in its time. Just ask Manning (Super Bowl XLVIII).
It's encouraging to see that the No. 2 defense based on WAR was the 2018 Chicago Bears, which was coordinated by — you guessed it — Vic Fangio. Fangio's defense took a little time getting up to speed in Year 1 in Denver but there's good reason to believe, based on tradition, that Year 2 will see the unit take a quantum leap forward.
Looking back on that 2015 squad and the names in that starting lineup, it's hard to believe Elway was able to assemble them all under one salary cap. The GM pulled it off, even if it was for just one year. Although, the 2016 defense was pretty darned stout and could have been Super Bowl-caliber if Manning hadn't retired in the offseason.
Von Miller, DeMarcus Ware, Derek Wolfe, Sylvester Williams, Malik Jackson, Danny Trevathan, Brandon Marshall, Aqib Talib, Chris Harris, Jr., Bradley Roby, T.J. Ward, and Darian Stewart. These were the names that made up this all-time unit. Miller is the only one left in Denver, although Todd Davis remains even though he wasn't a Super Bowl 50 starter.
But let's not forget players like David Bruton and Kayvon Webster, especially the former, who also made a massive impact for the Broncos that year. With it being the dog days of the NFL summer, now's the time to kick back and turn on the Super Bowl 50 blu ray (if you bought it) or the game itself on YouTube, and take a trip down memory lane.
It's been some dark days in Denver since Elway proudly stood on the podium post-game and passionately proclaimed, "This one's for Pat!" But things finally seem to be trending in the right direction on the heels of three-straight bonafide draft classes and the emergence of a budding quarterback who oozes franchise tools.
The future is bright. But it'll be pretty difficult to ever outshine those 2015 Broncos. What a team. Then again, the same could be said for the '97 and '98 back-to-back World Champion Broncos. Every team is unique to its time, I suppose. It's time for Drew Lock and company to make some new memories.