HOLDEN: Is the Broncos defense really as bad as it looks?
When Omar Bolden, 47, starts against the San Diego Chargers, he'll mark the 22nd Bronco to log a defensive start in 2013.
DENVER — Statistically, they’re in the bottom third of the league in almost every category, they’ve suffered a bevy of injuries and many of their starters aren’t exactly shimmering.
But with just three games left in the regular season, is this Denver Broncos defense really in as much trouble as it appears?
Yes, it’s true that no team has ever won a Super Bowl with a defense that allowed more than 25 points a game. And the Broncos are currently allowing 26.5 per contest.
But when you consider the fact that five of the last seven Super Bowl champions have achieved the ultimate goal with defenses that allowed a combined average 22.44 points per game, the Broncos defense doesn’t exactly look eons away.
And when you consider that this year’s Broncos are averaging 39.6 points per game on offense — compared to the 26.28 points those aforementioned five Super Bowl teams’ offenses averaged — Denver’s defensive deficiencies start to look iota-like in the grand scheme of things.
Yes, injuries have been an issue. Kevin Vickerson, Rahim Moore, Champ Bailey, Derek Wolfe and Wesley Woodyard, who represent about half of the team’s preferred starting defense, have all permanently exited stage left or spent a substantial amount of time sidelined with injuries.
And yet the Broncos still have bona fide game-changers at each level of their defense.
Von Miller is starting to look like his old self with three sacks, two forced fumbles and one fumble recovery in the last three games. With 104 tackles on the season, Danny Trevathan ranks among the league’s top four outside linebackers. Herm Edwards has consistently called Domique Rodgers-Cromartie one of the top 10 cornerbacks in the NFL this year.
Outside of those three players, however, it’s true: The Broncos have had some issues finding eight other guys to fit into their defensive lineup on a permanent basis. So much so, that when Paris Lenon (middle linebacker) and Omar Bolden (safety) trot out for the opening defensive snap on Thursday night against the San Diego Chargers, they’ll mark the 21st and 22nd players to start a game for the Denver defense this season.
If that has you concerned, ask the 2012 Baltimore Ravens how much it hurts a team’s championship dreams to have a revolving door of defensive starters. Last year’s Super Bowl champions used a total of 24 different defensive starters before they were finally able to hoist the Lombardi trophy.
That said, many have raised an eyebrow at sorts of players Lenon and Bolden are replacing. Wesley Woodyard had previously been seen as a stalwart and team captain at middle linebacker and Duke Ihenacho had appeared to be one of the team’s best young players at safety.
But in reality, this is Woodyard’s first season at middle linebacker, and it’s no secret that at 6-foot-nothing, 235 pounds, he’s a little small for the position. The 6-foot-2, 240-pound Lenon, meanwhile, had been a starting linebacker for eight seasons before joining the Broncos this year.
Ihenacho is an undrafted, second-year player getting his first real shot at playing time. By all accounts, he’s overachieved. Bolden is also a second-year player, but he was drafted in the fourth round. And after more than a year of seasoning, he may be one opportunity away from living up to his burgeoning expectations.
After all that, the question still remains: Is this Broncos defense really in trouble? Well, it certainly doesn’t look like sunshine and blue skies on that side of the ball.
Then again, the NFL playoffs aren’t played in such conditions. And given the amount of cloudy days they’ve seen of late, this Broncos defense might just be getting the sort of preparation it needs to weather the storm.