OK, maybe that image doesn't translate so well in words. But the sentiment is simple—if you want to win a football game, you need to stop the other team's offense. It doesn't matter how potent your offense is if the defense is more like a sieve than a dam.
In 2011, the Boise State defense was good, allowing only 110 yards on the ground, 210 through the air for a total of 320 yards per game. But that was then, and 2012 is a different season. Some talented players are gone from the Bronco defense, and that means new faces, or reasonably new faces, will have to step up if the Broncos look to be competitive in their last season in the Mountain West.
The question was recently raised—which element of the defense will be the most important to BSU in 2012?
Let's break down some key elements of the defensive side of the ball, and do it with musically themed subtitles …
If the defensive line can break through to the quarterback, that means hurried throws and hurried passes mean less accuracy and can break down into interceptions of incompletions. A quarterback under pressure also starts to hear footsteps, gets jittery and can make poor decisions.
On the flip side of that, if defensive backs pop a wide receiver or two, are renowned for making hard runs to the ball and hit receivers hard, that means that receivers can also have their concentration interrupted, won't see the ball all the way into their hands and that equals drops, or even (if the coverage is tight and there are a few bumps with five yards of the line of scrimmage) breaking off routes early. Wide receivers that don't run precise routes leave the quarterback looking for open targets, which means that they might take a bit more time in the pocket.
This is a case of wide bodies to plug the holes versus fast closers that can come up to stop a running back from going wide. Now obviously, the linebackers are a tandem unit with the defensive line and will be responsible for closing down the ends, forcing the run game back into the middle where the defensive wall should be.
In 2011, the Broncos were stingy against the run, and that has to continue in 2012. The addition of players like Demarcus Lawrence (though somewhat small as a lineman, but strong and fast) and returners like Michael Atkinson may help BSU maintain that D-line dominance, but there are some question marks heading into the season.
Still, this is an area that the Broncos will rely on. This element has to be hung on the d-line.
This ties in with the "Under Pressure" category, but in a slightly different way. The defensive secondary will be tested and in 2011, in part due to inexperience and injuries. It got scorched in a couple of games by good passing attacks. There is speed in the secondary, though not a lot of height. A height disadvantage can be quashed a bit by intelligence and athleticism.
The Broncos have the latter, and the former will be tested. But not only does the secondary have to be fast and smart, the line has to recognize short passes, swinging out of the backfield, as well as pitches, and shut those down. Brute strength won't get the job done. This also feeds into experience. Edge goes to the secondary here.
When it comes to game experience in the blue and orange, the edge goes to the secondary. However, as the saying goes, the battles are often won up front in the trenches.
In 2011, Boise State's defensive line was remarkable and included a first-round draft pick in Shea McClellin, as well as stalwart NFL draft talent like Billy Winn and Tyrone Crawford. If the Broncos want to be successful in 2012, it will have to be the defensive line that steps it up and establishes on-field dominance. Too much pressure on the secondary, and the Broncos may well find themselves in a defensive hole.
Don't buy that? Look at the 2011 TCU game or the 2010 Nevada game. The simply rule is apply the pressure first, don't wait for the pressure to come and crack your defense.
To bring it full circle, will it be the defensive line or secondary that will be more important in 2012? Go with the defensive line. The secondary has to do its job, but if the guys up front aren't doing their job, the secondary could be in for a long, long game of back pedaling.