Denver Broncos: What's Wrong with the Broncos Defense?
It was just the fourth time in an NFL game where both teams scored 48-plus points. Peyton Manning and Tony Romo went head-to-head and had identical passing performances while continuing to torment opposing defenses.
Manning continued his scorching start to the season by throwing for 414 yards and four touchdowns.
Romo, on the other hand, threw for a career-high 506 yards and five touchdowns.
While the Broncos did win the game to move to 5-0 on the season, one question should not go unanswered.
What is wrong with the Broncos defense?
As we head into Week 6, more of the same chatter will take place: Will the Broncos go 16-0? How many passing touchdowns will Peyton have by the end of the season? Will the Broncos offense go down as the best of all time?
Because the Broncos won this shootout over the Cowboys, the topics will mainly concern positive issues relating to the explosiveness of the offense, the undefeated record of the Broncos and the impeccable play of the four-time NFL MVP at quarterback.
But don't expect people to focus on a growing concern with the Broncos—their inability to stop the passing game.
Romo had his way. In fact, before his game-losing interception with two minutes remaining, this might have been the greatest single-game performance of his career.
Rookie wide receiver Terrance Williams made a joke out of Denver's secondary. His yardage total versus Denver—151—actually exceeded his total for the season coming into the game (131). He burned Broncos cornerback Tony Carter for an 82-yard touchdown in the third quarter.
Dallas had two receivers who went over 100 yards outside of Williams: Dez Bryant had 141 yards receiving with two touchdowns, while Jason Witten had 121 yards receiving and a touchdown.
We could go on and on about the statistics and number of big plays Romo and his receivers laid on Denver's defense, but it's more simple to state the obvious—Denver's defense got torched.
So what are the issues holding back this defense?
For one, this defense has been decimated by injuries and a suspension.
Champ Bailey sat out yet again with his foot injury. Von Miller has been out due to suspension.
The injuries early on in the game didn't help matters. Robert Ayers, Wesley Woodyard and Chris Harris Jr. were forced out of the game due to ailments.
But the pass defense has been a concern over recent weeks. It ranked 30th in passing yardage allowed coming into Week 5's matchup with Dallas. The defense didn't rank much better in the yards-allowed-per-attempt department, ranking 25th in that category coming into this game.
Romo's 506-yard, 14-yards-per-attempt performance certainly won't help Denver's standing within those rankings.
Outside of injuries and the absences of key defensive players, it has been the dominance of the offense that has been a detriment, so to speak, for the defense.
The offense is so dominant and scores so quickly that it can make the defense tired and, as a result, look worse than it really is. Entering halftime, the Cowboys offense controlled the clock for about two-thirds of the first half.
Another reason is the rules don't allow defenses to be dominant anymore.
Is Manning amazing? Of course.
But you don't go 19 touchdown passes without throwing an interception to start the season if the rules aren't bent in favor of the passing game.
They are, no matter what the NFL wants to tell you.
As a defense in today's NFL, you might as well give up in the passing-yardage and completions department—quarterbacks such as Manning won't be stopped, and it's damn near impossible to truly slow them down.
In recent years, the NFL has cracked down on hits to the quarterback and receiver. Combine this with the rule change in 2004 limiting a defensive back's contact with a receiver beyond five yards, and it's harder than ever to play defensive back.
How are you considered a good defense in the NFL in today's landscape? You're judged by how many turnovers you can force.
Danny Trevathan's interception of Romo with two minutes remaining won the game for the Broncos. The Broncos came into this game ranked sixth in the NFL in interceptions forced.
The Seattle Seahawks are widely considered to be one of the top two teams in the NFL. Their defense is the biggest reason why they came into Sunday with an undefeated record. The reason why? They had forced 13 turnovers on the season, second best in the NFL.
Romo and the Cowboys receivers absolutely torched Denver's defense. There is little doubt about that, and the pass defense showed virtually no resistance as the game progressed.
Most of the reason for that is Denver's pass defense isn't that great—it's good enough to win games, but at best, it's a bend-but-don't-break defense.
Part of it was due to the injuries to key players that forced Denver to play with backups such as Omar Bolden instead of its true starters.
Harris, Ayers and Woodyard are all key cogs in Denver's defense: Woodyard is the captain of the defense, Ayers is the second-best pass-rusher on the team, and Harris is the second-best defensive back on this team at the moment.
So what does this mean for Denver's defense? Should this be cause for concern as the season progresses?
What happened to Denver's defense Sunday was embarrassing. Having said that, it's no different than what every defense in the NFL goes through on a weekly basis.
The Broncos have perhaps the most unstoppable offense in NFL history. They have a defense that is forcing key turnovers in the absence of two of their best defensive players, Bailey and Miller.
This won't be the last time you'll see the Broncos give up a record-breaking performance to a quarterback this season. This defense won't suddenly turn into a shutdown unit capable of making opposing quarterbacks' lives miserable on a weekly basis.
And in the end, it doesn't really matter.
What will make or break this team's season is the play of its offense.
If the offense plays to its potential, this team wins the Super Bowl. If it doesn't, expect an early exit from the postseason.
With the rules favored toward quarterbacks, it's not about passing yardage or amount of completions—it's about forcing turnovers and making key defensive stops when the game counts.
The Broncos defense did that Sunday.
And it's a large reason why Denver currently stands at 5-0.
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