In the NFL regular season, when you give up a lot of points, but have a good offense, you can survive.
In the playoffs, it's much harder.
If the Denver Broncos want to win the Super Bowl, they're going to have to correct their defensive woes, which have been overshadowed by Denver's record-setting offense. The Broncos have four players with at least 10 touchdowns, three 50-point games and a quarterback on pace to set the record for passing yards and touchdowns in a season.
However, it's the Broncos defense that could come back to haunt them in the playoffs.
They didn't cost Denver last Sunday, but there was some concern on defense. The defense gave up 28 points to a Tennessee Titans team that has scored more than 28 points only once before this season. Sure, the Broncos forced two turnovers, but they also gave up a big run to Shonn Greene and two big passing plays to Justin Hunter.
As a result, the Titans kept the game close. The Broncos offense was hot, so Denver was able to pull through with a relatively easy win, but if its offense goes cold and runs into a better defense, will the Broncos be able to win?
Yes, because the defense will come through.
Denver's defensive numbers are poor because of injuries to Rahim Moore, Champ Bailey and Kevin Vickerson among others, but the defense is going to get healthy. The cornerbacks have been terrible recently, but Denver's best coverage guys are healing.
Bailey's foot and age have hampered him, but he's definitely an upgrade over liabilities Kayvon Webster and Quentin Jammer. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Chris Harris have both been spectacular, and if Bailey can at least do a respectable job when he gets healthy, it would make a significant impact.
That would have a ripple effect on Denver's pass rush, notably Von Miller. Miller has been a menace this season, even though he has had to shake off the rust from a demoralizing six-game suspension to start the season. He has still done well, but he hasn't been as effective as he was in 2012.
However, with more time to wreak havoc on quarterbacks, Miller would be able to make game-changing plays.
He is fresh and won't be tired down the stretch. Instead, he will be in midseason form, making it hard for other teams to stop him, and that could change a game.
Miller can change games by forcing turnovers, with Denver having forced 13 in his seven games. The Broncos are fifth in forced fumbles and interceptions combined.
Denver might not be consistent in that regard, but if it continues to make critical plays in critical moments, all will end up well. The Broncos have guys who can make plays and the defense has come through in big moments. Against the New England Patriots, the defense stopped Tom Brady when it mattered. Against the Dallas Cowboys, Danny Trevathan saved the game with an interception of Tony Romo.
The Broncos gave up notable points in both games, but they also forced turnovers. With last year's second-best defense getting healthy at the right time, opponents' scoring will start to decrease drastically.
Denver's secondary is the sole problem. Webster and Omar Bolden were horrific on Sunday, and that cost the Broncos against a feeble Titans offense. However, Webster is a rookie reserve and Bolden is a backup who, quite frankly, shouldn't be on the field.
Once Moore, who played almost 99 percent of the defensive snaps in Denver's first nine games, and Bailey return, the defense will be back to form. The problem has been the secondary, but the secondary does have talent.
When everyone on defense except for Bailey was healthy, the Broncos held the Washington Redskins, San Diego Chargers and Kansas City Chiefs to an average of 19.3 points per game—and seven of those came on a pick-six. If Denver can steer clear of injuries, those numbers could be repeated in the playoffs.
How can Denver's defense hold down better offenses, such as New England? Well, the secondary can certainly play better.
Rodgers-Cromartie is a legitimate top cornerback who has shut down some talented receivers. He has 14 passes defended in just 11 games and he has excelled against the likes of Torrey Smith, Dwayne Bowe and Reggie Wayne. Against the Titans, he shut down Kendall Wright.
He can handle players like Bowe, A.J. Green and T.Y. Hilton in the playoffs while Chris Harris can shut down slot receivers.
Harris was rated as the league's third-best corner by Bleacher Report's Matt Miller before the season, and for good reason. Harris usually does his business quietly without giving up big plays. He is an asset and he has been solid this year.
Bailey hasn't been as good, but with more experience playing with his bum foot, he should be able to at least shut down opponents' second-best receivers.
Bailey and Denver's other corners won't have to work as hard, thanks to a solid pass rush. Miller and Shaun Phillips will make things easier in coverage, and that could go a long way. The defense just has to force turnovers and avoid getting blown to smithereens, which should definitely happen with the enormous talent on the roster.
As long as no more devastating injuries occur, Denver's defense should be primed for a solid postseason run.
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