Denver Broncos: A Healthy Champ Bailey Could Be Essential to Winning Super Bowl

Travis WakemanCorrespondent IIDecember 18, 2013

DENVER, CO - OCTOBER 13:  Cornerback Champ Bailey #24 of the Denver Broncos plays defense against the Jacksonville Jaguars at Sports Authority Field at Mile High on October 13, 2013 in Denver, Colorado. The Broncos defeated the Jaguars 35-19.  (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

The Denver Broncos sit at 11-3, currently atop the rankings in the AFC. Following the Miami Dolphins' victory over New England on Sunday, home-field advantage still belongs to them.

The Broncos have put together one of the most prolific offensive seasons the NFL has ever seen. But as evidenced throughout the season, there are plenty of holes on the defensive side of the ball.

Denver currently ranks No. 23 in total defense and is giving up 266.1 passing yards per game.

The San Diego Chargers were able to exploit the defense with their running game in Denver's most recent game, controlling time of possession and converting 50 percent of their third downs.

It is through the air where the Broncos seem to struggle the most, however. Much of that can be attributed to injuries.

How has this team gone from the No. 2 overall defense a year ago to one of the worst in the league? Has the loss of Elvis Dumervil impacted the team more than anyone wants to admit? Is Jack Del Rio not the excellent defensive coordinator fans felt he was last year?

The finger can be pointed at many members of the team and coaching staff, but injuries have been the biggest factor.

In the secondary alone, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Rahim Moore, Kayvon Webster, Quinton Carter and Duke Ihenacho have all missed time due to injuries this season.

But the most glaring absence in the secondary has been that of Champ Bailey, who has played in just three games this season. Even when he's been on the field, he hasn't looked like the player Denver fans are used to seeing.

With Bailey, Moore and Rodgers-Cromartie out, the team has had to turn to inexperienced players such as Webster and Omar Bolden to fill in. That hasn't gone too well.

San Diego quarterback Philip Rivers threw at Webster every chance he got, something very few teams ever did against Bailey. Webster struggled trying to cover fellow rookie Keenan Allen.

If the Broncos are going to win the Super Bowl this season, the defense must improve in a hurry.

Bailey has certainly lost a step, but he's still a better cover man than almost anyone Denver has on its roster. Aside from that, his experience and veteran leadership are things the team is sorely lacking.

Remember the emergence of Chris Harris and Tony Carter last season? Without Bailey on the field with them, neither has been as good in coverage this season.

Bailey has played in at least 13 games every year of his career except 2008, so the fact he has missed most of this season makes him a huge question mark, especially given what we have seen of him this year.

That said, perhaps just looking across the field and seeing one of the best cornerbacks in NFL history will help build the confidence of some of the young players on the team.

Will one player turn the defense around? Probably not, but a player of Bailey's caliber certainly won't hurt—so long as he's healthy.

Bailey will probably never play at a Pro Bowl level again, but that doesn't mean he doesn't have something to add to a team that could go all the way—even with a mediocre defense.

The Broncos need a big boost before they head into the playoffs. Bailey could be just that.