If the Denver Broncos want to make another deep playoff run and avoid another embarrassing loss—because, no matter what Peyton Manning says, the Super Bowl was embarrassing—they have to step it up on defense. A big part of that is getting healthy, but the offseason moves are just as important.
The offense is fine. They ranked first in points (37.9), yards (457.3) and passing yards (340.2).
Yes, they got steamrolled in the Super Bowl, and that has to be taken into account. However, it's not as if there was a glaring hole in their offensive game all year. They should be just as strong in 2014 as they were in 2013, even if they lose Eric Decker and Knowshon Moreno, as long as they plug in the right pieces to keep going.
Really, they don't even have to be as good as they were in 2013 to win 12 games and make a run at the playoffs. As long as Manning is healthy—and his neck was cleared on Monday—they'll be set.
I maintain that the defense actually played pretty well in the Super Bowl, especially when you consider how things were stacked against them. The final score was not indicative of how they did, but how the offense and special teams played.
That being said, the defense was the weaker of the two units all year long, and that's how you have to upgrade—not based on one game. If you look at the defensive stats, they're good, but not outstanding.
They don't have anyone over 100 solo tackles, for example. The top 10 looks like this:
|Player||Total Tackles||Solo Tackles||Assisted Tackles||Sacks||FFs||INTs|
There are a few concerning things about this table. One is that Danny Trevathan is leading the team in tackles. He's a fast, young outside linebacker, but he's not the force you want in the middle to lead your defense.
For some time, that force was Wesley Woodyard. However, he was injured for two games and benched for others—some speculation was that it was because he never really returned to form after that injury.
Another thing that stands out is the lack of impact from Duke Ihenacho and Mike Adams at safety. They did rack up a lot of tackles and Ihenacho can certainly hit, as his three forced fumbles show, but they had just one interception between them. Adams didn't have any forced fumbles.
They were making tackles when they had to, but those aren't the type of impact plays that you want. They weren't changing the game at all. And, as Mike Klis and Joan Niesen of The Denver Post pointed out, and as the game against Dallas illustrated, the defense as a whole tended to give up more points than you would like.
That doesn't matter too much when the offense can score 40 a game, but it means that you lose if the offense has an off day.
Now, there are some things that Denver has to change just to stay at the same level, such as giving Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie a big contract. He was the best defender on the team, and his contract is up. They should offer him something like five years and keep him in Denver for the foreseeable future.
They also need to give Shaun Phillips another deal since he was just on a one-year contract.
If they can bring Phillips back for a year or two, get Von Miller back from injury and plug Derek Wolfe—who seems to be healthy again—back into the rotation, the pass rush should be even better than it was in 2013 without really having to make any moves.
To make improvements, though, you have to address the issues that were weak in 2013. You have to upgrade.
That means doing something about the linebacker situation. They could go after someone like Chris Borland, out of Wisconsin, who is projected by to go in the second or third round. Borland is smart and passionate, and he loves to hammer people in the middle of the line, but he's a bit undersized.
If the Broncos don't like Borland, another option would be Shayne Skov, who is projected to go in the third or the fourth. His aggressiveness is both his main strength and his main weakness. It means he loves to hit and he can knock people out, but it also means he sometimes runs himself right out of position.
The Broncos have to upgrade at safety as well. Rahim Moore should be fine when he comes back from his injury, as he was playing well up until that point, snagging three picks even with the missed time.
However, Denver does need to bring in someone to play alongside of him. They could target players like T.J. Ward—though it may be hard to pry him out of Cleveland since he seems to want to stay there, per The Plain Dealer (h/t NFL.com's Chris Wesseling)—or Jairus Byrd, an elite safety who may not be happy in Buffalo since they cannot seem to work out a contract.
A second option at safety would be pairing Champ Bailey with Moore. Bailey is owed too much money anyway, and his speed is an issue. At heart, though, he's still a lock for the Hall of Fame, and the Broncos could use his experience, leadership and knowledge in the defensive backfield.
Moving Bailey to safety could fix those issues for a year—though Denver would still need to draft a safety late and hope they can groom him for Champ's retirement—and it could also open the door to drafting a cornerback early.
This is a good move since Chris Harris tore his ACL, and it is unknown how soon he can come back or how well he'll play.
Harris is also a restricted free agent, so who knows if he'll come back to the club at all.
If Denver could draft a player like Marcus Roberson, a cornerback out of Florida who CBS Sports projects as the 28th best player in the draft—meaning the Broncos will be picking right in that neighborhood—they may be able to pair him with Rodgers-Cromartie or even play him at nickel if Harris comes back strong.
That would give them youth and a potential lockdown corner for the future, and they could then address the safety issues next offseason.
No matter what route they choose, they must improve if they want to continue to compete at a high level. Even with Manning, they must have a solid defense to be considered favorites to get back to the Super Bowl.