In last year’s Super Bowl, the Seattle Seahawks exposed a tremendous flaw in what had been a juggernaut of an offensive team during the regular season. The Denver Broncos, despite their record-breaking numbers, were woefully one-dimensional en route to a 43-8 route in Super Bowl XLVIII.
Again, look at that score (and the record-breaking numbers).
The Seahawks dismantled that offense with a strong defensive line, secondary, special teams, running game and a few passes from Russell Wilson. They did it all.
In fact, there was no real weakness on the Seahawks' side of the field, no matter who they put on it.
John Elway and Denver’s front office knew this going into the 2014 draft and offseason. So as the Peyton Manning window begins to close, the Broncos have readied themselves for another Super Bowl run.
And they’ve given themselves reason to hope that this one could be more successful than the last.
Here’s how the Broncos have become a more complete team since the final embarrassing snap of Super Bowl XLVIII.
Aqib Talib and a Revamped Secondary
While it’s difficult to see Champ Bailey in another uniform, the significance of upgrading to Aqib Talib is impossible for any Broncos fan to ignore.
He’s a top-tier cornerback and at only 28 years old should solidify Denver’s secondary along with Chris Harris and rookie Bradley Roby. Not only for a potential Super Bowl run this year, but for the foreseeable future.
If Harris and Talib stay healthy, expect Denver to improve on its 27th-ranked passing defense.
You've also got to like getting a player of Talib's caliber into Jack Del Rio's defense. Talib had this to say in the Denver Post about Del Rio's game plan:
Del Rio's scheme is perfect for me.
It's really not just man (defense). It's a mix of zone and man. It gives you a chance to look at the quarterback and break a little bit and a chance to play on the line of scrimmage. It's kind of the best of both worlds
A happy and healthy Talib who is fitting into Del Rio's system is good news for the Broncos and should signal an immediate improvement on the defensive side of the ball.
And while I mean no disrespect to Bailey, this change has been somewhat overdue.
Additionally, the presence of T.J Ward at safety gives Denver some much needed depth at the position. Ward will jump Rahim Moore and Quinton Carter on the depth chart, becoming the second safety in recent memory (Mike Adams being the first) to make the switch from the Cleveland Browns to Denver.
Coming off a 112-tackle season, Ward will have more staying power than Adams, who is now with the Indianapolis Colts.
Expect guys like Talib and Harris to be able to play more aggressive coverage knowing they have a safety of Ward's caliber to back them up.
The Potential of DeMarcus Ware and Von Miller
Could DeMarcus Ware be an adequate replacement for the long-lost Elvis Dumervil?
Ware has been in the league for 10 years, but there's no question he's one of the best defensive ends of our time. 2013 was the first year since 2005 that Ware had fewer than 11 sacks, making him a scary combination with Von Miller, who we know is also capable of reaching double digits in the sack column.
Despite the fact that both players regressed statistically in 2013, if we assume they stay healthy this year, they're an extremely intimidating dual-threat for opposing quarterbacks.
Health and durability will have a lot to say about how much of the field they see, but there's no doubt the 2014 offseason has Denver's pass rush looking good on paper.
On the offensive side of the ball, Denver's most significant offseason transaction was the loss of Eric Decker, who has since been replaced by the free-agent signing of Emmanuel Sanders.
Sanders doesn't match Decker's skill level, but he really doesn't have to.
Sanders is an effective short pass receiver, which might actually make him a more palatable target for Manning than Decker.
Will Peyton Manning win another Super Bowl before he retires?
There had to be change in Denver. They were good in 2013, but there was some major holes on their roster that had to be patched before a serious Super Bowl run.
On paper, it seems like they've done it.
Adding the extra defensive pieces should make Denver a more complete team and give them a better shot at a championship, even if we see a slight regression in their offense. Time will tell, and for the sake of Manning winning one more Super Bowl, we better hope that "time" is on his side.