The Broncos beat the New England Patriots 20-18 in the AFC Championship on Sunday, showing how they earned the title of the NFL's No. 1 defense. They relentlessly pursued Tom Brady to hold the league's No. 3 scoring offense to two touchdowns.
Denver sacked Brady four times and pressured him throughout the game. Brady, whose career completion percentage is 63.6, completed less than half of his passes in part because he had no time to throw. According to ESPN Stats & Info, the Broncos got to Brady more than any other team this season:
Tom Brady was hit a season-high 23 times Sunday. He hadn't taken more than 12 hits in a game this season prior to Sunday.— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) January 25, 2016
That pressure sets up everything else the Broncos do defensively.
First, their pass defense gets the opportunity to create turnovers. Brady threw two interceptions Sunday— both while under duress.
They also don’t allow big plays because Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware get to quarterbacks before those plays can develop. New England averaged 4.9 yards per completion Sunday as Brady had to throw short passes in front of the coverage all game. Rob Gronkowski was the only Patriot who had a reception that went for more than 20 yards.
Playing Carolina in the Super Bowl will be a different challenge. Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton is more mobile than Brady. He’ll test the Broncos secondary by escaping pressure and extending plays.
Carolina also has a more potent running game than New England. The Denver defensive linemen won’t be able to charge upfield on every down. They will have to account for the running backs and Newton’s ability to run on the read-option.
Denver will be one of the best defenses the Panthers have faced, though. Newton is probably going to win NFL MVP, but the Broncos will have a chance once again thanks to a defense predicated on making quarterbacks miserable.