Denver Broncos Defense Wins AFC Championship with Pass Rush

Matt JenningsFeatured ColumnistJanuary 25, 2016

DENVER, CO - JANUARY 24:  Von Miller #58 of the Denver Broncos rushes against Cameron Fleming #71 of the New England Patriots in the second half in the AFC Championship game at Sports Authority Field at Mile High on January 24, 2016 in Denver, Colorado.  (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

The Denver Broncos are heading to the Super Bowl, and it’s not because of Peyton Manning. They’re going because of a dominant pass rush.

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:

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.