Why Denver Broncos' Defensive Unit Is AFC West's Worst

Jay PercellContributor IIOctober 10, 2011

DENVER, CO - OCTOBER 09:  Ryan Mathews #24 of the San Diego Chargers runs with the ball as he is tackled by Elvis Dumervil #92 of the Denver Broncos at Sports Authority Field at Mile High on October 9, 2011 in Denver, Colorado.  (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

Despite making two key plays against the San Diego Chargers on Sunday, the Denver Broncos’ defense continues to be the worst unit in the entire AFC West.

True, Cassius Vaughn’s interception return in the first quarter of Sunday’s matchup accounted for the only Broncos’ touchdown until 6:35 remaining in the game, and Robert Ayers’ forced fumble allowed the Broncos a drive to attempt to tie the game, albeit unsuccessfully.  Still, other than those two plays, the Denver defense was woeful (again) on Sunday.

In the field half, the Vaughn interception was the only drive on which the Chargers failed to score points. Of San Diego's 13 total possessions in the game, they came away with points on eight of them. Denver was finally able to force punter Mike Scifres onto the field in the third and fourth quarters, with second-year quarterback Tim Tebow attempting to rally the Broncos, but it was too little, too late.

Add yesterday’s performance to the blowout loss to the Packers in Week 4 (49-23), as well as Week 1, when Darren McFadden was allowed to run wild (150 yards), and the Broncos are sitting squarely in last place in the AFC West, not only in the standings, but are also at the bottom of most defensive categories. They are last in rushing yards allowed: 617, third in total points given up: 150, passing yards allowed: 1,312, and have the highest third-down conversion rate allowed: 44.9 percent.

That said, the Broncos are fifth in the whole AFC in sacks, thanks in large part to rookie Von Miller and the unique talents he brings to the pass rush. The Broncos have also sustained meaningful injuries on the defensive side of the ball with Champ Bailey, Brian Dawkins, and D.J. Williams all missing significant time—not to mention offseason acquisition DL Ty Warren lost for the entire season in training camp. This has accounted for the Broncos shuffling through personnel and under-performing week to week.

Regardless, injuries are part of the game, and good teams find ways to play through them. Denver’s defense, which ranked last in the entire NFL in 2010, has yet to show much sign of improvement.  Defensive-minded head coach John Fox certainly has his work cut out for him, as this unit has been abysmal thus far, and has a long way to go to fix their current ineptitude.