The theme of the AFC championship was Brady under pressure and trying to evade the pass rush. What is unique about this is the fact that the Broncos were able to create this pressure without the need of blitzing much. This has been a pattern for success against Brady in the past, consider the New York Giants in 2008. However the purpose of this post is to analyze the Broncos pass rusher and how they were able to have success as a unit.
The most notable pass rushers on the Broncos are Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware. Von Miller was drafted in 2011, the first round 2nd overall by the Denver Broncos. His NFL Combine Profile described him as:
Explosive first step and closing burst makes him a terror as an edge rusher…Hard working kid that shows a relentless motor.
These attributes were all on display in the AFC Championship game. Coming out of college he was viewed as a gifted edge rusher who would need to improve his ability to drop into coverage. Again we saw this improvement first hand when he picked off Brady on Sunday.
What makes Miller successful as a pass rusher is his ability to bend and get by tackles with his quickness off the line of scrimmage. Miller was able to beat Marcus Cannon right off the line on one play.
Von Miller (finished with three sacks, four hurries, one hit and one int.) is the key to the Broncos pass rush, but he was not the only one making plays.
DeMarcus Ware was the closer in the AFC Championship. His play was understated in the first half, but he really showed up in the second half and was a big part of stopping the Patriots come back.
Ware has always been an elite pass rusher who plays a disciplined game. His pass rush ability is due much in part to his excellent ability to use his hands, play with leverage and ability to use his arm length to shed blockers. DeMarcus kept Brady in the pocket and didn’t allow him to escape when Miller was applying pressure from the other edge. The pressure from DeMarcus Ware cause Brady to become paranoid of the rush, just waiting for the pressure to hit him from the blindside.
He recorded a sack, six hits, and three hurries of his own against the Patriots.
Derek Wolfe who “Hates Everything About the Patriots” punished Brady with a sack, three hits and four hurries to go with a batted pass. Wolfe just signed a four year contract extension for 36.7 Million and has stepped up his play since signing the contract. Wolfe is the best interior pass rusher of the Broncos and he pushed the pocket all game long, preventing Brady from being able to step up and avoid the edge rushers.
Drafted in the second around of the 2012 draft, Wolfe has developed into an elite player on the interior d-line. He is elite against the run and has the ability to push the pocket in the passing game.
However Wolfe is just one half of the best interior d-line combination. In the 5th round of the same draft, the Broncos selected Malik Jackson as the other defensive tackle to pair with Derek Wolfe.
Jackson is a stout run defender, but where he really shines is as a pass rusher. He has elite quickness for an interior d-lineman and is able to create penetration in the backfield and disrupt plays. He is also a versatile player, with the ability to play all of the spots across the d-line. Malik Jackson had four hits (one big hit) and three hurries on Tom Brady and was a big part of the disruptive pass rush.
As a group, Miller, Ware, Wolfe and Jackson provided to be a difference maker in the AFC Championship game and have all season long. This is not even including the other players along the d-line who have made contributions including: Shaq Barret, Antonio Smith, Sylvester Williams and Shane Ray. If the Broncos are to win the Superbowl it will be in big part because of their defense and specifically their defensive line.
The d-line has been built through the draft and the Broncos have hit at an incredible rate, picking Miller, Wolfe and Jackson in 2011 and 2012. They have also done a great job of supplementing through free agency, bringing in Ware and Smith. Elway has proven his ability to draft well and build through the draft, supplementing through free agency.
According to Pro Football Focus, Denver has the best defensive line in pro football and you can expect them to continue to have a dominant line even if they lose Malik Jackson to free agency.