Peyton Manning has garnered a lot of the headlines for winning his second Super Bowl, but the biggest reason why the Denver Broncos are Super Bowl champions is their defense. The No.1 ranked defense during the regular season was even better in the playoffs, making an argument to be recognized as one of the top units in recent NFL history.
Denver’s defensive performance in Super Bowl 50 was spectacular. Facing NFL MVP Cam Newton and the top scoring team in all of football, Denver allowed just 10 points. It was Carolina’s lowest scoring output of the season, after the team had scored 80 total points in two playoff games.
Linebacker Von Miller was the game’s MVP with six tackles, 2.5 sacks and two forced fumbles, but he was one of a few defenders that wreaked havoc on Carolina. Danny Trevathan led the team with eight tackles, while DeMarcus Ware had two sacks and four quarterback hits. Going up against one of the NFL’s best offensive lines, the Broncos put pressure on Newton the entire game, sacking him six times.
DEN rushed Miller + Ware on 16 of Newton's 48 dropbacks. Completed 1-of-12 passes (8.3%), took 4 sacks, fumbling twice, per @ESPNStatsInfo.
— Rich Cimini (@RichCimini) February 8, 2016
Manning didn’t go along for the ride on Sunday. His play was a detriment to the team, and his 13 completions on 23 attempts for 141 yards and two turnovers was one of the worst Super Bowl performances by any winning quarterback. Adding in the fact that Denver averaged just 3.2 yards per rush, the Broncos needed to be near perfect on defense, and that’s exactly what happened.
Denver’s crowning achievement came on Sunday night, but the defense has been spectacular all season long. Wade Phillips' squad hit Tom Brady 20 times in the AFC Championship, forcing maybe the greatest quarterback of all-time to have one of his worst performances ever. Before holding the New England Patriots to 18 points, Denver limited the Pittsburgh Steelers to 16 points.
The Broncos had a few standout games in the regular season. Denver opened the season by allowing the Baltimore Ravens to total just 173 yards of offense, and they held Aaron Rodgers to 77 passing yards later in the year. The Broncos ranked first against the pass and third against the run, leading the NFL with 52 sacks.
For as impressive as they were on their way to winning Super Bowl 50, Denver’s defense might not belong in the same conversation as the 1985 Chicago Bears or the Pittsburgh Steelers teams from the mid-1970s. The 2000 Baltimore Ravens probably have the edge, as well, after carrying Trent Dilfer to a championship. But the 2015 Broncos might be as good as any NFL defense of the last decade.
It has two Pro Bowl linebackers (Miller and Ware), but also a pair of Pro Bowl cornerbacks in Chris Harris Jr. and Aqib Talib composing a star-studded and deep group. The Broncos' elite secondary often frustrated opposing offenses more than unit in the NFL, and, when it counted most, prevented Newton from making big plays.
While Miller seemed like the obvious choice for MVP, it often seemed like multiple players could have taken home the award, and not just someone posting big stats. The line seemed to get better as the season progressed, and in the Super Bowl, unsung heroes Derek Wolfe and Malik Jackson were vital in slowing the running game.
This Broncos defense may be talked about for a very long time. In a year that saw record-setting offensive numbers, the Broncos won a championship with one of the worst quarterbacks in football, doing something that might not be seen for several more years.