I think I’m beginning to understand the Broncos’ blueprint for success under new head coach Vic Fangio, and it’s no surprise that it all starts with defense.
Fangio, after all, has made his living in the NFL for the last four decades by taking ordinary or sub-par defenses and turning them into something special. That, of course, requires talent, and John Elway appears more than committed to the process.
Elway has demonstrated that commitment by spending $54 million on two new defensive backs over the last two weeks. Most recently, he added cornerback Bryce Callahan of the Bears to solidify a pass defense that ranked 20th in the league in 2017.
That’s a far cry from the “No Fly Zone” defense that spearheaded a Super Bowl winning season just three short years ago.
Callahan, a product of Rice University, initially went undrafted in 2015 before finally catching on with the Bears. From there, the 5-10, 190-pounder demonstrated his proficiency in both pass protection and run defense with 123 tackles, four sacks, 20 pass deflections, four interceptions and a touchdown.
Callahan’s success all occurred under the direction of Fangio, who led the transformation of the Bears’ defense from one of the league’s worst to the top overall defense in the NFL last season.
It is likely that Fangio’s familiarity with Callahan, as well as Callahan’s familiarity with Fangio’s defensive schemes and strategies, led Elway to the conclusion that the acquisition made sense. The result was a three-year deal worth $21 million.
Callahan will join Kareem Jackson, formerly of the Texans, as the second free agent signing in two weeks devoted specifically to the defensive backfield. The Broncos were dead last in the league in terms of offensive payroll in 2017. On the defensive side of the ball, however, the Broncos were top five in the amount of money spent on defensive personnel.
The addition of quarterback Joe Flacco, followed by last week’s signing of offensive tackle Ja’Wuan James at $51 million, might even things out some in terms of cost on each side of the ball.
But with defensive-minded Fangio at the helm, look for defense to continue to soak up more of the Broncos’ salary cap than offense moving forward.
That trend appears even more likely to continue due to the fact that All-Pro cornerback Chris Harris Jr. is due for a contract extension.
Rookies come into the league with salary caps, so even if the Broncos grab another quarterback, another offensive lineman, and perhaps a deep threat receiver in the upcoming draft, it appears likely that Denver will remain a defense-dominated squad for the foreseeable future.
There is one final reason the Broncos will likely continue to make defense their top priority, and that has everything to do with the division in which they play. The Kansas City Chiefs scored 35 points per game last season, while quarterback Patrick Mahomes II won Offensive Player of the Year honors.
The Chiefs have dominated the division with the use of a high-powered offensive attack since the departure of Peyton Manning, and they will be the odds-on favorites again in 2019.
The pass-happy San Diego Chargers, led by Philip Rivers, were not far behind, and both the Chiefs and Chargers proved difficult for the Broncos’ defense to contain last season. I can’t imagine that either of those conference foes will change their stripes any time soon, and I also can’t imagine developing an offense capable of outscoring them in short order.
From where I’m sitting, those are compelling enough reasons to be completely on board with the defensive blueprint the Broncos seem to be pursuing. After all, they say defenses win championships, and I tend to agree. The Rams sported an offense very similar to that of the Chiefs and rode that explosive offense to the Super Bowl only to be methodically taken apart by the Patriot’s defense.
Just my own thoughts … How about you, sports fans?