Denver Bolstered Their Defense, But Is It Enough?
The Denver Broncos were completely embarrassed when they lost in the Super Bowl to the Seattle Seahawks 43-8. After that bad a beatdown, many thought the window for a second Super Bowl was rapidly closing on Peyton Manning. But within 24 hours, the Broncos pumped life back into a fan base that was still down in the dumps. The signings of safety TJ Ward from the Browns, cornerback Aqib Talib from the Patriots and recently released defensive end Demarcus Ware from the Cowboys have once again positioned themselves have as Super Bowl favorites for next year. But with each signing, there are pluses and minuses abound.
Aqib Talib has long been one of the most talented cornerbacks in the NFL. Standing at 6’1, he is big enough to take on big receivers and is swift enough to take on the more shifty ones. The infusion of Talib as the top corner in Denver is a definite upgrade over anything the Broncos put on the field last year at cornerback. And when healthy, Talib can affect a whole game and take out a top receiver. But when has Talib been healthy when it counts? The last few playoff runs in New England have been forgettable for Talib. He was hurt two seasons ago in the playoffs and he also was injured in the AFC Championship game on this play:
The hit may or may not be deemed dirty in your eyes, but the fact remains that in big games, Talib has been seen more exiting the field then commanding it in big games. Committing $26 million guaranteed (highest ever for a cornerback in NFL history) to Talib was definitely overpaying for his services a little bit. But for their sake, he better make it through the season.
Ware was an unexpected bonus on the Broncos’ free agent spending spree. The big-time pass rusher from Dallas was cut loose after not agreeing to restructuring of his contract. It was thought that he was going to be bid on by every competitive team out there needing an additional boost. But Ware made it known who his main choice was pretty quickly. Ware said he wanted to speak to Denver first and and the rest was history. Ware signed a three-year, $30 million ($20 million guaranteed) deal with the Broncos. Ware’s presence brings one of the top active pass-rushers in the NFL to a defense that did not even have ten total sacks in 2013. His pressure will cause havoc on teams when he is out there. But like Talib, he has suffered through some injuries. The difference between Ware and Talib is that Ware missed the playoffs along with a few games. And in the games he played in last year, he was still not as effective as he has been his entire career. At 31 years old, you cannot expect Ware to all of a sudden start to get healed from his prior injuries. The best use they could get out of him would be to have him in there for 60%-70% of the snaps so he can stay out of harm’s way and be ready for the playoffs. Ware is a talented man, but he is starting to show wear and tear that happens when a guy is starting the backside of his career. It should be interesting to see how they use his talents and how his health holds up.
But Ware and Talib were not the only ones to fill a need for the Broncos. Denver had some serious issues at safety last season. Their issues were so bad that they were still trying to zoom in on a starting safety heading into the last weeks of the regular season. By signing safety TJ Ward to a four-year,$23 million($14 million guaranteed) contact, that gives Denver a hard-hitting safety that knows what he’s doing in the defensive backfield. He is a tone-setter with his energy and his hard hits. But the same aggression that helps him may hurt him. Ward is known to lay the lumber and draw a flag or two based on the NFL rules on player safety. He could get a personal foul at the wrong time and cost them a game. Another issue with Ward is his coverage skills. He can hit people, but in space he can get himself in a little trouble. Ward can cover some people, but he definitely is at a disadvantage when he has to cover a receiver out in space. He will benefit from the presence of Talib out there and will handle business in stopping the run for the Broncos. But it will be interesting to see what scenarios he finds himself in during the 2014 season.
All three signings bolstered a defense that needed more difference-makers. Now the challenge is to see if these three can take the Denver defense to another level and help them win their third Super Bowl. By all accounts, they seem to be up for the challenge. But we will shall see what happens as the 2014 season starts and progresses.
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