There was a moment yesterday when it looked like Jameis Winston and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers offense might be ready to give the Denver Broncos a game. After throwing a pick to Aqib Talib on the opening drive that set the Broncos up with an early 7-0 lead, Winston and the Bucs responded with a 13-play, 75-yard scoring drive to tie it up at 7-7. Here is what the Bucs did with each drive for the rest of the game:
- Six plays, 17 yards, punt
- Three plays, zero yards, interception
- Seven plays, 31 yards, punt
- Six plays, 20 yards, fumble
- Three plays, six yards, punt
- Three plays, -7 yards, punt
- Three plays, three yards, punt
- Four plays, 29 yards, punt
- 10 plays, 11 yards, turnover on downs
Through four weeks, the Broncos’ defense has shut down four of the best quarterbacks in the league. They beat the hell out of Cam Newton and held him to 194 yards passing; they sacked Andrew Luck five times and kept him at 197 yards through the air; and they brought down Andy Dalton four times and held him to 206 yards and no touchdowns. Poor Jameis Winston caught the worst of it, getting sacked five times, hit 16 times, and picked off twice during yesterday’s game.
Part of what made the Broncos’ defense so successful last season was its incredible depth. Defensive coordinator Wade Phillips had a seemingly endless supply of destroyers to cycle in and out of his front seven, and each had the ability to make a quarterback’s life hell on earth. Losing Malik Jackson and Danny Trevathan in the offseason was supposed to put some leaks in that front seven, but so far the unit has rolled right along.
Derek Wolfe and Von Miller have continued to slice up offensive lines and rack up sacks, and they’ve been bolstered by the likes of Sylvester Williams, Shane Ray, Shaquil Barrett, and Jared Crick. Even with DeMarcus Ware injured, the Broncos can still run out a front seven featuring four guys who are always a threat to bring down the quarterback. Not coincidentally, the Broncos currently lead the league in sacks with 17.
Combine the ability to bring consistent pressure with an airtight secondary—they’ve got five interceptions through four games—and you’ve got a defense that doesn’t leave its opponents too many options for gaining yards or scoring points. Opponents are completing just 55 percent of their passes against the Broncos, and gaining a measly 170 yards per game through the air.
Next week, the Broncos go up against a Falcons team that is scoring 38 points per game and ranks first in passing yards per game. Matt Ryan just got done dropping 503 yards and four touchdowns on the Panthers’ heads, and Julio Jones caught 12 balls for 300 yards on Sunday. The Broncos had one of the best defenses in history last season, and four strong performances to start this one isn’t enough to say a repeat campaign is in order. If they can go out there in Week 5 and shut down Ryan and the Falcons, though, it might be time to take the 2016 version of the Broncos’ defense just as seriously as the one that won a Super Bowl for a mummified Peyton Manning.