Is the Orange Crush 2.0 best defense ever?
Super Bowl 50 might not have been aesthetically pleasing for those who love offensive fireworks, but the defensive performance the Denver Broncos put on Sunday was one for the ages.
By getting to Cam Newton seven times in Super Bowl 50 — 13 times counting hits, hurries and pressures — the Broncos front seven led by Von Miller, DeMarcus Ware and Derek Wolfe turned up the heat and carried the Denver franchise to its third Super Bowl title in franchise history and first since 1999.
How ironic is this title? Three years ago against the Seattle Seahawks, the Broncos rode into New Jersey with the No. 1 offense in the league, an offense that put up 37.9 points per game and over 450 yards per game — including a league-high 340.2 passing yards-per-game.
Everything seemed to be in favor of the Broncos heading into Super Bowl XLVIII. Unfortunately, Denver ran into a buzz saw in the Seattle Seahawks and the Legion of Boom.
Following that loss, general manager John Elway went wild in free agency, changing the makeup of a team that just came off of a historic run to an appearance in the Super Bowl.
This year, Carolina rode into Santa Clara with the No. 1 offense in the league, scoring 31.2 points-per-game to take on the No. 1 defense in Denver.
By going all-in on the defense, Elway was able to take pressure off of an aging Peyton Manning. The vision of a tenacious defense that can get after the quarterback and shut down the opposing offense paid off in a big way, capping off a dominate season by the Broncos’ defensive unit under coordinator Wade Phillips.
I’m sure Broncos fans are happy Elway did just that.
Right after the win against Carolina I tweeted out a quick tidbit stating that I felt this was the best defensive unit I’ve ever had the chance to watch.
Keep in mind, I’m just 23 years old, so I wasn’t around for the Steel Curtain units of the 1970s, the Minnesota Vikings and the Purple People Eaters of the same era, or the ‘85 Chicago Bears.
That being said, I was able to see the 2000 Baltimore Ravens defense and the ‘13 Seahawks unit, so those make up my baseline.
Now that a few days have passed, emotions have settled and I’ve had time to think this through, I stand by my statement that this 2015 Denver defense is the best defensive unit I’ve ever had the pleasure of watching.
Sure, there is a significant argument for the ‘00 Ravens and the ‘13 Seahawks, but what the Broncos unit did week after week was simply incredible, especially when you take a look at how abysmal the offense was all season long.
It’s tough to play at such a high level each and every week, let alone every snap, but the Broncos were able to do just that as they earned this Super Bowl.
There’s that old saying, “Defense wins championships” and that couldn’t hold more weight for the Broncos than right now.
Think about this: the Broncos scored just 22.2 points-per-game offensively, which was good enough for 19th in the NFL. As a defense, the Broncos scored four touchdowns off of interception returns alone. Many times this past season the defense had to come up with points themselves just to keep the Broncos alive.
In Week One, Aqib Talib returned an interception for a touchdown to give Denver a late lead over Baltimore. Bradley Roby followed up Talib’s feat by returning a Jamaal Charles fumble in Week Two with 27 seconds left to give the Broncos another late win thanks to the defense.
On the road against Oakland in Week Five, Chris Harris, Jr. returned an interception midway through the fourth quarter for a 74-yard touchdown to give Denver a win in a game where the offense averaged just 5.4 yards-per-play.
The following week Talib returned his second interception for a touchdown, helping Denver squeak by Cleveland. In Week Seven, Denver limited Aaron Rodgers and the undefeated Packers offense to just 77(!) yards passing as Malik Jackson added a late safety to cap off the win.
As a Bronco fan, that’s the game you should circle on this past season’s schedule as the moment everyone realized this defense was one of the best ever.
The Orange Crush 2.0 didn’t disappoint in the playoffs either. This unit stared down Ben Roethlisberger and the Pittsburgh Steelers, Tom Brady and the New England Patriots and Newton and the Panthers. They didn’t blink once on their way to the title.
While the Ravens defensive unit from 2000 allowed just 9.5 points-per-game, they never had to face passing offenses like the Broncos had to this season, especially in the playoffs.
Want to know which quarterbacks Baltimore faced on their way to the title in 2000? Denver’s Gus Frerotte, Tennessee’s Steve McNair, Oakland’s Rich Gannon and New York’s Kerry Collins.
Outside of McNair in his prime, none of those QB’s stacks up to the level of guys like Roethlisberger, Brady and the transcendent Newton, whom the Broncos corralled, hit and harassed to raise the Lombardi Trophy.
So yes, Denver’s 2015 defense — which is now getting called Orange Crush 2.0 in honor of the 1977 defensive unit that allowed just 10.6 points-per-game — is the best defensive unit I’ve ever seen with my own two eyes.
It’s just a shame that in the salary cap era this unit likely won’t last longer than a few years unlike the Steelers and Vikings of the 70s or the Bears of the mid-80s.
And just like Von Miller said on Tuesday at the Super Bowl parade, “same time, same place.” With the core of the defense set to stick around next season, why not?
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Reporter Ray K. Erku can be reached at 612-423-5273 or firstname.lastname@example.org