Tag Archives: Broncos

How Good is Denver’s Defense?

The Broncos’ defense is incredible. It’s otherworldly. It’s unstoppable.

While those three superlatives are perfectly reasonable things to say, they don’t say why the Broncos’ defense is so good. Instead of continuing on with opinion and conjecture, let’s take a look at a few statistics to determine just how good Denver’s defense is.

Simple measures of defensive performance are useful but limited. For instance, the Broncos allowed 18.5 points per game this season, an elite rate. However, that only ranks fourth in the NFL, behind Seattle, Cincinnati, and Kansas City. Clearly, this statistic is unable to show how great Denver’s defense is.

Instead, let’s use DVOA (check out this article for an in-depth explanation of DVOA). The Broncos’ defensive DVOA is an impressive -25.8% (remember that positive numbers represent more points so a negative DVOA is good for defenses). How good is that? First let’s take a look at a graph.

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This graph shows the distribution of defensive DVOA in the NFL in the 2015 season. Thirty of the thirty-two teams in the NFL are in the same cluster in the middle. The square in the upper right corner is the laughably bad Saints defense. The star all the way in the bottom left corner? That’s the Broncos.

Just look at the gap between them and second place. Although it’s not quite as large as the one between New Orleans and 31st-ranked Chicago, it’s still a fairly sizable gap. That’s how much better Denver’s defense is than everyone else’s.

Here’s another way to measure how dominant Denver’s defense has been: z-score. If you’re unfamiliar with the term, z-score measures how many standard deviations a given data point is over or under the average of all the data points in the sample.

Denver’s z-score is -2.31. As a comparison, here are eight other notable defenses in recent years and their z-scores based on defensive DVOA. Remember, a negative z-score is good for defenses, as it means that they are successful at preventing points (or producing negative points, if you will).

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As you can tell, this year’s Broncos defense stacks up very well against some of the best defenses in recent memory. A couple of non-Broncos notes:

  1. The Buccaneers were crazy-good back in 2002. Given a normal distribution, the chances of a defense being better than Tampa Bay’s in 2002 are just over .01%. Wow.
  2. To many, the 2000 Ravens own the title of best defense of the 21st century. However, on this list, they rank last. Why is that? Well, if you look one slot above them, you’ll find the 2000 Titans, who (obviously) played in the same season as them. Standard deviation, and, as a result, z-score, can be affected by the presence of a team of a similar caliber. Accordingly, the Ravens’ z-score is dragged down by the presence of the Titans.

There’s one more way to show how great Denver’s defense is this season. Given a normal distribution, the chances of a defense being better than the Broncos’ defense are 1%. That means that you’d expect a defense as great as the Broncos’ to show up roughly once every 3.125 seasons. So, with these Broncos, you’re seeing something that only occurs about three times a decade.

Although we’ve answered the titular question pretty thoroughly, there remains one, far more important question that has yet to be answered: Will this spectacular defense result in a championship?

Not having a star quarterback is a significant roadblock to winning the Lombardi Trophy, but not an insurmountable one. In recent years, pedestrian quarterbacks such as Joe Flacco, Brad Johnson, and Trent Dilfer have won Super Bowls. Flacco was helped along by an extraordinary hot streak, but both Johnson and Dilfer were accompanied by excellent defenses, both of which appear in the chart above.

Now, since we’ve already established that Denver’s defense is superb, it would stand to reason that they would have a genuine shot at the championship despite their lackluster quarterback situation. That’d be true if it were Brock Osweiler who were starting for the Broncos at quarterback in the playoffs as he’s been competent enough to allow them to win games. However, rather than Osweiler, it’ll be Peyton Manning starting under center for Denver. Manning, unlike Osweiler, has proven himself to be totally incompetent this season, throwing an interception of 5.1% of his attempts, an absurd rate.

While great defenses can carry mediocre signal callers to Super Bowl victories, even the best defenses can’t overcome abysmal quarterbacking. And, even if Manning were playing like he was in 2006, I certainly wouldn’t want to entrust my Super Bowl hopes to a guy who looks like he’s plotting to murder John Elway.

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Who is This Year’s CJ Anderson?

Last year hundreds of thousands of fantasy leagues were decided by one player: CJ Anderson. Anderson came out of nowhere in Week 9 against the Raiders, racking up 163 all-purpose yards along with a touchdown, for 23.3 points in standard leagues. The next week he salvaged a poor rushing day with eight receptions for 88 yards. From then on, Anderson was a high-end RB1, with only one game below 18.5 points (standard scoring) the rest of the way.

There were other guys who broke out in the latter half of the 2014 season to carry teams to championships. Jeremy Hill was very good, but not nearly as good as Anderson. Odell Beckham Jr. was spectacular, but he was good before the stretch run for the average fantasy league.

Even though Anderson wasn’t owned before the stretch run and Hill and Beckham Jr. both were, there are two important similarities between these three players. Each took advantage of a struggling incumbent starter. Giovani Bernard ceded his job to Hill, Victor Cruz’s injury freed up a ton of targets for Beckham Jr., and Montee Ball was ineffective, which allowed Anderson to fill up that gap in production. Each player was new to the league. Hill and Beckham Jr. were rookies and Anderson was a second-year player who had seven touches across two games in his rookie season.

Let’s use these two criteria to find a few likely breakout candidates. This player needs to have been in the league for less than two seasons and have a starting job ready to be seized after an injured or ineffective starter vacated it.

First and foremost on this list is Thomas Rawls. With the recent news that Marshawn Lynch will be out for at least four weeks after a sports hernia surgery, the running back has a clear path to the starting job in Seattle. Rawls is a rookie, who went undrafted but was then signed by the Seahawks. Adding to Rawls’ appeal, in the four games Lynch has been out so far this season, Rawls has averaged 132.5 rushing yards on 21.5 carries, with three touchdowns. Those are RB1 numbers and with the shaky RB situation this season, Rawls could easily be a top-5 RB the rest of the way.

Javorius Allen is another easy choice. Like Rawls, he’s a rookie and the incumbent starter, Justin Forsett, broke his arm and is out for the season. Not only is the starting running back job his for the taking, the QB, Joe Flacco, is also out for the season after tearing both his ACL and MCL, with Matt Schaub set to take over. Schaub was last seen in 2013, setting a record by throwing a pick-6 in four straight games for the 2-14 Texans. I have a feeling the Ravens won’t give Schaub much responsibility, especially because their wide receiver corps doesn’t inspire any confidence. That’ll lead to a ton of touches for Allen, and in fantasy football, tons of touches equals tons of points.

In Kansas City, the Chiefs haven’t missed a beat after Jamaal Charles went down for the season with a torn ACL. Charcandrick West,  took over the starting job and has produced RB1 numbers with a massive workload. Now, West, should be owned in any competitive league, but he went down with a hamstring injury this past week, opening the door for Spencer Ware to fill in. Ware’s in his third season, but until last week he had a total nine touches in his career. He doubled that on Sunday, totaling eleven carries for 96 yards and two touchdowns along with a five yard reception. Should West miss this week, Ware will have a chance to prove his viability as a feature back, a role which could provide him with the rich usage needed to be a bona fide fantasy stud.

Devin Funchess was a breakout pick at the start of the year. He’s a rookie, drafted in the second round out of Michigan. After Kelvin Benjamin tore his ACL before the season began, Funchess’ ADP began to rise. However, he did almost nothing for the first half of the season, and guys like Ted Ginn Jr. and Jerricho Cotchery soaked up the newly available targets. Over the last three weeks, Funchess has turned his season around, averaging three receptions for 59 yards and catching a pair of touchdowns. With his relative youth and the wealth of targets available to him, Funchess has a good shot at a solid finish to the season.

It’s tricky to predict how long players will be out from concussions, and although Devonta Freeman isn’t expected to miss more than a game from the one he suffered last week, should his ailment keep him out for longer, the Falcons will need to find someone to soak up the a ton of touches. Enter Tevin Coleman, yet another rookie, a third round pick out of Indiana University. He was actually expected to be the starter entering the season, but after an injury sidelined him for a couple of weeks, Freeman took hold of the job and never let it go. Now that Coleman has little competition for running back touches in the Atlanta offense for at least a week, could he perform well enough to steal back the job from Freeman? Admittedly, it’s unlikely, but stranger things have happened.

Last of all, one player with a shot to become this year’s CJ Anderson is…CJ Anderson. This is still only his third year in the league so youth is on his side. Denver’s QB combo of Peyton Manning and Brock Osweiler doesn’t inspire much confidence, so if Anderson can wrest the starting job back from Ronnie Hillman, he could have a spectacular stretch run, leading teams to victory for the second straight year.