Measuring the best pass-rushing defenses has long been a challenge for NFL analysts across the field. Obviously, there is the simple counting of sacks, but that leaves out the plays in which pressure and disruption rain down on the quarterback, which also carry great importance even if the defenders don’t get home. Many analytics sites do excellent work charting hours of game film to record and tally instances where they believe a quarterback is under pressure.
However, with the Next Gen Stats data gleaned from the tracking chips in the players’ shoulder pads, we are now able to objectively measure just how far away opposing pass rushers are from the quarterback when they look to deliver their passes. In the latest edition of the Next Gen Stats rankings, we’ll reveal who were the Top-10 teams at creating pressure by their pass rushers’ average raw yards of distance from the opposing quarterback at the time of throw or sack.
While the Broncos can expect a yearly, out-of-this-world performance from Von Miller, Wolfe is in the mix to ensure they get the same from Shane Ray, 2017 second-round pick DeMarcus Walker and 2016 second-round pick Adam Gotsis. General manager John Elway is toeing the line between rebuilding project and last-chance playoff contender, with a roster that could easily slide in either direction this year. The continued success of their defensive line under imaginative head coach Vance Joseph could tip the team in either direction.
Wolfe credited his perspective to marriage and fatherhood, both items that became official this offseason. Can he now pass that on to the next wave of great Broncos pass rushers?
Let’s take a look through Joseph’s rose-colored visor. Though it struggled in the ground game down the stretch, Denver’s defense remains a top-five unit in the league, thanks to a lock-down secondary and an improving defensive line that boasts Derek Wolfe and Adam Gotsis. The Broncos’ linebacking corps, led by Von Miller and Shane Ray on the outside, is a game-changing force. The addition of a healthy Jamaal Charles to the running back room is a potentially disruptive complement to C.J. Anderson.
To put it bluntly, the overhaul backfired in Elway’s face. Stephenson and cheap jerseys and backup Ty Sambrailo have teamed to make Broncos right tackle the offensive-line equivalent of Cleveland Browns quarterback this season. Okung and the guard tandem of Michael Schofield and Max Garcia have been liabilities at times in their own right, leaving first-year starting signal-caller Trevor Siemian to swallow the poisonous concoction of shoddy pass protection and a derelict ground “attack.”
Okung’s four-year, $48 million contract is essentially a one-year commitment with an escape hatch if Elway balks at picking up the option for an additional four years. The Broncos can also choose to release Stephenson before his $4 million salary becomes guaranteed in mid-March. Cutting ties is the easy part. Finding capable replacements — especially at left tackle — is the challenge. The best course of action might be to renegotiate Okung’s deal and lure a free-agent right tackle such as Detroit’s Riley Reiff or Baltimore’s Ricky Wagner.
The Broncos now have a glaring hole at the left tackle spot and two unproven quarterbacks vying for the starting role behind center. Pro Football Focus, one of the few sites brave enough to rank offensive linemen, rated Okung the 38th best tackle in football last season. Denver spent a second-round pick on tackle Ty Sambrailo in 2015 though he played fewer than 250 snaps this season.
So it goes in free agency, where big deals become moot less than a year after they are signed. Okung garnered attention for going out on his own and praise for working out his own deal, but will the experience motivate him to use an agent this time around? This might be especially important given how weak the tackle market is and how strong the need for professional-grade talent has become.
Their bid for another epic victory over Tom Brady and the New England Patriots, and possibly their chance to defend a Super Bowl championship, ended with a whimper Sunday afternoon in front of 76,893 chilled and dejected fans at Sports Authority Field. Then, immediately following a 16-3 defeat to their formidable AFC rivals, the Broncos’ frustrations boiled over, as a seemingly ho-hum attempt at postgame unity began and ended with a bang.
When the beaten Broncos spilled into the locker room, before the door was opened to reporters and other outsiders, coach Gary Kubiak gathered his players and asked if anyone wanted to address the team. Veteran left tackle Russell Okung, who signed with the Broncos last March, stepped forward to speak, and cornerback Aqib Talib strongly objected. According to several witnesses, that set off a spirited shouting match between the team’s defensive backs and offensive linemen — one which Kubiak had to diffuse before it turned ugly.