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February 26, 2024

The Resurgence of the Denver Broncos

By FREDDY BRANSON | December 3, 2023

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ALL-PRO REELS FROM DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, USA / CC BY-SA 2.0 

Freddy Branson details how the Broncos have turned their season around.

70. This is the number of points that the Denver Broncos conceded in their week 3 loss against the Miami Dolphins. Looking back, it’s difficult to believe that game was played this season, and even more difficult to believe that it got worse from there. As if conceding the second most points in NFL history wasn’t bad enough, two weeks later the Broncos lost to Nathaniel Hackett and the New York Jets, the man who led Denver in the disaster of a season that was 2022.

By week 6, the Broncos only had one win, and they looked set to contend for the Caleb Williams sweepstakes

However, since then, Denver has looked like the opposite of a team that previously couldn’t come close to winning a game. 

A 5 game win streak headlined by impressive wins over the Chiefs (whom they hadn’t beaten in 16 straight games), and the Bills in Buffalo, has turned around what was once a seemingly hopeless season into one filled with optimism for the future. If we take a bit of a closer look though, it’s not entirely surprising that their season has turned around so abruptly.

The biggest issue that plagued the Broncos through the first six games was their defense. After losing young defensive coordinator Ejiro Evero to the Carolina Panthers in the offseason, the Broncos pivoted back to their former head coach, Vance Joseph, to take the reins of the defense. 

It didn’t take long for people to start calling for his job. 

Through the first 5 weeks, Denver had the league’s lowest pressure rate (13.6%), and the league’s worst run defense, allowing 190 yards per game on the ground. Having the worst pass rush and the worst run defense is not a recipe for success, so what did the Broncos think to do?

Keep their out-of-favor coordinator and release two of their veteran players on the defensive side, Frank Clark and Randy Gregory

For a team that traded a first-round pick for Sean Payton, presumably to try and contend, this seemed like the decision of a madman. However, in what has almost become a mantra for their season, first spoken by QB Russell Wilson, they “just believed.”

Payton turned to the young players on the roster to take over, and they answered his call. At the forefront of this youth movement has been the emergence of CB Ja’Quan McMillian and EDGE Baron Browning. Both have come in to replace players who were not performing well (Gregory and Damarri Mathis) and have immediately made an impact.

McMillian has been a turnover machine, recording 2 interceptions, a forced fumble, two fumble recoveries and 2 pass deflections in just four games since this increase in playing time. Browning on the other hand has recorded 3 sacks and 2 forced fumbles in the five games that he has played this year. 

This injection of young players has turned a sluggish defense into one that hits hard, hustles and makes opportunistic plays at every possibility. They have forced a ridiculous 15 turnovers over the last four games and now sit atop the league in total turnovers created. A lot of the credit has to go to Payton for creating an identity that the players have been able to buy into, and it has paid dividends in allowing them to go on this win streak.

This has all been without mentioning what the Broncos have accomplished on the offensive side of the ball. 

Instead of trying to be something they’re not, Payton has created a system that accentuates the strengths of the players on the roster. This has seen a reliance on the offensive line to create gaps that allow the run game to flourish through the three-headed running back monster of Javonte Williams, Samaje Perine and Jaleel McLaughlin. Wilson has also been transitioned into a quarterback that manages the game and is only asked to operate outside of the normal check-downs on 3rd downs when the game is close. 

Now going into their week 13 matchup against the Houston Texans, the Broncos hold their future in their own hands, and the possibility of their first playoff appearance since they won the Super Bowl in 2015-16. 

They face a relatively easy schedule for the rest of the year with their toughest game coming against the 8-3 Detroit Lions. If they are able to win 4 out of their last 6 games though, it would be more likely than not that they might find themselves in a wildcard game. This would undoubtedly be a more successful season than they came into the year expecting and could lead to Payton being included in Coach of the Year talks. 

After their abysmal start to the year, it has been incredible to witness the complete 180 that the Broncos have done, and undoubtedly their fans will be looking to the future with a lot more optimism than even they could have believed earlier in the season. 


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