A tale of two seasons for Broncos' defense


ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Broncos defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio has always said he likes to use plenty of personnel groupings.

He likes to create matchups he thinks are favorable and he likes the carrot of playing time to be held out for as many people as possible -- he believes it keeps everybody engaged and ready to contribute.

But because of injuries and what has often simply been a search for better results for much of the season, Del Rio has been forced to mix and match likely far more than he ever planned.

Last season, when the Broncos finished in the league top 5 in most major categories on defense – No. 2 in yards allowed per game, No. 4 in points allowed per game and No. 1 in sacks – the Broncos defense had eight players who were on the field for at least 900 snaps in the regular season.

But the Broncos were largely intact on the depth chart for the 2013 season.

This year their results, and the depth chart, haven’t been nearly as consistent. The Broncos surrendered at least 20 points in all but four games of the regular season and surrendered at least 27 points in seven games. And in the end the Broncos had just two players cross the 800-snap threshold on defense this season – cornerback Chris Harris and linebacker Danny Trevathan.

Del Rio has moved some people in and out of the lineup based both on necessity at times and on results at other times – Wesley Woodyard, following his return from a neck injury, was moved out of the base defense, but kept his snaps in the nickel and on special teams. Del Rio, in the wake of Champ Bailey’s foot injury, has also used several combinations at cornerback in every defensive package and there has been plenty of rotation up front as well.

But Von Miller started the season on a six-game suspension and has gone to injured reserve after tearing his right ACL in a Week 16 win over Houston. Defensive tackle Kevin Vickerson (hip) is on injured reserve, safety Rahim Moore is on injured reserve (lower leg) -- he designated for return so could come back for the AFC Championship if the Broncos see enough improvement -- defensive end Derek Wolfe has not played since Nov. 24 and Bailey played in just five games in the regular season.

The Broncos hope they are a little healthier heading into the postseason with Bailey’s return. In recent weeks they did hold the offensively-challenged Texans and Raiders to 240 and 255 yards respectively. Del Rio has said "we'll be ready to play.'' But this year’s defensive totals in the regular season looked far different than last year’s because most of the time the lineup did too.