Numbers game in Broncos' offseason work

March, 22, 2014
Mar 22
8:00
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Those who sat in the seats for Denver Broncos games this past season have no difficulty believing the league was awash in an ocean’s worth of records on offense.

On the way to a 606-point season -- an NFL record -- the Broncos were certainly productive in their home games. Working out of their no-huddle, high-altitude, the Broncos scored 49, 37, 52, 35, 45, 27, 51 and 20 in their regular-season home games, or 316 of their season's total.

That was a smooth 39.5 points per game.

So no one who sat through that is going to be all that surprised at the offensive numbers Atlanta Falcons president Rich McKay, a co-chairman of the league’s competition committee, rolled out during a conference call earlier this week.

That the 697 combined yards per game on offense or the 47.82 combined points per game were both league records. Or that teams overcame deficits of at least 14 times this past season, which tied another record.

But it was one other number McKay rolled that far more closely mirrored what the Broncos have done thus far in the offseason.

"Despite those two offensive statistics, the top five teams in total defense -- Seattle, Carolina, Cincinnati, New Orleans and San Francisco -- all qualified for the playoffs," McKay said, "and all won at least 11 games, again, establishing that defense does matter."

Those five were ranked in the NFL's curious way to annually rank their defensive leaders -- yards per game allowed -- but those same five teams were all ranked in the top five in points allowed game as well, with the Kansas City Chiefs tied with the Bengals -- with 19.1 points allowed per game.

The Chiefs also made the playoffs and also won 11 games. So, that’s the top six in defense in terms of points allowed. Also, ranked No. 7 in fewest points allowed per game this past season, was the Arizona Cardinals, who did not make the playoffs, but did win 10 games.

None of this diminishes the importance of locating a franchise quarterback in the construction of the roster or the quarterback’s proficiency to work behind center in an era when the league’s rules makers have opened the gates to throw in any and all situations. The single biggest factor in any team’s drive to a championship is still whether the guy behind center is up to the challenge.

And one year does not a trend make. But while the salary cap makes it difficult to build a balanced team on both sides of the ball, 2013 showed the effort is worth it and given the relative youth on the rosters of those defensive leaders, it appears its required.

The Broncos certainly believed it with safety T.J. Ward, defensive end DeMarcus Ware and cornerback Aqib Talib having been the team’s first three signings after free agency formally opened. They have Peyton Manning, they have a playbook that powered the highest-scoring offense in league history and they have no reason to think they won’t pile up some points this time around either.

But if a 600-point offense can’t close the title-game deal, there is no reason to think whatever the Broncos do on offense will be enough in the coming year either without more on defense and special teams. They have recognized it and have put their money where that thought is.

Jeff Legwold

ESPN Denver Broncos reporter

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