Commentary

Any Given Sunday: Denver's big move

If the Broncos reach the playoffs, defense will be leading them

Originally Published: October 6, 2009
By Vince Verhei | Football Outsiders

In Any Given Sunday, Football Outsiders examines the most surprising result of each NFL weekend and where the two teams involved can go from here. Week 4's entry is the Denver Broncos' defeat of the Dallas Cowboys.

If the Denver Broncos make the playoffs, their defense will lead the way. New defensive coordinator Mike Nolan (former coach of the San Francisco 49ers) has instituted sweeping changes -- and the results have been dramatic. Just ask the Dallas Cowboys, the latest victims of the NFL's most surprising undefeated team.

Denver has eight new defensive starters and a new philosophy; they Broncos have moved to a 3-4 set. Nolan blitzes a lot, as he did when running Baltimore's defense from 2002 to '04. The Broncos lead the league with 15 sacks, and seven different players have collected at least one, including all four starting linebackers. This pattern held true against the Cowboys, as four different Broncos notched five combined sacks.

Getty ImagesElvis Dumervil has been a revelation for the Broncos and a terror for opposing offenses.

There's more than one way to make a big play, however. At Football Outsiders, we track a stat we call "Defeats." This incorporates sacks, stuffs on run plays, turnovers and stops on third and fourth downs. Four Broncos -- Elvis Dumervil, Andra Davis, Champ Bailey and D.J. Williams -- have six or more defeats in 2009. Only four other teams have so many players making so many big plays.

To learn more about just how improved Denver's defense is using FBO's metric analysis -- and to find out who the biggest stud and disappointment for Dallas has been and might be going forward -- you must be an ESPN Insider. Insider

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