Surprise Team of the NFL: Checking the Numbers on the Denver Broncos

Is Josh McDaniels a coaching genius? (Photo by Donald Miralle/Getty Images)

Is Josh McDaniels a coaching genius? (Photo by Donald Miralle/Getty Images)

Coming into the 2009 season I, along with many others, thought that Josh McDaniels was an egomaniac who had made a huge mistake in getting rid of Jay Cutler. I know I heard at least one pundit say that the Denver Broncos’ ceiling this year was 3 or 4 wins. Well, so far, the Broncos’ are 6-0, they have the top ranked defense in points allowed (2nd in yards), Elvis Dumervil leads the league in sacks, and McDaniels is looking like a genius. In fact, Neil Paine over wrote a post showing the top season performances in Broncos’ history through the first 5 games of a season. Several players are in the top ten and several more in the top 20 in those lists.

I had planned to complete this analysis last week, but I ran into some issues with my source data. So, I decided to use data for 2009 from, while still using 2008 data from  But, anyway, in today’s post, I will compare the Bronco’s statistical averages on a per game basis for 2008 against the first six games in 2009. Then, we’ll take a look at the Broncos’ rankings in 2008 vs. so far in 2009. And, finally, we’ll compare the average rankings of their opponents’ offenses and defenses from last year to this year, with a look at the rankings of their remaining opponents as well.

First, we have the comparison of the Broncos’ per game averages in 2008 with those of 2009.

Denver Broncos Year to Year Comparison
  2008 2009 Yr/Yr Imp
Pts/G 23.1 22.2 -0.9
Yards/G 395.81 368.67 -27.15
Yards/Play 6.2 5.7 -0.5
Pass Yards/G 279.44 236 -43.44
Pass Att/G 38.75 32.33 -6.42
Pass Yds/Att 7.3 7.6 -0.3
Pass INT/G 1.13 0.17 -0.96
Sacks/G 0.75 1.5 0.75
Rush Yards/G 116.38 132.67 16.29
Rush Att/G 24.19 30.83 6.65
Rush Yds/Att 4.8 4.3 -0.5
TD/G 2.63 2.33 -0.29
Pts/G 28 11 -17
Yards/G 374.56 262.5 -112.06
Yards/Play 6.1 4.4 -1.7
Pass Yards/G 228.5 182.83 -45.67
Pass Att/G 30.94 32.17 1.23
Pass Yds/Att 7.7 6.3 -1.4
Pass INT/G 0.38 1 0.63
Sacks/G 1.63 3.5 1.88
Rush Yards/G 146.06 79.67 -66.4
Rush Att/G 29.31 24 -5.31
Rush Yds/Att 5.0 3.3 -1.7
TD/G 3.13 1 -2.13

As many people predicted, the passing game in 2009 is less productive in gaining yards than in 2008, but not extremely so. That is offset by the fact that INTs are way down, and the running game is more productive. So, letting Jay Cutler go has impacted the team. But surprisingly, it has been more positive than expected.

It is on the defensive side of the ball that the greatest improvements have come for Denver. They are allowing 17 fewer points per game, over 112 fewer yards per game, nearly 46 fewer passing, and over 66 fewer rushing yards per game. They are also getting more sacks and forcing more interceptions per game than last year. I think this may be the biggest surprise of all. Because Denver’s defense was so porous last season, I don’t know of anyone that expected them to turn into a top 2 defense in the league so quickly. Defensive Coordinator Mike Nolan has done an excellent job in getting the most out of his defense.

For comparison, here are the Broncos’ offensive and defensive rankings from last year compared to this year.

Denver Broncos’ Rankings
  2008 2009
Off Pts 16 18
Off Yds 2 9
Off Pass Yds 3 13
Off Rush Yds 12 7
Def Pts 30 1
Def Yds 29 2
Def Pass Yds 26 7
Def Rush Yds 27 4

This just again highlights how their offense is not quite as explosive, although perhaps more balanced, but their defensive is vastly improved, going from one of the bottom 5 in the league to top 10 in every category. Now that we see how much better Denver has been performing as an overall team this season, let’s see if it’s against comparable competition to last year. The table below shows the average opponents’ offensive and defensive rankings for 2008 and so far in 2009. The third column shows the average rankings for their remaining opponents this season.

Average Opponents’ Rankings
  2008 2009 W1-W6 2009 Rem
Off Pts 16.69 18 15.1
Off Yds 16.75 16.67 16.2
Off Pass Yds 16.81 16.67 14.5
Off Rush Yds 14 17.83 21.1
Def Pts 17.63 17.83 17
Def Yds 21.13 21.33 14.4
Def Pass Yds 19.88 18.67 13.1
Def Rush Yds 20.06 22.17 18.4

Overall, the level of competition for this season looks quite similar to what they faced last season. Based on that, I’d conclude that Denver has made significant improvements as a team, again most particularly on the defense. When we look at the average rankings of their remaining opponents, it does appear that the rest of the schedule will be a little tougher than what they have seen so far. But, it’s not a huge difference, so that would not be enough to expect a major struggle for the rest of the season.

Just a few more thoughts before I wrap up. Based on these numbers, I see no reason to suspect that the Broncos will not continue to win most of their games this season. But, in football, it is not uncommon for teams to begin to believe that they are better than they are after a hot start like this and struggle down the stretch. So, that will be McDaniels’ ongoing job, to keep his team focused and avoid complacency. So far, he’s off to a tremendous start.

To some extent, this team reminds me of the 2000 Baltimore Ravens. Their offense is better than that Ravens offense, and the defense is not quite as good, but they are only allowing 11 points a game which is  just slightly above the 10.3 the Ravens allowed. They have a strong DC in Mike Nolan; the Ravens had Marvin Lewis. Their Head Coach was the offensive coordinator of an offense that broke the record for most points in a single season, like Billick was. And, yet, they are winning more on defense and a strong running game. And, finally, they have a veteran safety who may be a future HOFer, Brian Dawkins, who made his name with another team but is a strong team leader. This seems similar to Rod Woodson being with the Ravens.

I’m not predicting a SB win for the Broncos this year, but so far, they seem to be a solid team with the balance needed to compete for a championship. We will see if Kyle Orton can continue to be as mistake free as he has been so far and whether the team can keep their focus through the end of the season and beyond.


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2 Responses to “Surprise Team of the NFL: Checking the Numbers on the Denver Broncos”

  1. Phantaskippy Says:

    Good post. I’m going to have to watch a Broncos game now.

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