The Denver Broncos won the Super Bowl in relatively easy fashion just two years after being embarrassed by the Seattle Seahawks in the big game.
That 2013 blowout may have been the best thing that could have happened to the Broncos, as it forced them to change course.
They went into that 2013 Super Bowl with the NFL’s best offence, but it was stifled by a fast, athletic Seahawks defence that was pressuring Peyton Manning and smothering his receivers.
Immediately after that game, Broncos GM John Elway decided to rebuild around Peyton to take pressure off of the Broncos’ passing game and give Peyton some support. That began on the defensive end, as Elway came away impressed with Seattle’s defence, as SI Doug Farrar noted.
In the summer of 2014, the Broncos went all-in on free agency, committing $109.5 million in long-term contracts for pass-rush beast DeMarcus Ware, cornerback Aqib Talib, and safety T.J. Ward. They also nabbed Brandon Marshall that offseason, a linebacker who was released three times by the Jaguars. The big signings added to a foundation that already featured now-Super Bowl MVP Von Miller and Derek Wolfe.
After signing with the Broncos, Ware described what he was seeing forming in Denver (via Farrar):
“Their mentality is a ‘now’ mentality. “A mentality of, ‘I’m not looking forward to the next season or the season after that — the time is now.’ … They’re trying to get these lockdown corners so the pass rush up front can really create havoc out there. Seeing what they’re doing, I feel even more comfortable being here with where they’re trying to be, and where they’re trying to have their defence, and what they’re trying to mould.”
As Forbes noted before the Super Bowl, the Broncos committed over $54 million in 2015 to their front seven and secondary.
In the 2015 offseason, the Broncos fired John Fox and hired Gary Kubiak, who brought in a different style of offence. Perhaps more importantly, Kubiak brought in Wade Phillips, who was unemployed a year ago, as defensive coordinator. Together, Kubiak and Phillips built the type of team the NFL fawns over — a grind-it-out team that can win defensive battles.
Though Kubiak and Peyton were often a bit of an odd match offensively, the Broncos were able to win games defensively while just getting by on offence, with a more run-heavy, conservative offence. The Broncos didn’t spend big on running backs, but during the Super Bowl, their faith in C.J. Anderson paid off, as he pummelled his way for 90 yards on 23 carries (Peyton had as many passing attempts) and the game-clinching touchdown.
The Broncos did commit big money to Peyton’s receivers, ensuring that if Peyton could get the ball to them, he had players capable of catching it and making plays. The Broncos’ top three receivers this season, Demaryius Thomas, Emmanuel Sanders, and Owen Daniels, had a combined cap hit of $25.5 million in 2015..
Peyton was never really able to shake off the signs that his time in the NFL is over. He went just 13-23 passing for 141 yards, no touchdowns, and an interception in the Super Bowl. However, he was able to somewhat go into game-manager mode, and at least get them into field-goal range enough times for Brandon McManus to kick in nine points himself.
As Deadspin’s Kevin Draper wrote, the Broncos looked fine going three-and-out on drives, knowing they could send the most fearsome defence onto the field.
That’s a testament to how the Broncos rebuilt around Peyton — taking pressure off of him wherever they could. They spent big money to build the NFL’s best defence, they designed in a more conservative game plan on offence, and in doing so, won a Super Bowl without relying entirely on Manning’s arm.
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