COMMENTARY | Here's a suggestion for the Denver Broncos: The next time you guys take the field for a playoff game, you might want to bring along your defense.
The franchise's rabid fan base certainly is hoping for as much. Bronco Nation, after all, still is reeling from its team's past two defenseless postseason performances.
For those who have simply chosen to repress them, here the gory defensive details from the Broncos' two most recent playoff games -- not shockingly, both of which wound up as divisional-round defeats. In the losses to the Baltimore Ravens in January 2013 and the New England Patriots a year earlier, the Broncos:
-Surrendered a total of 83 points
-Were gashed for a whopping 988 total yards and 52 first downs
-Gave up 44 pass completions in 68 attempts for 694 yards and nine TD tosses
In a word: Ouch.
Just typing those figures is enough to anyone wince, and in short, it's a sure-fire formula for guaranteeing an early postseason exit with nary a sniff of the Super Bowl.
Now, sure, the 45-10 loss to the Pats last season wasn't entirely unexpected after it took a string of had-to-see-'em-to-believe-'em Tim Tebow miracles just for the team to finish 8-8 and qualify for the playoffs.
But with the Peyton Manning-led AFC top seeds coming out on the short end of last month's 38-35, double-overtime defeat to the Ravens, the sting figures to linger far into next season.
This was after all, a 2012 Denver defense which finished fourth in the league in points allowed (18.1 per game), second in yards surrendered (290.8), third in passing yards given up (199.6) and tied for top honors in quarterback sacks (52).
But then along came the home playoff opener, and the Ravens proceeded to roll up 479 total yards behind QB Joe Flacco who threw for 331 yards and a trio of TDs while getting sacked only once in 35 dropbacks.
The Ravens did go on to hoist the Lombardi Trophy and Flacco wound up as the game's MVP as he completed one of the greatest statistical runs for a QB -- 11 TD passes, no interceptions -- in NFL playoff history, but that hardly dulls the pain for the Orange-and-Blue Crew which entered the postseason as the odds-on favorite to dance beneath the season-ending confetti shower.
Even more stunning, the defensive players the Broncos were counting on most were among the most disappointing in the defeat:
-Pro Bowl pass rushers Elvis Dumervil and Von Miller, who had combined for 30 regular-season sacks in 2012, totaled a single sack and three QB hits against the Ravens. Further twisting the knife, the duo also was whistled for a trio of off-sides penalties in the game.
-As for 12-time Pro Bowl Bowl cornerback Champ Bailey, his final stat line read: Zero interceptions, one pass defensed, one pass-interference penalty and two long TD passes allowed to Baltimore wideout Torrey Smith.
The stats weren't a whole lot prettier a year earlier against the Patriots, when Dumervil and Miller teamed up for all of two QB hits, no sacks and two penalties while Bailey collected zeroes in terms of picks and passes defensed.
Now certainly the Broncos' list of defensive disappointments and no-shows from the two games contains far more than three names -and a number of offensive players have been just as, well, offensive - but they were counting heavily on their talented trio of Pro Bowl defenders. They just can't afford to have Dumervil, Miller and Bailey playing football like professional bowlers.
But now that the Broncos have authored back-to-back, lengthy chapters on how not to play postseason defense, just what does the book of playoff defensive success reveal?
First, surrendering chunks of yardage is far from fatal. The Ravens allowed at least 398 yards in all four of their postseason contests in 2012-13 and were outgained (468-367) by the San Francisco 49ers in the Big Game itself.
And that's where the importance of turnovers comes in. Forcing turnovers, you quickly realize, is not only the key; it's the king.
Pouring over the treasure trove of stats on Pro-football-reference.com reveals that 19 of the past 20 Super Bowl champions enjoyed a positive postseason turnover differential -- with 15 of the 20 finishing a robust plus-5 or better. That includes the 2012-13 Ravens, who were a plus-6 (10 forced turnovers, four given away) in their four playoff games.
Nineteen the past 20 champs -- only the 1999 St. Louis Rams didn't fit the bill -- have gleefully gathered in at least six playoff turnovers, including the '97 and '98 Broncos who forced a combined 22 turnovers and recorded 14 sacks in their back-to-back journeys to the top.
Paling in comparison, the modern-day Broncos only forced a combined three turnovers in the losses to the Ravens and Pats, and suffered through a minus-7 sack differential (only one sack, eight allowed) in the two losses.
Playoff-winning stuff - let alone Super material - this isn't.
It's also out of character with the regular-season defensive makeover undertaken by the Broncos, who, as recently as 2010 ranked dead last or next-to-dead last in the league in sacks (23), points allowed (29.4 per game), total yards surrendered (390.8 a contest) and forced turnovers (18).
The transformation of the D has helped the Broncos leap from 4-12 to 8-8 to 13-3 in the regular season, and now if only Dumervil, Miller, Bailey and Co. can make similar strides come the next postseason, a confetti dance could be waiting in the end.
Ken Pomponio has spent the past 25 years as a sports journalist who has been published extensively in print and online. He's been an avid follower of the Denver Broncos and the NFL since early childhood, and can be followed on Twitter @kenpomp.
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