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Comparing “Sacksonville” to the greats: 2015 Denver Broncos

We keep hearing about how elite the “Sacksonville” defense is and how they can carry what is by all regards a fairly average offense deep into the playoffs, so I wanted to travel back into the annals of history and compare their personnel to some of the legendary NFL defenses of yesteryear.

This is the fourth and final part installment mirroring the 2015 Denver Broncos “No Fly Zone” defense. Last week, we covered the 2013 Seattle Seahawks, and before that, we compared the 2002 Tampa Bay Buccaneers and 2000 Baltimore Ravens.

Below you’ll find 11 head-to-head match ups where I include each player’s statistics at the same point in their career to illustrate how our young players are tracking against some all-time greats.

Due to the Broncos running a 3-4 scheme, I compared each team in their nickel package.

LDE | Calais Campbell vs. Demarcus Ware


Campbell: 71.0 sacks; 420 tackles; 11 forced fumbles; 9 fumbles recovered

Ware: 134.5 sacks; 496 tackles; 35 forced fumbles; 8 fumbles recovered

The first time Calais Campbell has lost in this series, but it’s no easy task to go up against a likely first-ballot Hall of Famer. Ware had the advantage of playing as a pure edge rusher and his 35 forced fumbles is an incredible number for the former Cowboy. Ware’s biggest contribution to the Super Bowl run was experience, as injuries limited him to 17 tackles and 7.5 sacks in 11 games. Campbell already has three sacks in three games in 2017 and should play a much larger role than Ware physically contributed, but to pick Campbell over Ware would be a biased pick.

Advantage: Demarcus Ware

DT | Marcell Dareus vs. Derek Wolfe


Dareus: 34.0 sacks; 201 tackles; 2 forced fumbles; 2 fumbles recovered

Wolfe: 24.0 sacks; 155 tackles; 0 forced fumbles; 1 fumble recovered

Sylvester Williams was the true nose tackle in the Broncos base defense, but since we are comparing the units in nickel defense, Wolfe slid inside and is a more fair match up to Dareus than Sly would be. What has been consistently impressive when doing these case studies is how prolific Dareus has been as a pass rusher despite constantly being bombarded with double teams as a nose tackle, and hopefully we can start seeing the kind of penetration that he showcased earlier in his Buffalo career. Wolfe is a solid player who has only played 16 games twice in his career due to injuries, but Dareus has the Pro Bowl and All-Pro credentials.

Advantage: Marcell Dareus

DT | Malik Jackson vs. Malik Jackson


DEN: 14.5 sacks; 108 tackles; 2 forced fumbles; 2 fumbles recovered

JAX: 14.5 sacks; 59 tackles; 4 forced fumbles; 1 fumble recovered

Well, this is awkward. Malik was terrific in Denver and his performance translated into an enormous pay day in Jacksonville. Everyone remembers his clutch fumble recovery touchdown in the Super Bowl and while he played a huge role in the Broncos defense on the way to a championship, he has almost doubled his production since arriving in Duval. He’s good, folks.

Advantage: Malik Jackson?

RDE | Yannick Ngakoue vs. Von Miller


Ngakoue: 20.0 sacks; 44 tackles; 10 forced fumbles; 4 fumbles recovered

Miller: 30.0 sacks; 110 tackles; 9 forced fumbles; 0 fumbles recovered

As nice of a player as Ngakoue is, comparing him to Von Miller shows you just how special Miller is. Starting his career off with 11.5 and 18.5 sacks respectively, Miller was a much more consistent run defender in his first two seasons with almost three times the tackle volume. Despite Miller’s generational talent, Ngakoue has proven to be more impactful in the turnover arena and his ability to force fumbles has been a consistent bright spot across this series. With that being said…

Advantage: Von Miller

MLB | Myles Jack vs. Danny Trevathan


Jack: 82 tackles; 2 sacks; 0 forced fumbles; 2 fumbles recovered; 0 interceptions

Trevathan: 106 tackles; 3 sacks; 3 forced fumbles; 1 fumbles recovered; 3 interceptions

Trevathan’s two-year snapshot is surprisingly good, especially considering that he only had 21 tackles and a sack as a rookie sixth round pick out of Kentucky in 2012. Myles Jack had similar limited repetitions early in his Jaguars career working out of the strong side linebacker spot in base and now playing full time in the middle in the wake of Paul Posluszny’s retirement. While Trevathan has been a very good player and was a valuable starter during the Broncos’ Super Bowl run before moving on to the Bears in free agency, he was never in any potential defensive player of the year conversations like Jack has been prior to this season. Jack is on the precipice of becoming an elite player in this league, and therefore gets a slight edge.

Advantage: Myles Jack

WLB | Telvin Smith vs. Brandon Marshall


Smith: 345 tackles; 6.5 sacks; 4 forced fumbles; 5 fumbles recovered; 7 interceptions

Marshall: 174 tackles; 3.5 sacks; 4 forced fumbles, 0 fumbles recovered, 2 interception

A fifth round pick by Gene Smith’s Jacksonville Jaguars in 2012, Marshall has developed into a good starter in the NFL with the Broncos. While he may be good, he’s no Telvin Smith. Smith’s production in his first four seasons is on a Hall of Fame trajectory, and if he can stay healthy, he stands a chance of becoming one of the greatest Jaguars defenders in franchise history. It’s no wonder the Jaguars extended the heartbeat of the defense in the offseason.

Advantage: Telvin Smith

NICKEL | DJ Hayden vs. Bradley Roby


Hayden: 3 interceptions; 26 pass break ups; 161 tackles

Roby: 6 interceptions; 49 pass break ups; 168 tackles

Hayden was playing at a very high level before being recently sidelined with a toe injury and seems to have finally found a home in the slot where his change of direction and agility always translated best. Roby was signed to a second contract by the Broncos and has been given an opportunity to compete on the outside after moving on from Aqib Talib this offseason, but is still one of the premier slot cornerbacks in the NFL when he slides inside in nickel. Time will tell on this one since Hayden is in a new role on a new defense, but Roby’s body of work is stronger across their first four seasons.

Advantage: Bradley Roby

CB | Jalen Ramsey vs. Aqib Talib


Ramsey: 6 interceptions; 31 pass break ups; 107 tackles

Talib: 9 interceptions; 24 pass break ups; 70 tackles

Drafted out of Kansas by the Bucs in 2008, Talib had 13 tackles and six pass deflections in the 2015 playoffs. The face of the “No Fly Zone,” Talib may have had more interceptions in his first two seasons, but Ramsey is the more complete defender and added a crucial interception return for a touchdown in the playoffs last season. Hopefully Ramsey can have the same career longevity (Talib is now 32 years old) and success as Talib, who has five Pro Bowls and one First-Team All Pro appearance on his resume.

Advantage: Jalen Ramsey

CB | A.J. Bouye vs. Chris Harris


Bouye: 12 interceptions; 50 pass break ups; 169 tackles

Harris: 12 interceptions; 55 pass break ups; 274 tackles

Very similar coverage numbers across their first five seasons, and to be quite frank, Bouye and Harris are similar players. Both were underrated early in their careers and have blossomed into perennial Pro Bowl-caliber talents in what some would call “sidekick” roles to the other cornerback on the roster. Now settled in Jacksonville, Bouye has a great opportunity to match Harris’ three career Pro Bowl selections, but will need to ramp up the production from nine tackles in three games so far in 2018.

Advantage: Chris Harris

SS | Barry Church vs. T.J. Ward


Church: 9 interceptions; 415 tackles; 1.5 sacks; 8 forced fumbles

Ward: 8 interceptions; 443 tackles; 8.5 sacks; 10 forced fumbles

Despite fairly similar production in their first eight seasons, Ward was a stalwart in the secondary during the Broncos’ 2015 Super Bowl run and contributed an interception, forced fumble, and fumble recovery in the playoffs. The two-time Pro Bowler and former teammate of Tashaun Gipson in Cleveland, life came at Ward fast after his disappointing stint in Tampa Bay last year and he is currently out of the league while Church seems to be a fine wine getting better with age. If Church can have Ward’s impact this postseason, the pendulum could swing his way, but for now it would be a bit of a stretch to give him the nod.

Advantage: T.J. Ward

FS | Tashaun Gipson vs. Darian Stewart


Gipson: 19 interceptions; 243 tackles; 0 sacks; 1 forced fumble

Stewart: 3 interceptions; 195 tackles; 4 sacks; 5 forced fumbles

More of a versatile box safety than a ball hawk like Gipson, people forget that Stewart started his career as a special teamer with the Rams and was on his third team by the time he landed in Denver. Good timing on Stewart’s part, as 2015 was his first season with the Broncos and he has become one of the most reliable defenders in the Broncos secondary. Gipson is an extremely underrated player who has played at a very high level so far in 2018, and the numbers lean extremely in his favor in this match up.

Advantage: Tashaun Gipson

Final Score: Jaguars tie 5-5

It’s a tie, thanks to Malik Jackson being a wash having played for both teams. If you want to consider his better statistical production for the Jaguars as a tie-breaker, you are certainly entitled to, but Broncos fans can argue that he won them a ring wearing orange and blue.

Allowing 283.1 yards per game (199.6 passing, 83.6 rushing) and 18.5 points per game, the Broncos defense as a unit fall behind the 2000 Ravens, 2013 Seahawks, and 2002 Bucs. Impressively, their 4.4 yards per pass attempt allowed was half a yard less than the next team and they allowed a 60.0% opposing QB completion percentage.

Through three weeks, the Jaguars are allowing 286.3 yards per game (171.0 passing, 115.3 rushing), 6.1 yards per pass attempt allowed with a 64.5% opposing QB completion percentage. They’ve allowed 14.7 points per game.

With this being the final installment in the all-time defense series, stay tuned for next month where I will be comparing the offenses these defensive units had to carry on their backs to win their respective championships. With the Jaguars’ recent pedestrian offensive performance against the Titans, this should be an interesting case study.