John Elway Transformed Denver into Defensive Juggernaut
Joe Kazmar – For The Record
Seattle’s huge 43-8 upset over the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl XLVIII not only earned respect and popularity for the Seahawks, but it also got the ire and attention of Denver’s general manager John Elway.
The feisty Elway, who had led these same Denver Broncos to back-to-back Super Bowls after the 1997 and 1998 seasons went right to work retooling the Broncos’ defense from top to bottom in the two years since that devastating loss to Seattle, according to an article appearing in this week’s edition USA Today Sports Weekly.
“Determined to raise the level of physical play on defense, Elway brought in free agents such as safety T.J. Ward, cornerback Aqib Talib and pass-rushing linebacker DeMarcus Ware, whose play and leadership also have helped fellow pass-rushing linebacker Von Miller blossom into a defensive force.”
The last two drafts Elway also selected first-round picks Bradley Roby and Shane Ray.
“After a one-and-done playoff season last year under John Fox—the Broncos were upset by the Indianapolis Colts—Elway brought in his former backup quarterback Gary Kubiak as head coach and added veteran defensive coordinator Wade Phillips,” the article pointed out.
Phillips had spent valuable time under the tutelage of his famous father Bum Phillips, playing quarterback and linebacker for him in high school at Port Neches-Groves, playing defensive safety for him at the University of Houston and then coaching under him at Oklahoma State in 1973-74.
“Father and son would later spend five seasons together with the Houston Oilers, twice falling a game shy of reaching the Super Bowl and would spend five more less satisfying seasons together in New Orleans where Wade became a defensive coordinator for the first time and also an interim head coach,” according to Monday’s edition of the Houston Chronicle.
Wade Phillips is now in his 38th season in the NFL making him the second-most tenured coach behind Tennessee’s Dick LeBeau.
For the first time in franchise history the Denver Broncos finished with the NFL’s top-ranked defense.
Just two weeks ago the Broncos extended the contract of defensive end Derek Wolfe, who had a team-high six tackles against the New England Patriots to go with a sack and a tackle for a loss.
Denver’s defense was so good that New England’s All-Pro tight end Rob Gronkowski conceded the Broncos defense had gotten the better of the Patriots and their dynamic offense.
“It’s always frustrating when you have an opportunity, you’re in the red zone and you just don’t capitalize,” he said. “It’s not like we’re going out there and playing some defense that has nobodies on it. They’ve got great players, and they just made more plays than us when they needed to.”
Kubiak said last week’s victory over New England epitomized the style of football the Broncos had established throughout the season, winning close games with imposing defensive play and just enough scoring punch from the offense.
“We won a lot of games this year just grinding as a football team, playing great defense, and we played tremendous against the Patriots,” Kubiak bubbled.
Thirty-nine year-old quarterback Peyton Manning, too, has bought into the approach, which has seen a recalibration of the Denver offense.
Instead of emphasizing the quick strike as the Broncos’ offense did in the past, they have consistently sought to establish the run while picking their spots to take shots in the passing game.
The ultimate test looms Sunday in Super Bowl 50 and Denver will be facing a much different quarterback in Carolina’s Cam Newton, a strong and dynamic runner in addition to his emergence as a polished passer and playmaker.
Wade Phillips gives the multi-talented, hyper-athletic Newton his due, insisting there never had been a quarterback who presents so many different problems.
However, Elway would rather bring the NFL’s No. 1 defense to the Super Bowl like he’s doing this year than the league’s No. 1 offense like he did two years ago against Seattle.
And like I said last week, if Wade Phillips can design a defense in six days that virtually drove Tom Brady crazy, he should be able to come up with a scheme to harass Cam Newton in twice that time.
I’m banking on it and looking for Denver to upset Carolina 23-21.
KWICKIES…The Las Vegas odds have jumped from three to six in a week and will probably favor Carolina by double figures by kickoff time on Sunday as the money continues to pour in by bettors picking Carolina to win Super Bowl 50.
During the 2015 NFL season gold footballs were presented to high schools throughout the country where participants of past Super Bowls once attended. Orange County has two schools that fall into that category in West Orange-Stark’s Kevin Smith (Dallas) and Earl Thomas (Seattle)– and Bridge City’s Matt Bryant and the late Shane Dronett (both Atlanta). Ironically the school that leads the nation with the most Super Bowl participants is Port Arthur Memorial/Lincoln with eight.
Two Seattle Seahawks were named Most Valuable Players in Sunday night’s Pro Bowl, which was won by Team (Michael) Irvin 49-27 over Team (Jerry) Rice in Honolulu. Quarterback Russell Wilson, who was Irvin’s first pick in the draft and responded with three touchdowns in the four series he played, was the Offensive MVP while teammate Michael Bennett was named as the Defensive MVP. Orange’s Earl Thomas made the Pro Bowl but elected to miss it and let some of his injuries heal properly.
Cleveland Browns quarterback Johnny Manziel also made headlines last weekend—the kind he makes more times than for actions on the football field—when he was pursued by a police helicopter for an alleged incident involving a former girlfriend in Dallas. She called the police at 2 a.m. about a “possible assault” at an apartment building and was concerned about his “welfare”. The Air One Unit police helicopter took off in the dark Metroplex sky searching for Manziel. There was no word about his whereabouts at this writing.
JUST BETWEEN US…It doesn’t make sense why the University Interscholastic League in its infinite wisdom moved Navasota into District 10-4A-I with area teams Little Cypress-Mauriceville, Bridge City, Silsbee, Cleveland, Huffman and Livingston when the redistricting for 2016-18 was announced Monday morning. District 12-4AI which formerly was District 9-4A-II remained intact with state champion West Orange-Stark, Orangefield, Hamshire-Fannett, Hardin-Jefferson and Liberty. Deweyville dropped down from 3A to District 2-A and will join Centerville, Lovelady, West Sabine, West Hardin and Groveton for the 2016 football season.