Friday, January 19, 2018
Tampa Bay Buccaneers

As Bucs bet on Winston & Koetter, champion Broncos double down on defense

TAMPA

Drop back. Throw it. Throw it deep. Throw it often.

Welcome to today's NFL, where the best way to get from Point A to Point B is by throwing the football. And the best way to go from bottom of the league to the top is by racking up the points.

Get yourself a franchise quarterback. That's how you win. Get yourself a Cam Newton or an Aaron Rodgers or a Ben Roethlisberger.

Have a coaching opening? Think offense. Hire a Dirk Koetter or a Bill O'Brien, quarterback whisperers who know how to dial up splash plays, who know how to light up scoreboards. Score. Score. Score.

That will win you ball games. Lots of ball games.

And how do you win a Super Bowl?

Hit the brakes!

That's a whole different story. If you want to win a championship, you better get yourself a defense. Case in point: The team rolling into Raymond James Stadium today to take on the Bucs. The Denver Broncos are living and breathing and sacking proof that defense beats offense and defense overcomes a bad offense.

Flash back to last season.

The Broncos had an aging Peyton Manning, who looked like he should have put on that Easy-Like-Sunday-Morning robe sometime in November. Yet with Manning flailing around behind center, the Broncos beat two of the best quarterbacks in football — New England's Tom Brady and Pittsburgh's Big Ben — just to reach the Super Bowl, where they took on the league's most potent offense, as well as its most explosive offensive player, Cam Newton.

Though their old geezer of a quarterback threw for just 141 yards and though the Broncos amassed a paltry 194 yards of offense and though they converted one of 14 third downs and punted eight times, the Broncos won. By two touchdowns!

Just goes to show that you can have a below-average quarterback with a substandard offense and still be a dominating champion.

And, oh, speaking of Peyton Manning, back in 2013 he threw for a league-best 5,477 yards and a 55 touchdowns. Yet his No. 1-rated offense lost in the Super Bowl to the No. 1-rated defense from Seattle. And it wasn't even close.

Which makes you wonder: Which way is truly the best way to win in the NFL?

"It has never changed," said CBS analyst Solomon Wilcots, who will call today's Bucs-Broncos game. "Even when they change the rules, it never changes. Defense wins."

The league loves offense. The fans love offense. Offense is what makes football fun and the league has a slew of exciting quarterbacks who chew up yards and pile up points.

"I've always said that defensive coaches innovate the game," Wilcots said. "Offensive coaches don't innovate. Know what they do in order to have a spike in scoring and a spike in offensive production? They change the rules. They don't ever change the rules to make sure the defense has an advantage. But you look back over time, and you need to have that great defense."

NFL history is full of teams that won championships almost solely on defense with quarterbacks who merely functioned just not to lose games. The 1985 Bears, the 2000 Ravens, even the 2002 Bucs were defense-first with quarterbacks who did just enough to win.

"And that Bucs team played against a Raiders team (in the Super Bowl) that had the best offense in the league," Wilcots said. "And the Bucs dominated them. Seems like none of those games are close."

Just look at what the Broncos are doing this year again.

Manning retired and the thought was the Broncos would turn over the team to last year's part-time starter Brock Osweiler. But when Osweiler bolted for Houston, the Broncos drafted Paxton Lynch with the 26th pick in the draft and acquired veteran journeyman Mark Sanchez.

Yet they come in to Tampa Bay with previously unknown Trevor Siemian, a 2015 seventh-round pick. And how have things worked out? The Broncos are 3-0, having knocked off three pretty solid quarterbacks in Newton, Indianapolis' Andrew Luck and Cincinnati's Andy Dalton.

What makes it all so impressive is that the architect of this punishing defense-first Broncos team is John Elway, one of the greatest quarterbacks in NFL history.

"Even a blue-chip quarterback like himself had to admit that you cannot put it on one guy, no matter how good that quarterback is," Wilcots said. "That coordinator on the defensive side and his 11 guys are going to figure out a way to stop that one piece on the chessboard."

Wilcots points out that Elway went out and spent a bank-vault worth of money on defensive stars such as Von Miller, Aqib Talib, DeMarcus Ware, T.J. Ward.

"I mean, that's doubling down on defense," Wilcots said. "And on offense, he is going with a kid."

The formula looks as unbeatable as a year ago, and it's just the latest in a demanding gauntlet for the Bucs.

"This is a great team, it's a great franchise and who else should we play but these guys?" Bucs quarterback Jameis Winston said. "We've got them and then we've got Carolina in back-to-back weeks. When you look at that stretch with Arizona, the Rams, Denver, and Carolina — arguably, the best defenses in the whole NFL. So, it's a challenge and that's what all of us have got to come together and just be like, 'We take on this challenge.' This is a great opportunity that we're given."

Here's the scary part for Tampa Bay: The Broncos defense that was so dominant a season ago might be even better this season. Maybe someday, the Bucs will be just like them.

"You just recognize that they are a great defense," Bucs defensive tackle Gerald McCoy said. "Not good, they're a great defense, and it's because of their discipline. So if you do take anything from them it's just, look at how disciplined they are and look at how it's paid off. It got them a Super Bowl."

Great defenses. They have gotten a lot of teams a Super Bowl.

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