Bob Glauber has been Newsday's national football columnist since 1992. He was Newsday's football writer covering the Jets
JERSEY CITY - There has been plenty of talk about defense in the run-up to Super Bowl XLVIII, but almost all of it has glorified one team.
The Broncos' reaction: Hey, what about us?
While the Seahawks and cornerback Richard Sherman are the ones getting all the bouquets thrown their way as they await their matchup against quarterback Peyton Manning, the Broncos would like to remind you that they've got a pretty fine defense themselves. In fact, the playoff stats tell you that Denver's defense actually is playing at a higher level than Seattle's, the NFL's No. 1 unit during the regular season.
And give the Broncos this much credit: They're getting the job done despite the absence of several key players, including Pro Bowl linebacker Von Miller and their top cornerback, Chris Harris, both out with knee injuries. And the Broncos have been without pass rusher Elvis Dumervil all season after he was lost as a free agent to the Ravens because his agent was late getting a fax to the team before a contract deadline passed.
"Yeah, we feel underrated a little bit, but we've got to expect that," Broncos safety Mike Adams said. "We had a slow start as a defense early in the season, but one thing we did is we finished the season strong and carried it into the playoffs. We're trying to continue that streak we're on."
One more masterful performance and you'll be hearing plenty more about Denver's defense.
"We're playing great defense, playing together, not making the little mistakes," Adams said. "That's what we fixed earlier in the year, the little mistakes we were making."
That Denver has thrived despite injuries to several key players makes its performance even more commendable. Remember, too, that the Broncos had to play without Miller in the first six games after he was suspended for violating the NFL's performance-enhancing drug policy. The Broncos won all six, and they've won every other game Miller has missed, too.Denver is 9-0 in games that Miller has missed, using a collective resourcefulness to offset not only his injury but the ones to Harris, safety Rahim Moore and cornerback Derek Wolfe.
Broncos defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio, who filled in as head coach for four games while John Fox was recovering from heart surgery, traces the team's improvement to the disappointment of last year's divisional playoff loss, 38-35 in two overtimes, to the eventual Super Bowl champion Ravens. Denver's pass defense was a mess the entire game, and that was no more evident than on Joe Flacco's 70-yard touchdown pass to Jacoby Jones with 44 seconds to play in regulation that sent the game into overtime.
"We've really been on a mission since we got that stinging loss at home last year in the playoff game," former Jaguars coach Del Rio said. "We've been on a mission. Very resolute, our guys. There have been a lot of well-documented things that have occurred in the last 12 months and we've just kind of kept grinding."
"Never stopped believing that we have the ability to be here if we worked hard, worked together and committed, and that's what these guys have done."
Now they're here, and just one win away from completely erasing the bitter memories of last year's playoff meltdown.
Denver has allowed an average of only 289.5 yards in two playoff wins over San Diego and New England, and the Seahawks have allowed an average of 358.5 yards against New Orleans and San Francisco. It was just about the reverse in the regular season.
The Seahawks allowed only 14.4 points per game and Denver gave up 24.9 points per game in the regular season. The Broncos have shaved more than a touchdown off that total, giving up only 16.5 points per game in the playoffs. The Seahawks are at 16.0 points allowed per game.
"We hit our stride at the right point," cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie said.
So it's not just about Seattle's defense at this point. And it's not just about Manning's offense, as far as the Broncos' defenders are concerned.
"We kept hearing our offense is always saving us, and that kind of makes you mad," Rodgers-Cromartie said. "You have to re-evaluate and check yourself. We definitely did that as a defense."