Is Broncos defense NFL’s new gold standard? Ask Newton, Brady, Big Ben – CBSSports.com

SANTA CLARA, Calif. — Hyperbole is easy to come by in the immediate moments after a Super Bowl — often it’s misguided and simply untrue.

But when Denver Broncos cornerback Chris Harris Jr. said his team’s defense was the best ever, was he really that far off?

Let’s put it this way: They are in the conversation.

After what the Broncos did to Cam Newton and the top-ranked Carolina Panthers offense Sunday night in Super Bowl 50, throwing Newton around like a rag doll rather than a 250-pound defense-killing, new-age quarterback, it’s hard not to consider them among the all-time great units.

Newton was sacked seven times in the Broncos’ 24-10 victory at Levi’s Stadium and the Panthers turned the ball over four times. Carolina came into the game as the top-ranked scoring offense in the league, a unit that most expected to roll over the Broncos defense.

What we saw instead was what happens when edge rushers are paired with great cover corners in a defense masterminded by a coordinator who knows what to do with it all.

“That was the number one offense in the word before this,” Harris said. “All that you were talking about was Cam Newton every day and their offense, how we cannot stop them. To have a game like we had today, we proved that we were one of the greatest-ever defenses.”

Harris Jr. earlier said the best ever. Later at his locker, he again said best ever, and they are indeed in the conversation.

It is a unit led by outside linebacker Von Miller who was named the game’s MVP after getting 2.5 sacks, forcing a fumble that was recovered in the end zone for a touchdown, another that set up a score and essentially turning right tackle Mike Remmers into a subway turnstile.

Miller didn’t even need a token. He just kept making that turnstile spin anytime he wanted to do so. In addition to his sacks, Miller also had two other hits on Newton and was close on several more plays.

The Panthers have no answer for Von Miller. (USATSI)

“You’re asking me where I rank our defense?” Miller said. “Comparisons make me uncomfortable. A lot of legendary guys have come before us, the Hall of Fame guys. I don’t like comparisons.”

We do, which is why it’s fun to put this team among the best defenses of the last 30 years. The seven sacks tied the Super Bowl record, set by the 1985 Chicago Bears, a team that still had what I think is the most-fearsome defense this league has seen.

The other great defenses in the debate in the past 30 years are the 2000 Baltimore Ravens, the 2008 Pittsburgh Steelers and the 2013 Seattle Seahawks. This one compares favorably to all three.

What might tip the scales to this Denver defense are the teams it beat in the postseason to win it all. The Broncos beat the Steelers, Patriots and Panthers. They were the first-, third- and fourth-best scoring teams in the league.

That’s Ben Roethlisberger, Tom Brady and Newton, this year’s MVP, in successive games.

Of the four defenses in the debate for best in the last 30 years, this Denver team was second to the Bears in sacks with 52. Chicago had an amazing 64. Denver amped it up in the playoffs with 14 more sacks.

What makes this defense so great?

It starts with Miller and DeMarcus Ware rushing from the edges, but it includes the power and strength of down linemen like Malik Jackson and Derek Wolfe, the speed of linebackers Danny Trevathan and Brandon Marshall, and cover corners in Aqib Talib, Harris Jr., and Bradley Roby.

The NFL game is now an edge game, so being better on the outside of a defense is much more important than the inside. That’s probably why I would give this defense the edge over the 2013 Seahawks, which beat Denver in the Super Bowl that year.

“We proved we are the best defense,” Wolfe said.

Newton came into this one with people talking about him being the next-generation quarterback, a player who was almost impossible to stop. As the final seconds ticked off the clock, he was a broken, beaten man. Newton offered little but one-word answers in his postgame press conference.

While Newton moped his way home, the Broncos passed around the Lombardi Trophy in the locker room. Talib ran over, put up his phone, and took a video with it.

“The Lombardi is on my Snap-chat now,” he said in a giddy sort of way.

The defenders played with it most, maybe because they won it. Carolina was 3 for 15 on third down, which shows you the defensive dominance. But here’s the number that truly shows it: The Broncos were 1 for 14 on third down on offense themselves.

So dominant was the Denver defense that it turned Peyton Manning winning his second Super Bowl into a sidebar. Were it not for a late touchdown, which was set up by a second Miller strip sack, Denver could have become the first team to win a Super Bowl without scoring an offensive touchdown.

Chris Harris and the Broncos make a case for best-ever. (USATSI)

It was Miller’s brutal sack-strip that was recovered by Jackson in the end zone for a first-quarter touchdown that was the only Denver touchdown in the game to that point.

“Cam Newton was the focus of the plan,” defensive coordinator Wade Phillips said. “But we played our defense. We knew we had to get some rush on the guy. We talked about containing him. But when you have DeMarcus and Von, you have to let those guys go.”

They went, the corners covered and Newton, like Brady last week, left a shell of himself.

“That was the whole game plan — load the box, force them to throw,” Harris Jr., said. “Can you throw the football?”

Newton really struggled early on. He missed some open receivers, had a few drops and then did settle down some. He hit a few big plays, but finished with a 55.4 passer rating and 23 incomplete passes.

“There wasn’t nothing special they did,” Newton said.

Nothing special? They shut down an offense that some expected to score in the 30s. They shut down the league MVP. And in consecutive games they made the casual fan probably feel sorry for Brady and Newton and the beatings they took.

On the street, that type of beating leads to 10-15 years in the state pen. On the football field, it leads to kudos and talk of greatness.

“Any team that holds Pittsburgh to 16, New England to 18 and Carolina to 10, all big-time offenses — I think we have to be up there somewhere,” Phillips said. “Tremendous performance throughout the playoffs. We almost led the league in every category, so we’ve got to say this is a special, all-time defense.”

Yes, we do.

Best of all-time might be a stretch, but they are certainly in the conversation as the best of the past 30 years. The bruises on Tom Brady and Cam Newton are proof of that.

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