With his 98-yard pick six against the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday, Broncos cornerback Chris Harris brought some attention and praise to a unit that hasn’t really gotten the credit it deserves this season: the Denver secondary.
The Denver defense in general has -- unjustly -- taken a bit of a back seat to the Peyton Manning-led offense when it comes to taking credit for Denver’s 11-3 record and current nine-game winning streak. When people have taken a break from praising Manning and actually talked about the Denver defense, it’s been Von Miller, Elvis Dumervil, and the great Denver pass rush at the center of attention. But rather quietly the Denver secondary has been an integral part of the Broncos' success on defense this season, doing what they've done with a good mix of players both young and old.
First, the old: Champ Bailey. In his 14th season out of Georgia, Bailey is no spring chicken anymore, but that’s not what his performance on the field would indicate. Bailey is still one of the best cover corners in all of football and he’s likely headed for yet another pro bowl. Having several young guys alongside him on the defensive side of the ball has allowed Bailey to step into a leadership role and become a mentor to the younger guys, a role he has done well in. Joining Bailey in the old man category is safety Mike Adams. The nine-year veteran out of Delaware has also played an important leadership role in Denver’s secondary, in addition to steady production on the field with 68 tackles, one sack, two forced fumbles, and two fumble recoveries.
With Bailey and Adams leading the way, Harris heads a strong contingent of young players in the Broncos secondary. Tracy Porter began the season as the team’s other starting cornerback, but he has not played since week five because of a medical issue related to seizures, and Harris has done a more than adequate job replacing him. In just his second professional season after going undrafted in 2011, Harris has made a seamless transition into the starting lineup. With teams shying away from Bailey’s side of the field, quarterbacks have been going after Harris, and he’s been up to the challenge. He has three sacks, three interceptions, and has defended 11 passes this season. The pick six he had against the Ravens was the second interception he took back for a touchdown the season.
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In addition to Harris, the Broncos have given playing opportunities to cornerback Tony Carter, who is in his fourth NFL season out of Florida State, but has been given few chances to play until this year. Carter may be a little undersized, but he’s impressed the Broncos with his coverage skills, and he’s defended 11 passes this season, despite only playing in a part-time role. With both Harris and Carter in the fold, Denver has good talent and depth at the cornerback position, even with the continued absence of Porter.
Rounding out the secondary is another young guy: Rahim Moore, a second-year safety out of UCLA. Moore has made significant progress in his second season, and has actually played the most snaps of anybody on the Denver defense. He is no longer just looking to provide a big hit, but instead has become a consistent and reliable tackler, which has helped the defense to prevent big plays against them. Moore is often the last line of defense for the Broncos, and his trustworthy play in the secondary has allowed the rest of the defense to excel.
So while they may not be getting the publicity or the praise they deserve, the Denver secondary has been an important part of the team’s success this season. Using a good blend of proven veterans and young rising stars, the Broncos are one of the top defenses against the pass in the NFL, which is one of many reasons why the team has won nine straight games and is picking up steam heading into the playoffs.