The Denver Broncos came into the AFC title game with the best defense in the NFL. They held opponents to the fewest rushing yards per carry (3.3), the lowest net yards per pass (5.1) and a minuscule 1.38 points per drive.
But where they are causing trouble for Tom Brady and the Patriots the most is through the pass rush.
According to Football Outsiders, the Broncos’ defensive line led the league in adjusted sack rate (8.1 percent), sacks (plus intentional grounding penalties) per pass attempt adjusted for down, distance and opponent. Linebackers DeMarcus Ware and Von Miller combined for 125 total sacks, hits and hurries this season and have combined for one sack and an interception against Brady in the first half of the AFC championship game.
Defensive end Malik Jackson would knock down Brady late in the second quarter, causing a second interception, hauled in by safety Darian Stewart.
Brady, like most quarterbacks, sees a performance drop under pressure. His completion percentage dropped from 70.5 to 50.5 percent during the regular season and Denver has the personnel to keep the pressure on with just three or four pass rushers, allowing the Broncos to play max coverage with their dynamic secondary, which includes corners Chris Harris Jr. and Aqib Talib. Per Pro Football Focus, those two allowed an 85.2 and 83.9 passer rating against, respectively, in primary coverage — much lower than the 102.2 rating Brady produced this season.