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Top 10 defensive plays of the Broncos' 2015 Super season

Posted Feb 17, 2016

There were at least 35 good choices, but here's 10 plays to remember from the defense's exquisite 2015 performance.

Choosing just 10 top defensive plays doesn't do the greatest defense in Broncos history -- with all due respect to the Orange Crush -- justice.

No defense in the NFL this year made more game-saving, game-altering plays. Denver's defense showed a knack for late-game takeaways, punctuating each of their first six wins -- all by seven points or fewer -- by forcing a turnover in the final eight minutes of regulation.

Here's one attempt to choose the 10 high points of one of the greatest defensive campaigns in NFL history.

10. Darian Stewart saves the day.

Playing without the suspended T.J. Ward in Week 1, Stewart and David Bruton Jr. held up well on the back end against the Ravens, with Stewart providing the final touch via a leaping end-zone interception of a pass intended for Crockett Gilmore to preserve the 19-13 win.

9. Von Miller catches Tom Brady off-guard.

Miller is more than just a pass rusher. He's one of the league's best at setting the edge against the run, and he can also catch a quarterback off-guard by dropping into coverage. In the second quarter of the AFC Championship Game, Brady did not see Miller fading back into a short zone, and let fly with a pass that Miller intercepted to set up the Broncos' second touchdown, extending their lead to 14-6.

8. Bradley Roby turns the game around..

Pittsburgh led 13-12 with 10 minutes remaining in the divisional-playoff game and had sprinted to field-goal range via three consecutive Ben Roethlisberger completions for 41 yards. But with nerves tightening, Bradley Roby came up with a massive play, jarring the football loose from Steelers RB Fitzgerald Toussaint. DeMarcus Ware recovered, and the Steelers' momentum evaporated as the offense responded with its first -- and only -- touchdown drive of the game, which was enough to send the Broncos to the AFC Championship Game.

7. Chris Harris Jr. goes to the house.

Protecting a fragile 9-7 lead against the Raiders, Phillips called a blitz, which forced Derek Carr into a hurried throw that Chris Harris Jr. intercepted in full gallop. His return was the Broncos' only touchdown of the day, allowing them to overcome a misfiring offense for a 16-10 win that preserved the Broncos' undefeated start.

6. Miller brings thunder in the snow.

New England won the coin toss to begin overtime in the Week 12 Sunday Night Football showdown, but Miller ensured that Brady and the Patriots wouldn't get far, bringing him down for a 7-yard loss on second-and-10. A hit from Shane Ray one play later forced an incompletion and a three-and-out, opening the door through which C.J. Anderson sprinted with the game-winning 48-yard touchdown run 90 seconds later.

5. The right call at the right time.

Few defensive coordinators would rush the safety with 37 seconds remaining and the opponent driving past midfield with a three-point lead. But few defensive coordinators are Phillips. He sent Ward and Brandon Marshall after Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater with Ware dropping into coverage. The resulting confusion led to Ward's sack and forced fumble, which Miller recovered to seal a 23-20 win over the eventual NFC North champions.

4. Barrett and Jackson drive back the Browns.

After Peyton Manning threw an interception on the first series of overtime, the defense had no margin for error; with the Browns at the Denver 39-yard-line, they didn't even need a first down to set up a potential game-winning field-goal attempt. But Shaquil Barrett and Malik Jackson would have none of that, as the defense turned back Cleveland with an anger and fury unmatched in its brilliant season.

Barrett made his first career start in Cleveland for the injured Ware and was magnificent, but no play was more important than when he burst into the backfield and engulfed Robert Turbin for a 3-yard loss on first-and-10. On the next play, Jackson brought down Josh McCown for an 8-yard sack; third-and-21 resulted in another sack, split by Barrett and Antonio Smith. A delay-of-game penalty meant that the discombobulated Browns had gone backwards 18 yards in a three-and-out that saved the game, and set up a clock-chewing 13-play, 72-yard drive to Brandon McManus' game-winning field goal.

3. Marshall sets up Roby's scoop-and-score.

Marshall and fellow ILB Danny Trevathan took heed of Phillips' counsel from a meeting the night before the Week 2 game at Kansas City. Phillips told them that when Chiefs RB Jamaal Charles falls forward, he exposed the football in a way that opened up the possibility of punching out the ball. The Charles fumble forced by Marshall was the running back's second of the night, and Roby was in position for the recovery and touchdown that stunned the Chiefs, sending them spiraling into a five-game losing streak that nearly derailed their season.

2. Aqib Talib deflects and Roby intercepts the conversion.

Bringing pressure on Brady as they had throughout the AFC Championship Game, a hurried Brady forced a throw into coverage that Talib deflected, setting up Bradley Roby for a goal-line interception that preserved the 20-18 final margin and sent the Broncos to Super Bowl 50. It wasn't the most dynamic play made by the defense to that point in the season, but it was perhaps the most important -- and was foretold by a successful two-point conversion stop in Chicago in Week 11 that allowed the Broncos to escape with a 17-15 win.

1. Miller's first strip-sack fumble of Newton sets the tone.

Phillips is a master at finding the offense's weak point and attacking relentlessly. The Broncos were on the losing end of this in 2012 when he set up one-on-one matchups with J.J. Watt against then-backup Manny Ramirez, and in the Super Bowl, he found the matchup he wanted against Carolina right tackle Mike Remmers, who could not keep pace with the All-Pro outside linebacker.

Miller darted around Remmers for both of his strip-sack fumbles in Super Bowl 50, but it was the first one that set the tone -- and put the Panthers in a 10-0 first-quarter hole from which they would never escape.

Darian Stewart

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