ENGLEWOOD, Colo. —** With a defense ranked No. 1 in many statistical categories, including yards per play allowed and sacks per pass attempt, it's only surprise about the Broncos' Pro Bowl selections was how few of them there were.
The cornerback tandem of Chris Harris Jr. and Aqib Talib was selected, and so was the duo of outside linebackers Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware. Part of the reason for each of their success can also be attributed to the others. The pressure generated by Miller and Ware often gives quarterbacks little time to make good decisions with the ball or to even get it out at all. Conversely, the airtight coverage from Harris and Talib give the pass rushers the time to close in on the quarterback.
Four Broncos have been selected to the 2016 Pro Bowl. (All photos by AP Images)
"Their play speaks for itself, but I'll say this—I have never as a coach been around two corners that work as hard as these two guys work. They have not missed a day—OTAs, camp, practice—those two guys study and they work. I'm so proud of them," Head Coach Gary Kubiak said, before going into how impressive the two outside linebackers have been this season.
Miller, who has now made four Pro Bowls in his first five years in the NFL, has earned special recognition as one of three Broncos to do that, joining Hall of Fame running back Floyd Little and Ring of Fame safety Steve Atwater.
"Von has done something really special," Kubiak said. "I mean, that is rare company. DeMarcus—I think of all the defensive players, I don't know if there is anybody who has as many Pro Bowls as him in this league."
For Miller, the selection is an honor at an individual level, and also at a team level.
"The guys that you go against, that you have a respect for and they have respect for you, for them to vote you for a Pro Bowl, that's a huge honor," Miller said. "I'm very appreciative of it. I really think it's the team. I think it's a team honor. We have 10 wins. We've been very successful this year. It just shows the type of defense that we have, type of offense that we have and the type of team that we have."
But with that in mind, that only four players from such a dominant group were selected has left much of the team baffled.
"We feel like we had some legit guys—interior of our D-line, interior of our linebackers and the interior of our secondary," Talib said. "None of those guys got to go, but I'm sure some guys probably go as alternates and stuff like that. It is what it is, but we feel like we should have had more go on D, of course."
Inside linebacker Brandon Marshall was selected as an alternate, with 94 combined tackled (71 solo), 1.5 sacks, nine tackles for loss, two forced fumbles and one interception.
However, Malik Jackson, with five sacks, eight tackles for loss, seven passes defensed and 15 quarterback hits, was not.
"I thought Brandon had played really well. With Malik, the problem is that most of the teams are 3-4 teams and they're picking the team by 4-3," Defensive Coordinator Wade Phillips said. "Therefore, the outside backers are the pass rushers. They get [OLB] Von [Miller] and those guys. They're really 3-4 outside backer rushers. They get the recognition for that, but then they go play 4-3 in the Pro Bowl and they have to drop on every pass.
"It's the same thing with the defensive linemen. In the 3-4 we call them defensive ends. Well, the 4-3 defensive ends are the guys rushing up the field all the time, so they're going to get more sacks and they're going to get more recognition that way. I think [former 49ers DT Justin] Smith in San Francisco, they played a 3-4, but they listed him as a defensive tackle every year and he made the Pro Bowl as a defensive tackle. It's hard because some teams play 4-3 and they pick the team on a 4-3 basis, but they're really more 3-4 oriented. If that says anything, I don't know."
Jackson has taken it all in stride, though. He just views it as more reason to do better in years to come.
"I'm not going to sit here and bash the Pro Bowl selection just because I didn't get in," Jackson said. "It's one of those things that it sucks, but you're just got to keep working. It is what it is.
"I've just got to come out next year and do it again. Just try and have a better year than this year. It is what it is. If I thought who was supposed to make the Pro Bowl, the whole team would have made the Pro Bowl. It doesn't matter. I've just got to keep working."
It could also be said that fellow defensive end Derek Wolfe should have been in the conversation, as well, and Miller would agree.
"We have, I don't know what the ranking is, but we have a very good defense this year and on that team you have to have very good players," Miller said. "From Malik, Derek Wolfe all the way up to the safety position. There are a lot of snubs in there. Hopefully, like I've said before, we'll be in Santa Clara—or San Jose—and won't have to go over there to Hawaii. That's what I plan on. Hopefully none of that Pro Bowl stuff will matter because we'll be in Santa Clara."