ENGLEWOOD, Colo. --** On the day DeMarcus Ware signed his contract, he summed up the flurry of defensive signings by describing them as an addition of "brutal nasty" to the unit.
The additions of Ware, T.J. Ward and Aqib Talib, along with the return from injury of Kevin Vickerson, Von Miller, Derek Wolfe, Rahim Moore and Chris Harris Jr., are expected to upgrade the performance of a defense that struggled for long stretches last year before finding its form in the last two regular-season games and the first two weeks of the postseason.
But attitude can only go so far. It's about performance, and Ware expects the final result to be much different than it was last year.
"Night and day," Ware said. "You had guys that were hurt, and have the opportunity to not have any holes in your defense.
"You have good interior defensive linemen, you got good linebackers, two great, phenomenal pass rushers, but also guys that can come in and make plays. When you talk about defenses they always have good cornerback core. So they are really tough back there. They come up and are able to make plays and make tackles on the run.
"So I think the sky is the limit for us."
Yes, that means being as good as the record-breaking offense. Recent history reveals this as a realistic goal. In 2012, the unit was blessed by good health, had Von Miller for a full season with Elvis Dumervil opposite him, and finished No. 2 in the league in yardage per game -- the same rank as the offense that year.
"We are trying to be a force to be reckoned with this year," Ware said. "At the end of the day, we are trying to be [No.] 1 and [No.] 1. The best offense in the league and the best defense in the league."
The first step to getting there required bolstering a pass rush that saw its sack rate dip last year. Doing so was a top priority of Executive Vice President and General Manager John Elway.
"The best pass defense is a pass rush," Elway said.
In 2012, pressure created takeaways. Denver was second in the league in sack rate -- one every 11.75 pass plays -- and that helped the Broncos coax 23 fumbles, of which they recovered eight. Denver also intercepted 16 passes.
Last year, the sack rate dropped to one every 15.95 pass plays. The Broncos forced more turnovers, but the results were less explosive; their touchdowns off defensive takeaways dropped from six in 2012 to one last year.
"You're always looking to get takeaways," Elway said. "I think with pressure, especially in the passing game, especially with the way we played last year, playing ahead, to be able to get those pass rushes, you're going to create more turnovers. So that's what we'd like to do and we'll see what happens."
Beginning Thursday, the Broncos will learn how much pressure they can create -- and how far it can take a defense searching for redemption.