Which Came First? Wade Phillips Or The Denver Defense?

With Wade Phillips' future in Denver up in the air, Chad Jensen examines how much of the Broncos defensive success can be laid at Phillips' feet.

As I reported on Friday, the future of Wade Phillips in Denver is uncertain. Phillips was hired as the Denver Broncos defensive coordinator in 2015 and his two-year deal expires after Sunday's game.  

Upon his arrival, he promptly led the Broncos defense to a No. 1 ranking, which culminated in a Super Bowl 50 victory. 

http://www.scout.com/nfl/broncos/story/1742190-report-head-coach-kubiak-... Denver also led the NFL in sacks that year, with 52. Phillips' initial success in Denver didn't translate as well into 2016. Although the Broncos are still ranked in the top-10 (No. 6) in total defense, they've been hamstrung by their inability to stop the run. 

The Broncos entered Week 17 as the No. 29 rushing defense, but it could be argued that losing defensive end Malik Jackson and inside linebacker Danny Trevathan were the biggest factors for the regression. 

It's not much of an excuse for a coach — personnel losses — because the fact remains that Denver still had the deepest and most talented defense in the NFL. It does beg the question, however, how much of Denver's defensive success has been due to Phillips' influence? Or was it the personnel that he inherited? 

Let's examine. In 2012, under then defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio, the Broncos finished as the No. 2 overall defense. In 2013, Del Rio's unit took a major step back, losing Von Miller for most of the season and finishing No. 19 overall. 

2013 was also the record-setting offensive season for Peyton Manning and the Broncos, wherein opposing teams were forced to air it out playing from behind. That skewed the numbers somewhat. 

In 2014, Del Rio's final season, the Broncos finished No. 3 in total defense. So, in two of Del Rio's three years, the Broncos finished in the top-3. 

With names like Von Miller, DeMarcus WareAqib TalibChris Harris, Jr., Danny Trevathan, Brandon MarshallDerek Wolfe, Malik Jackson, and T.J. Ward, it's safe to say that Phillips inherited one heck of a defense. 

Five of the players listed above were either drafted or signed as a college free agent by GM John Elway. The rest Elway signed as free agents. 

One of the best things that came with the arrival of Phillips was the switch from Del Rio's 4-3 even front to the 3-4 that Denver has featured for the last two years. The 3-4 scheme helped to maximize Denver's particular balance of personnel, no question, with a focus on rushing the passer from the two-point stance. 

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Still, with the news that Gary Kubiak plans to step down as Denver's Head Coach, I have to wonder how indispensable Phillips is to John Elway and the front office. According to Phillips' players, it's a no-brainer. 

But does Elway see truly see Phillips as the architect of one of the NFL's all-time defenses? Or perhaps Phillips is perceived as more of a benevolent guardian, keeping the ship on course. 

We'll likely have our answer to how the Broncos brain trust perceives it soon enough. To me, there's no question Phillips helped elevate this unit. But he was also given elite tools to work with. 

Things are going to move quickly when the season ends. Kubiak will announce his retirement and Elway will begin the arduous process of hiring a new head coach. 

A new head coach will want to hire his own staff. Of course, if Wade Phillips factors into Elway's plans for the future as defensive coordinator, any new head man accepting the position would understand that going in and have to accept him. 

But after a disappointing season replete with underachievement, it's entirely possible that Elway will blow up the entire coaching staff and with the exception of one or two guys — like perhaps Phillips or defensive line coach Bill Kollar — start from scratch. 

Don't be surprised, however, if Wade Phillips does not return as the defensive coordinator of the Denver Broncos. 

Chad Jensen is the Publisher of Mile High Huddle. You can find him on Twitter @ChadNJensen.

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