No. 1 or not, Broncos defense says it has nowhere to go but up

Wade Phillips on Denver's No. 1-ranked defense: "There is only two ways to go ... up or down, and you need to go up in this business." AP Photo/David Zalubowski

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- The Denver Broncos remember their history just fine, and they would love to repeat it.

The 2015 unit was the first in franchise history to finish a season as the league's No. 1 overall defense, and it was the group that powered a Super Bowl winner -- something even the fabled "Orange Crush" did not do. Now, as the Broncos move through their offseason program toward the 2016 season, those involved believe there is still more to be done.

"There is only two ways to go ... up or down, and you need to go up in this business, because everybody else is trying to shoot at you and they know what you did last year," Broncos defensive coordinator Wade Phillips said.

"We were outstanding and one of the legendary defenses of our time. I told them, I said, 'We want to get better, certainly, but you're not going to get better than winning the Super Bowl. That's the goal that you reached last year, and you have to try and reach again. But you can get better as a player and you can get better scheme-wise.' We can do those things better."

Though the Broncos led the league in most of the major defensive categories -- including being the only team that topped 50 sacks and the only team to hold opponents to fewer than 200 passing yards per game in these throw-happy times -- they still have a to-do list for the offseason.

As part of their spring and summer work, Phillips said each player was given a detailed what-you-can-do-better evaluation, everything from specific roles in specific defensive packages to a more general overview. Phillips said the coaches also gave the same kind of evaluation to themselves.

"We can get better. There are some areas where we can get better," Phillips said. "Individually, we gave each player what they could do to improve themselves. We made a list of things that we could improve ourselves on defense overall, coaching-wise, what we need to change and do better."

Several players have said missed tackles, limiting big plays, forcing more turnovers, avoiding "stupid penalties" -- the Broncos had the most defensive offside penalties (16) in the league and were among the league leaders in unnecessary roughness calls -- were all on the list.

The Broncos feel like their defense could finish No. 1 against the pass, No. 1 against the run and No. 1 overall if the group stays healthy and finds a way to keep the edge it had last season.

Denver finished No. 1 overall, No. 1 against the pass and No. 3 against the run last season. In the postseason, the Broncos held Ben Roethlisberger, Tom Brady and Cam Newton to 51.5 percent completion rate, had 10 sacks and surrendered one touchdown pass in three games.

Linebacker Brandon Marshall believes the Super Bowl victory could actually elevate not only the defense, but the whole roster to better play in 2016.

"If you look at the last few years, it was almost like a boom or bust, almost like a Super Bowl or bust. It was extra pressure. ... It was like, 'OK, we gotta win it. They put together this team, and if we don't win it we're going to look like fools,'" Marshall said.

"Now that we've won it ... now we can get down to it," he continued. "We've been there, we have that championship mentality, we understand everything that we have to do."

Cornerback Chris Harris Jr. said believes the team's defense will keep trying to improve because of how it reacted to the coaches' to-do lists. He said players didn't think they were above it or that the evaluations were misguided.

"We got guys who want to be the best and look out for each other to make sure everybody is doing what they're supposed to do," Harris said. "Guys aren't going to let you not keep up. The young guys learn, if you don't do the work to keep your spot, somebody else is right there doing the right things."

"Every Sunday we put in work," Marshall said. "That's not going to stop."