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As the script went, they'd replace Peyton Manning—preferably with a live-armed quarterback. They'd return most of the major pieces on the other side of the ball. And John Elway and Gary Kubiak would hoist several more Lombardi Trophies throughout the late 2010s.
The 2015 world champions weren't supposed to labor through their title defense. What in the hell happened to the Denver Broncos?
Two things. For starters, Kubiak's beloved running game is a shadow of its former self. C.J. Anderson's injury gave way to a ball-carrying stable of uninspiring rookies and journeymen. You can't win a title when your lead rusher is Kapri Bibbs; you certainly can't when running behind a line that's worse than the previous season's.
Now flip sides. Denver's defense wasn't razed like that of most Super Bowl winners, but its linchpin was: Malik Jackson. The now-Jaguars defensive end was not only a pressure-causing freak, but also a special run-stopper with the ability to split blockers and make backfield stops. Without that talent on board, Denver's rushing defense has dropped from third in 2015 to 29th this season.
The upgrade at quarterback that is Trevor Siemian? His impact is now negligible. These Broncos can't do what all title contenders can: run the ball and stop the run. We won't see them in the postseason for it.