Aqib Talib is biased, sure, but he also presents an astute claim for the Broncos’ No Fly Zone secondary of 2015 as the best the NFL has seen.
It was suggested to the second best defensive player on that Broncos’ Super Bowl 50 team – edge rusher Von Miller was the Super Bowl MVP – that it would be difficult for that Broncos’ defense as a whole and No Fly Zone as a sobriquet entity to duplicate its success in today’s game where the rules continually are amended to favor the offense.
"The game ain’t changed," Talib said in a Zoom video conference with members of the Denver media Tuesday. "It’s the same as it was then. We just was strappin’, that’s all. That’s why I say give us the upper hand, The No Fly Zone, because we did what we did in this era of football right now.
"The Chiefs, they were running that same offense when we were playing. They didn’t have Mahomes, but they were still playing that same offense. We did it in this era where some of those other teams they did it when, you know, two tight ends, fullback, running back. It wasn’t like it is now. That’s why we really stand out that we were the best because the era we did it in."
A couple weeks shy of his 35th birthday, Talib is now a retired player who brought along his outsized personality to the media broadcasting profession. He has his own Call to the Booth podcast in which this Sunday he will air a 5-year reunion special of the No Fly Zone that features his comrades Chris Harris Jr., Bradley Roby, T.J. Ward and Darian Stewart.
It was a very good secondary with entertaining personalities.
RELATED: Aqib Talib announces NFL retirement
"We fought and argued a lot," Talib said. "You’ve seen a couple of them, huh? (laughs) No, that’s what brothers do."
The best secondary of all-time? It’s easier to argue the 2015 Denver D as a whole was one of the most iconic units in the modern-era. More imposing than the No Fly Zone was its set of edge rushers. Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware will likely be eventually elected into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Shaq Barrett was a backup. The same Shaq Barrett who led the NFL with 19.0 sacks last year for Tampa Bay, and terrorized Aaron Rodgers for 3.0 sacks in the NFC Championship Game on Sunday. The second wave of pass rushers also included Shane Ray, a first-round rookie who had 8.0 sacks in a part-time role before his career was beset by wrist problems.
Then there was Malik Jackson and Derek Wolfe to provide push from the interior. They each went on to get multiyear contracts worth better than $9 million per year.
"We were the No Fly Zone but they were our big brothers," Talib said. "They were our bullies. If we really got a problem, we’re going to get them boys. It don’t work without them. Nothing happens. No interceptions. No big hits. Nothing happens without those guys. So it all starts with them.
"Like you said we’ve got two future Hall of Famers on there. Shane Ray, I really don’t have any idea how he’s not on the team right now. And then Shaq man, we all knew how special Shaq was. We all said it -- me, Von, D-Ware -- we all said you’re $70 million is just waiting for you. You’re going to get it. I don’t care how long it takes. Hurt his hip, it doesn’t even matter. We knew how special a player he was and like you say he was our third or fourth rusher, back up to D-Ware or whatever.
"A super special bunch. Even the linebackers (Brandon Marshall and Danny Trevathan), the second level, we checked all boxes. We had depth on that defense and it definitely started up front with Malik, D-Wolfe, D-Ware and Von for sure."
Talib is a borderline Hall of Famer with 10 career pick sixes at the core of his case. Only three defensive backs had more with Rod Woodson the all-time leader with 12 touchdown returns. That 2015 defense wasn’t just about talent, though. It was an 11-man unit that played as one. And when 11 players play as one, and is schemed up by incomparable defensive coordinator Wade Phillips, the 2015 Denver defense seemed to have 7 guys rushing the passer and 7 guys covering -- and four or five players always swarming the ball.
"It definitely was a standard that Wade set for us," Talib said. "You start to run to the ball every time. You start to hustle every time, try not to loaf. It definitely had a lot to do with Wade’s standards. We were good the year before. But when Wade came in I think we all were “Whoa. This is Golden here. We all wanted to make him happy. The scheme wasn’t hard. It allowed you to play hard, play fast."
The chemistry was so special, it couldn’t be duplicated. For a while, maybe, in the following season of 2016. But it wasn’t quite the same.
"’16, I think the defense, we still had it going," Talib said. "The chemistry as a whole unit got kind of messed up because Peyton (Manning) was gone. We were not as confident in the offense as we were last year. When we’re super confident in ya’ll, and you’re all super confident in us, it’s like a party around the locker room. Especially when we’re winning.
"And so the next year when our confidence ain’t like that in ya’ll, you’re all still confident in us, it’s just not the same vibe."
It may be hard Broncos fans to believe their team hasn’t been to the playoffs in the five years since the run to the 2015 Super Bowl -- but not for Talib.
"Nah. I can definitely wrap my head around it," Talib said. "It’s a quarterback-driven league, we know that. And The Sheriff left the building. …It don’t surprise me. They haven’t had a Sheriff come in the building yet so that’s why it doesn’t surprise me they haven’t been to the playoffs since."
Peyton Manning is gone and so is the No Fly Zone. Stewart is retired. Ward hasn’t played in a game in three years. Harris is with the Chargers and Roby with the Texans. Talib was traded to the Rams, where he got the broadcast bug during his off days at the NFL Network studios, then retired to turn his hobby into a profession.
"I started getting in the routine of it: This is cool. I can see myself getting paid. If the cash was right. That’s when I started feeling it a little bit," Talib said. "I honestly didn’t want to play no more. So I didn’t miss it where, Man I wish I could still play. I accept it. I can’t play no more. I can’t play with them young boys no more. I don’t want to play with them young boys no more. So the closest you can get to football is coaching or this media, being in the booth and calling the game."
He may have his own vocabulary, a unique syntax, but it works. It doesn’t hurt that he’s remarkably photogenic possesses the likable X factor.
"Right now I’m doing the TV thing and anytime I’m doing anything I’m trying to be the best at it," he said. "I enjoy it. I don’t mind the studying. Really that was part of why I retired, too, I was tired of studying. I got back to studying so that’s just natural. I’ve been doing that for years. Hope somebody likes me, like my skills. I’m going to do some things this offseason to get better at it. And hell yeah I’m trying to be the best at it."
Best as in No Fly Zone best?
"Our competition is before us," he said. "The last five years there hasn’t been anyone like us for sure. The argument would be the Legion of Boom and all those guys before us."
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