When I first thought about what topic I was going to write about this week I was really tempted to write a pump up anthem about how the Denver Broncos were going to be fine without Von Miller for the rest of the season.
But I just can’t.
Miller had 5 sacks and three forced fumbles this season in only eight full games. Although those are pretty impressive statistics, Miller’s real value comes in his ability to cause mayhem in the backfield.
Miller forces teams to divert extra attention focused solely on him, which opens up the field for the rest of the defensive line. Does Shaun Phillips have 10 sacks this year without Miller? Probably not; he had more than 9 sacks only three times in his 10-year career before coming to the Broncos in the offseason.
To be completely honest, the Broncos will not win the Super Bowl this year with the way the defense is playing. Last year the defense was substantially better and they still failed to win the conference championship. When the weather gets cold, teams win with rushing and defense.
Last year the run game killed the Broncos in the playoffs (how many third-and-ones did Denver fail to convert against Baltimore?). But, this year Moreno and company have been surprisingly efficient, rushing for around 116 yards per game. Thus, Broncos fans should be confident about the run game moving forward.
That means the Broncos’ fate will almost certainly come down to how well they play defense. Even with Miller, the Broncos have not been up to par this year. According to espn.com, the Broncos are ranked 22nd in total defense and allow 25.7 points per game.
In the first six games of the season when Miller was suspended, the Broncos gave up 26.3 points per game (those games included the Jaguars, the pre-Foles explosion Eagles, and the Giants… not exactly a barn busting group of offensive talent). They also struggled stopping the passing game without Miller rushing the quarterback. To provide reference, Chad Henne of the Jacksonville Jaguars threw for 303 yards against the Broncos without Miller. When Miller was in against the Indianapolis Colts the next week, Andrew Luck only threw for 228.
For the most part the offense was able to carry the defense throughout the regular season, but the playoffs are much different. Players play tight which makes offensive statistics go down and creates more turnovers. Teams scored an average of 22.8 points per game in the 2012 regular season, but only scored an average of 17.1 in the first round of the playoffs.
This drop in offensive productivity was especially true of the Broncos. Last year the Broncos averaged 30 points a game but in the playoffs only scored 21 points offensively and probably would have been blown out against the Ravens had it not been for Trindon Holliday. They also had three turnovers in the game against the Ravens, something they had only done three times in the regular season.
The offense will not be able to carry the Broncos in the playoffs this year, and that means that Jack Del Rio is going to have to squeeze some life into this defense in order for the Broncos to win.
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