After all the headaches and bad public relations Von Miller caused in the offseason, Sunday’s win proved something to the Denver Broncos.
They need Miller back on the field.
The Broncos defense had been good but not anywhere close to great in the first four games of the season. With an offensive juggernaut on the other side, they didn’t need to be great. But the Cowboys exposed them on Sunday.
Now, Denver was missing five starters, including Miller. Champ Bailey still hasn’t played because of an injured foot. Wesley Woodyard, Chris Harris and Robert Ayers did not play much if at all in the second half. Even without those players, the Broncos won the game.
Winning games 51-48 is not easy on anybody and it will be tough to win every game like that. The Broncos have to play some defense to be considered the Super Bowl favorite.
The biggest glaring weakness in the Denver defense right now is the pass rush. The Broncos are actually sixth in the NFL with 15 sacks on the season. But the pressure is not the same. Miller would be at the QB before he could even figure out what happened. Right now a lot of the sacks caused by Denver seem to be coverage sacks.
And that was evident on Sunday against the Cowboys. Quarterback Tony Romo was sacked four times including two by Shaun Phillips. Romo never felt pressure though. He danced around a lot in the pocket and the Broncos would just finally get to him. This happened on three of the four sacks.
Romo is very good at escaping pressure and making plays with his legs, but Miller has the speed to catch him. Miller would have made a difference.
When Miller was busted for failing a drug test and suspended for the first six games, some fans thought the worst. There were plenty of predictions of 4-2 and even 3-3. Losses to the Giants and Cowboys on the road were all but certain. Now the Broncos sit at 5-0 but Denver is no way better without Miller.
Miller creates havoc for the opponent’s tackles. Quarterbacks fear him and he is also stout in the run game, which the Broncos already rank first in the NFL. Who on the Broncos defense is scary right now? No one.
Are teams afraid of Phillips? Maybe in past seasons but not now. Phillips actually leads the Broncos with 5.5 sacks but still he is not the feared pass rusher he use to be. Ayers, who has played better this season than in the past, is still not a great defensive end. He makes one play but seems to disappear after that.
Derek Wolfe is not stepping up like the Broncos had hoped. He has one sack. The neck injury set him back a bit but Denver is still looking for more production than just one sack.
That is where Miller has to come in. To just provide a nasty aspect to the defense. The Broncos offense is nothing but speed, finesse and joy to watch. The defense doesn’t need to be like that. It has to be tough and rugged .
It is easy to say that any team missing their best defensive star would be in trouble. But the Broncos defense didn’t look that bad. They gave up some points but a lot of them were in garbage time after the offense had given them a lead. Sunday was different. The Cowboys exposed the fact that the Broncos are just not the same team without Miller.
The Broncos will have to survive one more game without Miller. Luckily for Denver it is against the lowly Jacksonville Jaguars at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. The Broncos are actually 27.5 point favorites in Las Vegas; the biggest line in the history of the NFL.
The next game in Indianapolis is where Miller will make his return and it could not come at a better time. The Colts look like a threat to the Broncos in the AFC and the game will already be emotionally charged due to Manning’s homecoming.
Miller’s selfish acts put the Broncos in this position, making it clear Denver needs him back. Combining Miller with Phillips could give the Broncos a good 1-2 punch for a pass rush and the defense should really find its footing.
The Broncos have a chance to finish Miller’s suspension at 6-0. It seemed crazy a couple months ago, and yet, the Cowboys showed some flaws in Denver’s defense.
Von Miller will be the perfect guy to fix them.
Chris Schmaedeke is currently the Assistant Sports Editor at the Daily Camera in Boulder. He has worked in sports journalism in Colorado since 2001 when he started at the Rocky Mountain News. He has covered the Denver Broncos for several websites over the past two years.
Follow Chris on Twitter at @ChrisSchmaedeke