Meet Shaun Phillips, Joe Mays, and Wesley Woodyard. Those are the three starting linebackers for the Denver Broncos now that All-Pro Outside linebacker Von Miller is facing a four game suspension for substance abuse by the NFL as reported by Adam Schefter this morning. The Denver Broncos are in deep trouble defensively. They were before this with the loss of Elvis Dumervil to the Baltimore Ravens via a fax machine mishap (http://www.foxnews.com/sports/2013/03/24/no-fax-faux-pas-this-time-elvis-dumervil-spurns-denver-broncos-for-baltimore/), but more so than ever with this suspension. The Broncos’ offense is set, but their defense, just got much older and not as flashy and consistent. According to footballoutsiders.com the Broncos had the fifth adjusted ranked defense in the NFL. Largely contributing to their 13-3 record last year.
With the arrival of Peyton Manning last year and this year’s drafting of Montee Ball along with signing slot receiver Wes Welker the Broncos looked poised for a championship run. With Miller now suspended it leaves the Broncos more susceptible to passing offenses. Miller is above average against the run, but he is a freak against the pass. He makes other defenders better by demanding double teams in addition to the quarterback always looking out for him.
With him gone the opposing quarterbacks will have more time to exploit the sub-par secondary. This was shown in the playoffs last year when Joe Flacco seemingly mocked Champ Bailey throughout the game leading to a Ravens win (http://sports.yahoo.com/blogs/nfl-shutdown-corner/joe-flacco-torrey-smith-torch-champ-bailey-two-232107451–nfl.html). Champ was once the best corner in the league, but at 35 years old he is slower and not as good as he once was.
The other corner is Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie who is a young twenty-six year old physical specimen, but there is a reason the former first-rounder has been on now three teams. His inconsistent play. He is too aggressive against wide receivers and gets beat because of it (which will be an extreme problem against the Eagles in week 4). Some of this was due to the lack of coaching over the entire Eagles defense, but Rodgers-Cromartie has to be held accountable. He was designated to the number three corner with the Eagles in his first year with them. Outside the season opener against Cleveland Browns (Brandon Weeden’s first start) he had one interception all year. He should learn from Champ Bailey, but it is still risky especially when the Broncos don’t seem to have anything consistent or special at safety to help Rodgers-Cromartie over the top.
This was already a problem last year as seen here
The Broncos first four games this year are against Baltimore, the NY Giants, the Oakland Raiders, and Philadelphia Eagles. I see them starting at 1-3, and with the rise of the Kansas City Chiefs that deficit might be too steep to climb over the course of the rest of the year. Flacco beat the Broncos last year in Denver and will want to prove his contract was worthy in a national televised game. The Giants have speedy Victor Cruz in addition to physical Hakeem Nicks. The Broncos matched up poorly with Tight Ends last year giving up an average of sixty yards per game to them (http://www.footballoutsiders.com/stats/teamdef) and with Dumervil and Miller gone this will only inflate.
I see the Broncos beating the Raiders because, let’s face it, they are the Raiders and have no one outside along with either Matt Flynn or Tyler Wilson throwing passes. Finally I believe the Eagles match up well with their speed (Maclin, Jackson, Mccoy) and Chip Kelly’s scheme in a way the Broncos can’t cover. For a team that already had deficits in its defensive backfield the Miller suspension could make it get ugly in the Rockies. Now Von Miller is appealing the suspension, but as it stands now he and the Denver Broncos could be in some serious trouble to start the season.