A rough offseason for the Denver Broncos looks like it’s going to keep getting worse, with the news that star linebacker Von Miller could be facing a four-game suspension to start the season because of a positive drug test. Executives within the Broncos organization have brought bad publicity to the franchise because of drunk driving arrests, but with Miller it appears as if Denver’s problems could spill over onto the field. The suspension isn’t official yet, as it’s still in the appeals process, and it would only be for the first four games of the 2013 season, but if Miller is suspended, it could have a transformative effect on the Broncos and their high expectations for the upcoming season.
Not only is Miller Denver’s best defensive player, but also the entire defense is orchestrated around him, and the fact that the Broncos have a strong pass rush. Taking Miller out of the lineup, in addition to failing to re-sign Elvis Dumervil in the offseason, raises serious questions about Denver’s ability to put pressure on the quarterback, which is a huge part of its defense. Derek Wolfe and Robert Ayers would become the key pass rushers for the Broncos, which would create a huge drop off from the caliber of pass rush they have with Miller on the field. Denver has high hopes for rookie Quanterus Smith, but obviously there’s no guarantee that he will be able to make up for Miller’s absence in the first four games of his career.
With an aging secondary, it’s imperative that Denver has a strong pass rush. The Broncos are taking a risk by relying on veterans Champ Bailey, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Mike Adams, and Quentin Jammer to be the key figures in their secondary, but that risk is curbed by having a great pass rush. However, without Miller on the field, the secondary becomes more vulnerable. Veteran Shaun Phillips, who the Broncos signed in the offseason from San Diego, would most likely step into Miller’s spot in the lineup, but he’s not the type of game changer that Miller is.
Denver’s schedule the first month of the season will not do them many favors if Miller is unavailable. The Broncos play a home game against Baltimore and a road game against the Giants in the first two weeks of the season, both will be tough games regardless of Miller’s availability. The Giants especially will be a tough matchup if the Broncos don’t have a strong pass rush, as the trio of Eli Manning, Hakeem Nicks, and Victor Cruz will be a tough matchup for Denver’s secondary if Manning isn’t put under pressure by Denver’s pass rush. The Broncos should be able to handle Oakland at home and Philadelphia at home the following two weeks, but a 2-2 start could make for a tighter division race than the one Denver was expecting to have in the AFC West this season.
Even after the first four games, the Broncos would then have to re-integrate Miller into their defense, and hope that he can quickly work his way into mid-season form despite sitting out a month. The Broncos aren’t a Super Bowl favorite simply because of Peyton Manning and their offense. They’re a Super Bowl favorite because they are a balanced team with a good defense, and Miller is a huge part of that. Without Miller in the lineup and their defense at full strength, the Broncos are just another team in the AFC playoff hunt, which is why losing Miller to suspension for the first four games of the 2013 season could be a problem for Denver, not only in September, but for the entire season.