It’s been relatively easy for the Denver Broncos to get to 5-0 with Peyton Manning as their quarterback and an offense that seemingly can’t be stopped. But their win against the Dallas Cowboys shed some light on the fact that their defense isn’t necessarily playing at an equally high level, as opposed to last season when Denver’s defense was a significant contributor to the team’s success. With key players missing the early part of the season and several more defensive players suffering injuries, are the Broncos falling apart on defense? If so, can they put themselves back together before it becomes a hindrance to their Super Bowl aspirations?
The Broncos have played the first five weeks of the season without the suspended Von Miller and the injured Champ Bailey, who are arguably their two best defensive players. Miller’s absence has hurt Denver’s pass rush considerably, which has exposed the rest of the defense, much like the Ravens did in the playoffs last season when their offensive line slowed down Denver’s pass rush better than anybody else had during the season. The good news is that Miller will be back following Denver’s scheduled blowout of the Jaguars this week. However, questions about Miller still remain. How long will it take for him to get back into game shape? Can he integrate himself back with the rest of the defense? Can he stay out of trouble and stay on the field? That’s a lot of questions for a player the Broncos need in order to solidify their defense.
As for Bailey, he should be back soon, but considering his age there should be questions about whether he can hold up for even a 10-game regular season and then the playoffs. There’s also the issue of his poor play in the playoffs last year, and whether or not that will be emblematic of the way he’ll play this season. He’ll be a welcome addition to Denver’s defense, but if he doesn’t perform the way he has throughout his career, he could do more harm than good for Denver’s defense.
In addition to Bailey, the Broncos also have more recent injuries that could be an issue. Robert Ayers, Chris Harris, and Wesley Woodyard all left the game against the Cowboys and didn’t return. Ayers has been one of the few bright spots in Denver’s pass rush and not someone the Broncos can afford to lose, even when Miller comes back. Harris has filled in nicely for Bailey at cornerback, and without him Denver’s secondary is awfully thin. Outside of Miller, Woodyard is the player the Broncos can least afford to be without on defense. Woodyard is the leader of the defense at middle linebacker, and it’s not a stretch to say that Denver’s issues in the second half against Dallas were due in large part to his absence.
For the time being, Denver’s offense can carry the team, but if the Broncos are going to hold off the Chiefs in the AFC West and secure home-field advantage in the postseason, they’re going to need their defense to contribute and be more reliable, and right now they just don’t look like they’re ready to do that. Denver’s defense is a long way from being completely healthy and a long way from being a formidable unit. There are definite flaws in their defense, and coming out of their game against Dallas they are closer to falling apart than coming together.