Denver will need to find a pass rusher
Von gone? For four games?
This, folks, will hurt.
The Denver Broncos were going to survive team-imposed suspensions on two executives for separate drinking-and-driving incidents. Matt Russell and Tom Heckert don’t block, tackle, run, throw or catch.
But now, superhero linebacker Von Miller is facing an NFL four-game suspension, allegedly for violating the NFL’s drug code.
Miller, if an appeal isn’t upheld — and they very seldom are — will miss the first four games of the season, against Baltimore, the New York Giants, Oakland and Philadelphia.
All Miller has done in his first two seasons is come up with 30 sacks, head to two Pro Bowls, and — this is very important in the overall scheme of things in the NFL — force opponents to spend an inordinate amount of practice time trying to figure out how to block him. Last year alone, he forced six fumbles.
You can’t replace that, especially with his partner in sacks and pressure, Elvis Dumervil, now a member of another team.
The Broncos, luckily, have signed a superb free agent sack specialist in Shaun Phillips as a free agent. Phillips was to attempt to replace Dumervil on the side opposite Miller, a very good plan, by the way.
Now, however, Phillips will have to replace both Miller and Dumervil for four games, anyway, if Miller is indeed toast for the first month.
How does defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio dance around this problem?
Hope resides with Phillips and other Broncos who will have to step up in the pass rush, defensive ends Robert Ayers, Malik Jackson and rookie Quanterus Smith, perhaps another linebacker in Wesley Woodyard (who had 5 1/2 sacks last season), and in trying to spring third-year do-it-all defensive lineman Derek Wolfe (six sacks last season) from anywhere and everywhere.
Del Rio will now have to spend lots of time coming up with plans that he wasn’t going to have to mess with a day ago.
So, what will it mean to Denver in terms of wins and losses in that first month?
Nobody can say.
The Broncos might open 4-0 without Miller. That would bode badly for the rest of the league.
They are more likely to open in the 2-2 range.
Here’s what we do know: We know Peyton Manning and the offense are going to have to score more than if Miller was playing.
Hearken back to the good old Colts days with Manning: Remember those games in which the Colts punted maybe once, maybe not at all.
That’s what the Broncos are going to be hoping for if Miller is out: Keep the ball. Score every time, field goal or touchdown. And hope the other team messes up.
The Broncos are going to be a good football team without Von Miller, a very good football team. They just aren’t going to be anywhere nearly as good as they will be later with him.
And take solace in this: They just have to win the AFC West to get into the playoffs. They will be the best team in the AFC West, Miller or no.
But they are looking to be a Super team. Miller goes a long way toward making them that way.
Now, just one more thought: Does anyone out there have John Abraham’s phone number?
Rick Jussel is a former Daily Sentinel sports editor (think Dark Ages) and Grand Junction High School journalism teacher who belongs in the Armchair Quarterback Hall of Fame, if only there was one.