ENGLEWOOD, Colo .– It turns out that the Denver Broncos’ Week 2 game against the Jacksonville Jaguars had special significance.
With the trade that sent Von Miller to the Los Angeles Rams a week ago, this game marked the last time the team’s top assisters – Miller and Bradley Chubb – lined up in the same defensive lineup for the Broncos. Chubb, the 5th overall pick in the 2018 draft, went to the injured reserve the following week and hasn’t played since.
Without Miller – the oldest and most decorated player in the squad roster – there’s a real current feeling about the team’s defense in the short term. Miller was a team captain and the franchise’s all-time sack leader. He also led the team in sacks this season (4.5), although he missed the Week 8 game against Washington.
Since the game in Jacksonville, the Broncos’ defensive depth chart has been decimated. The Broncos threw a three-quarter shutout in a 30-16 win over the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday despite cornerback Pat Surtain II and defensive end McTelvin Agim not finishing the game .
“We had guys come in and out of there like crazy,” said coach Vic Fangio. “Part of the problem there at the end was when they got the two rubbish hit, we ran out of guys.”
Miller’s departure, along with cornerback Bryce Callahan’s left knee injury against Washington (he went to the injured reserve last week) means the Broncos could already have seven frontline defensive players – guys who have started games this season – which may not be available this week against Philadelphia. Chubb, linebacker Josey Jewell (chest) and linebacker Alexander Johnson (chest) are on the injured list, defensive tackle Mike Purcell (thumb) did not play against Washington or Dallas. Surtain, who left Sunday’s victory in the third quarter with a sprained knee, will miss several games.
The Broncos still have Pro Bowl safety Justin Simmons, however. And they made two deals days before the trade deadline to add linebackers – Kenny Young of the Rams and Stephen Weatherly of the Minnesota Vikings. Both are already solidly in the defense rotation, Weatherly playing 55 snaps in place of injured Reed against the Cowboys and Young 39 and 41 snaps in both games since joining. The Broncos also had rookies – Baron Browning and Jonathon Cooper – who played at least 53 snaps in each win over Washington and Dallas, as four rookies played on defense in those two games.
Browning, who was on the field for every defensive play in Dallas, was tasked with wearing the communications device in his helmet to receive defensive sideline calls to pass on to his teammates.
“I just ask older guys like Josey questions [Jewell] and [Johnson]”Browning said.” I rely on those two a lot. Even at the start of this week, I was already asking questions of Josey. I probably ask Josey at least one question a day. I text her all the time and call her whenever I have a question. The same with AJ [Johnson]. “
For the Broncos to continue to put pressure on opposing quarterbacks, they will need to mix and match in the pass race like they did in the win over Washington, when they relied on five-man pressure. , or as they did with Cooper last Sunday. . Cooper had both Broncos sacks against the Cowboys.
“I felt a responsibility, honestly, because I’m in this position room,” Cooper said. “And when you see a Hall of Famer like Von Miller leave, then you see Malik Reed fall down and Chubb isn’t back yet – I admire these guys a lot – I felt a responsibility… I just wanted to go ahead and make them proud. “
Chubb could be on track to return later this month, Fangio said, if things continue to progress after September’s surgery to remove a bone spur in his left ankle. He underwent surgery to remove a bone spur in his right ankle after the end of the 2020 season. Chubb also tore an ACL in week 4 of the 2019 season and has missed 21 games in the past three seasons. .
When asked last week when Chubb could return to training, Fangio said: “It won’t be next week. [Dallas]. Probably not the following week [Philadelphia]. I think after that you can start asking the question a little more. “
The Broncos are 5-4, but seven of their remaining nine games are against teams that are currently in the league’s top 16 scorers. And they will now have to face them without Miller in the lineup for the first time since the 2010 season.
Broncos defensive end Shelby Harris believes the Broncos showed the resilience they’ll need in the dying seconds against Washington. The Broncos defense believed and celebrated, as if they had concluded the win with a fourth save with 37 seconds left. But a fumble from Melvin Gordon III returned the ball to Washington at the Broncos 24-yard line with 21 seconds left.
The Broncos held Washington again over the next four games to wrap up.
“Things are happening, but a great defense realizes it,” said Harris. “That was the message we kept repeating. A great defense will understand that. A great defense no matter what is thrown at them. They will overcome adversity and that’s what we did. … We can really do it no matter what we do, but there must be 11 collective minds for the same purpose. “
Or as Simmons said on Sunday, “Your best players have to play their best games and their biggest games.… I think that really speaks to the guys in the locker room, you handle the trade with Von in some way or another. another. And I think you saw [Sunday] how the guys responded. This is the norm. “