Despite the debacle that is the replacement officials, player safety will continue to be a focus of the NFL’s commissioner’s office. When Denver Broncos middle linebacker Joe Mays hit Houston Texans quarterback Matt Schaub and sent his helmet and a piece of his ear flying, everyone knew a substantial fine was coming for Mays.
As it turns out, the NFL thought the hit was brutal enough to suspend Mays for one game and fine him $50,000 (via NFL press release). Mays will reportedly appeal the suspension, and the expedited appeal should happen this week. Mays and the Broncos would probably rather he serve his suspension next week against the pass-happy New England Patriots, but the expedited appeal means he will either miss this Sunday’s game or no game at all.
Missing Mays this week against the Oakland Raiders would be a huge blow to Denver’s defensive front seven. Mays is Denver’s best linebacker against the run, and if the appeal is not overturned, the Raiders will almost certainly try to take advantage of him being out by trying to run Darren McFadden into the heart of Denver’s defense.
Veteran linebacker Keith Brooking would likely start in place of Mays, but Danny Trevathan and Steven Johnson could also see their first snaps of the year. Brooking has been rotating at the weak-side linebacker position with Wesley Woodyard, mostly in running situations. Brooking himself has been a below-average run defender for the past couple of years according to ProFootballFocus grades.
Woodyard has actually held his own against the run over the last couple of years, but he isn’t thought of as a run defender because he weighs just 229 pounds. The combination of Woodyard and Brooking would be an attractive duo for the Raiders to attack.
Woodyard performed poorly when he was forced into action as a middle linebacker against the Raiders in 2011 when Joe Mays was limited, so it would be surprising if the Broncos don’t leave him at outside linebacker and see what Brooking can do as the starting middle linebacker.
The suspension of Mays could force some of the other reserves into action. So far this season, the only other linebacker beside Von Miller, Mays, Woodyard and Brooking to receive any snaps is Nate Irving, who played in just two snaps in Week 3, according to the NFL’s official game book.
The Raiders will deploy a similar offense as the Texans did in Week 3, when Arian Foster rushed for 105 yards on 25 carries. The Texans would pile up 152 yards rushing on 34 carries (4.5 yards per carry). It may be harder for the Broncos to take advantage of facing the same offensive scheme in back-to-back weeks with a different middle linebacker.