How Von Miller Suspension Changes Denver Broncos 2013 Season
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The long wait for an announcement on linebacker Von Miller’s suspension is over. Mike Klis of the Denver Post was first to report that Miller has been officially suspended for the first six games of the 2013 for violating the league’s policy on substance abuse.
Miller’s absence changes the entire complexion of the Denver Broncos 2013 season and has the potential to negatively or positively impact the team depending on the outcome of the first six games. As long as the Broncos don't completely falter during that stretch, the suspension shouldn’t derail Denver's Super Bowl aspirations.
Barring any further appeals or lawsuits, Miller will miss home games against the Baltimore Ravens, Oakland Raiders, Philadelphia Eagles and Jacksonville Jaguars and road games against the New York Giants and Dallas Cowboys. These opponents had a combined record of 37-59 last year, so at least on the surface the schedule appears favorable for the Broncos to be able to survive without Miller.
Week 1: Denver Broncos vs. Baltimore Ravens
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No one needs to remind the Broncos what happened the last time the Ravens came to Denver. A big part of the reason the secondary struggled against quarterback Joe Flacco was the lack of pressure. Flacco is a statue in the pocket, but the Broncos couldn’t get pressure on him even with Miller in the game.
The Broncos do get to face the Ravens at home and they will be looking to avenge their overtime loss in the playoffs last January. The Ravens will also be without tight end Dennis Pitta who gave the Broncos fits during a Week 15 game last season in Baltimore.
Quarterback Peyton Manning and wide receivers Demaryius Thomas, Wes Welker and Eric Decker should also be able to put the rebuilt Ravens defense through a trial by fire. The Broncos are going to be tough to stop on offense, but they will have even more of an advantage playing against a re-vamped defensive unit.
Week 2: Denver Broncos at New York Giants
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Perhaps the toughest test the Broncos will face without Miller will come in Week 2 against the Giants. Of the six teams the Broncos will face without Miller, the Giants were the only team other than the Ravens to have a winning record last year.
Giants quarterback Eli Manning is also a lot like his brother in that he doesn’t get sacked very much. In fact, Eli was sacked just 19 times last year and was the only qualified quarterback that was sacked less than Peyton as a percentage of drop backs in 2013 according to Pro-Football-Reference.com.
The Broncos could struggle to put the pressure on Eli without Miller and the Giants certainly have the capability to win a shootout at home. The Giants defense is also capable of getting enough stops against the Broncos prolific offense to win this game.
Week 3: Denver Broncos vs. Oakland Raiders
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The Oakland Raiders aren’t a good football team right now. Although division games can get interesting, the Broncos should still be able to win this game at home with ease—even without Miller.
The offensive line in Oakland is in shambles with left tackle Jared Veldheer out with a triceps tear. Veldheer’s injury weakened the entire offensive line and the Broncos should be able to get pressure on quarterback Matt Flynn even without Miller.
The Raiders did a lot of work on their secondary in the offseason, but without much of a pass-rush it’s unlikely they will be able to give the Broncos passing offense much trouble. Oakland’s porous defensive line should also make them susceptible to the running game should the Broncos want to go that route.
Week 4: Denver Broncos vs. Philadelphia Eagles
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Playing the Eagles is a bit different this year because of the presence of head coach Chip Kelly. No one really knows what Philadelphia is going to do offensively, but the Broncos will have three weeks of tape to scout for this game.
The Eagles will likely start Michael Vick at quarterback who is known more for his legs than his arm, and Miller will be most missed in his ability to stop the run and tackle runners behind the line of scrimmage. There’s no doubt the Broncos will miss Miller significantly in this game and the offense will have to win it for them.
Of course, the same reason the Eagles struggled to a 4-12 record last season is going to be their problem in 2013—defense. Manning, Thomas, Welker and Decker should be able to carve through Philadelphia’s defense and get the victory.
Week 5: Denver Broncos at Dallas Cowboys
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Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo is a completely different quarterback when under pressure, so not having Miller could certainly have a big impact on the outcome of this road game. According to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), Romo completed 71.5 percent of his passes and threw 20 of his 28 touchdowns when he wasn’t pressured compared to just a 49.4 percent completion percentage and more interceptions than touchdowns when pressured.
The Broncos struggled covering tight ends like Jason Witten last season and wide receiver Dez Bryant is tough for any defensive backfield to contain, so the Cowboys could give a Miller-less defense trouble. If Romo has time to throw, Dallas is fully capable of keeping up with the Broncos on offense.
Miller’s absence probably hurts the most Week 5 against the Cowboys.
Week 6: Denver Broncos vs. Jacksonville Jaguars
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The Jaguars may be headed in the right direction, but like the Raiders they aren’t a serious threat to teams like the Broncos in 2013. At most, the Jaguars could give the Broncos a good scare.
Jacksonville boasts a good offensive line, capable of protecting quarterback Blaine Gabbert since Miller will not be available to school rookie right tackle Luke Joeckel. It’s just hard to believe that Gabbert will be able to consistently expose holes of Denver’s defense, though, even if he has plenty of time to throw.
Denver should also have no problem scoring points against the Jaguars defense. It’s a home game for the Broncos as well, so there aren’t many reasons at the moment that the Broncos shouldn’t win this game.
Weeks 7-17: Miller Returns
The good news for the Broncos is that Miller will have fresh legs when he returns in Week 7. As the saying goes: it’s not how you start, it’s how you finish.
When other players are hitting the wall at the end of the season, Miller could still be going strong barring injury. If Denver can survive Miller’s six-game suspension with a 4-2 record, his absence could actually propel the team late in the season when the Broncos need it the most.
The Broncos were surprisingly healthy last season and they may need Miller to carry more of the defensive burden if other key players go down later in the season. Denver would take missing Miller for the first six games over the last six games.
Losing Miller for six games is blow, but it’s not so severe that expectations should be significantly altered. Even an unlikely 2-4 start without the linebacker wouldn’t be the end of the world, because the Broncos could still rebound once he returns.
The biggest disappointment might come from Broncos season-ticket holders who will not get to see Miller’s greatness or sack dances during four of the eight home games this season. Season-ticket holders will just have to hope that the Broncos and Miller repay them with several home playoff games.