Then, Shaun Phillips and the Denver pass rush came to life.
Phillips finished with 2.5 of Denver's four sacks and two tackles for loss, helping Denver's offense limit a potent Baltimore Ravens attack in a blowout win. He came through in key situations, stalling Ravens drives and helping Denver win a pivotal game.
Because of Phillips' noteworthy performance, the Broncos pass rush outperformed the hyped Ravens pass rush. And, more importantly, it did so with Dumervil on the other sideline.
Prized pass-rusher Von Miller was also on the bench serving the first game of his six-game suspension, so Phillips, Robert Ayers and Derek Wolfe had to do the heavy lifting on Thursday. And they will have to do so for the next five games as well.
Luckily for the Broncos, it won't kill the team.
On the surface, it appears as if Miller's suspension and Dumervil's fax snafu could crush Denver's pass rush. Miller and Dumervil combined to accumulate a remarkable 29.5 sacks last season, and the rest of the team only picked up 22.5. So, it's reasonable to be concerned about Denver's pass rush.
However, Phillips eliminated lots of concern with his Thursday performance.
While he went up against backup tackle Ricky Wagner for about half of the game, he was still a terror who pressured Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco all game. His performance surprised many, but an abundance of Broncos fans weren't shocked.
Last year in San Diego, Phillips accumulated 9.5 sacks. He reached the 70-sack plateau (for his career) in Week 1, and he can reach the 80-sack threshold this season. He led the Chargers in sacks last year, and with Miller going up against opponents' best lineman in six games, Phillips should have clear lanes to the quarterback frequently.
In other words, he can put up gaudy numbers and lead Denver in sacks this year. And, he can even replace Dumervil's production.
In addition, he could do it for much less money. He is only making $1 million in base salary this year, although next offseason, he could reel in much more money. Dumervil, on the other hand, was locked up this offseason by the Ravens for $35 million (over a span of five years). According to ESPN, his fax snafu cost the Broncos almost $5 million in dead money, but having Phillips and not Dumervil will still benefit Denver financially.
It could even be beneficial in terms of on-field production. The two were only 1.5 sacks apart last year, and while one game doesn't determine a whole season, it is worth noting that Phillips outperformed Dumervil in Week 1.
Phillips is older than Dumervil, but he hasn't shown any signs of age yet. He is still a speedy player who uses impressive finesse moves to get to the quarterback, and he is still an efficient rusher.
Dumervil is also a finesse rusher, one who averaged more than 10 sacks per season for the Broncos. He piled up a remarkable 17 sacks in 2009, and while he had a down year in 2008 and has never quite matched the numbers from his insane 2009 season, his numbers were impressive in 2012.
With Terrell Suggs in Baltimore, Dumervil should accrue double-digit sacks with ease. He did so three times in Denver, and in his prime, he should be able to do it in Baltimore.
In other words, Dumervil won't slow down, and Denver will miss him.
However, that doesn't mean the Broncos won't survive. Miller will return for 10 regular-season games, and he will still likely accumulate double-digit sacks. Even if he underwhelms the Broncos, Phillips can come through. He might not be able to sustain his production over multiple seasons, but he can still help a win-now team by putting up solid numbers.
Oh, and if Phillips and Miller both struggle, Ayers, Wolfe and Wesley Woodyard can pick up the slack.
If Wolfe can improve upon his solid rookie campaign, and if Ayers can finally start producing as a pass-rusher, the Broncos will be able to avenge Dumervil's loss. If Phillips stays healthy, he will terrorize quarterbacks, and Miller will clearly do his part.
The pass rush piled up four sacks on Thursday, and it can continue to put up gaudy numbers throughout the season. Denver has quality rushers throughout the lineup, and for that reason, it can get to opposing quarterbacks and put up quality pass-rushing numbers despite the temporary loss of Miller and the permanent loss of Dumervil.
And, if everyone stays healthy, it would continue its dominance in the future as well.
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