Von Miller's Return Is Key to Denver Broncos Continuing Undefeated Season

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Von Miller's Return Is Key to Denver Broncos Continuing Undefeated Season
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The Denver Broncos are one of two undefeated teams remaining in the NFL this year, propelled to those heights by an offense that's chewing up yardage and scoring points at a record rate.

However, if the Broncos are going to make a run at history and an undefeated regular season, it's going to take improved play from their defense.

Help is on the way in the person of the best defensive player on the team.

Outside linebacker Von Miller, who missed the first six games of the 2013 season due to a league-mandated suspension, is eligible to return to action this week against the Indianapolis Colts.

According to Lindsay Jones of USA Today, head coach John Fox will be glad to see the third-year pro back on the field:

He's a dynamic rusher. He's one of the better ones in this league. I think most people would agree. Obviously we're real excited to get him back. We'll see what kind of football fitness he is in come Wednesday. But he creates a tough one-on-one matchup for most offenses.

It's not hard to see why Fox will be glad to have Miller back.

2012 4-3 Outside Linebacker Rankings
Rank Player OVR Pass Rush
1 Von Miller 78.5 51.4
2 Jerod Mayo 17.1 5.0
3 Lance Briggs 12.1 1.0
4 Kevin Burnett 11.9 2.3
5 Lavonte David 10.2 -2.9

Grades per Pro Football Focus

Miller wasn't just Pro Football Focus' (subscription required) top 4-3 outside linebacker in the NFL last year. He was the top 4-3 outside linebacker by a ridiculous margin.

It's not hard to imagine the absence of such a player having an impact on a defense.

Denver Broncos Defensive Comparison
2012 2013*
Run Defense 3rd 1st
Pass Defense 3rd 32nd
Total Defense 2nd 29th

* Through six games

The Broncos have been stout against the run this year, ranking first in the NFL at just under 70 yards allowed per game.

However, part of that statistic is attributable to the Denver offense. Teams are forced to abandon the run in an effort to play catch-up with Manning and the Broncos.

Against the pass, it's been a different story.

Granted, some of this is just as attributable to Denver's offense as its prowess against the run. Teams that throw a lot and score a lot get thrown on a lot. It happens.

With that said, it doesn't help when your defense can't get to the quarterback. To this point in 2013, the Broncos aren't racking up sacks as well as they did in 2012.

It doesn't take Jack Del Rio to figure out the cause. Denver's leading sack master from last year (Miller) has been on the shelf, while the runner-up in that category (Elvis Dumervil) is now plying his trade in Baltimore.

The addition of Shaun Phillips has helped, but he isn't Von Miller.

Miller's return isn't a magic cure-all and his absence hasn't been the sole reason why Denver's pass defense has struggled.

Cornerback Champ Bailey saw his first game action of 2013 last week against the Jacksonville Jaguars. Middle linebacker Wesley Woodyard and defensive end Robert Ayers both missed the game with injuries.

However, the Broncos face a 4-2 Colts team this week on the road. Two games with the unbeaten Kansas City Chiefs remain, as does a matchup with Tom Brady and the 5-1 New England Patriots.

If the Broncos are going to run that gauntlet and become the second team in NFL history to post a 16-0 regular season, they're going to need all hands on deck.

The defense will be that much better when two of those hands happen to belong to the best 4-3 rush linebacker in football.

 

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