The Denver Broncos have been searching for an identity all season on defense, but appeared to get on track after the return of Von Miller in late October. It's now back to square one for Denver's D, as the linebacker will officially miss the rest of the season after tearing his ACL in his right knee.
The Broncos' official Twitter account confirmed earlier reports on Monday afternoon, Dec. 23:
Miller tore the ACL in the first quarter of a 37-13 win over the Houston Texans in Week 16 and had an MRI on the right knee the next morning.
Following the announcement, Executive Vice President of Football Operations John Elway commented on the injury, according to the team's official website:
It's definitely going to be a blow. But I think that we've done a good job of handling adversity throughout the year. This is another bump in the road for us. Obviously Von is a big part of that defense, but I think that we were able to win six games when he wasn't available, so we'll have to pick it up for him. I feel bad for Von, because Von has done a lot of work to get back to where he is and was starting to hit his stride late in the year.
Can Denver win the Super Bowl without Miller?
Miller missed the first six games of the season due to a suspension, but gave a jolt to his side of the ball upon his return. With Peyton Manning leading the team offensively, Miller has been the key to Denver's defense since last season.
The "stride" that Elway talked about was evident since the linebacker's return. Since his first game back on Oct. 20, Miller tallied 34 tackles, five sacks and three forced fumbles in his nine games played.
Still, NFL.com's Ian Rapoport suggests Miller's absence may not be as significant as many think:
Without Von Miller in the first 6 games, #Broncos went 6-0 with 3 opponents still in the playoffs hunt. Still a tough battle tho.— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) December 23, 2013
Nate Irving, a third-year linebacker out of NC State, will replace Miller on the field. Irving finished with five tackles, including one for a loss, against the Texans after Miller went down in Week 16.
Broncos coach John Fox spoke about Irving following Sunday's game against Houston:
People get sick of hearing me say it, but it is next man up, literally. Nate Irving stepped in and did a very good job (at Houston). Our team has been that way for the whole season. Doesn’t matter what phase of the game it is -- even me taking a leave of absence for four weeks.
For now, it appears Miller's injury is just to the ACL, so he should make a full recovery and could return next season, according to Elway. But without their leader on the defensive side of the ball, the Broncos will have to find a new identity heading into the playoffs.