Von Miller Injury Puts Even More Pressure on Peyton Manning Entering Playoffs

Gary Davenport@@IDPSharksNFL AnalystDecember 23, 2013

HOUSTON, TX - DECEMBER 22:  Peyton Manning #18 of the Denver Broncos waits on the bench during the second half of the game against the Houston Texans at Reliant Stadium on December 22, 2013 in Houston, Texas.  (Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images)
Scott Halleran/Getty Images

The Denver Broncos are having one of, if not the best, offensive seasons in NFL history. Quarterback Peyton Manning's four touchdown passes last week against the Houston Texans gave him 51 for the year.

No quarterback in NFL history has thrown that many in a season until now.

However, as well as Manning has played this year he may actually have to take his game up yet another notch in the postseason, as a big injury has hit an already-shaky Denver defense at the worst possible time.

Outside linebacker Von Miller, who missed the first six games of the 2013 season due to suspension, will miss the remainder of the 2013 campaign after tearing his ACL in last week's win.

The news is a huge blow to a Denver defense that has struggled at times this year.

Denver Defense Comparison
Yards Allowed/Game290.8362.7
Pass Yards Allowed/Game199.6258.6
Run Yards Allowed/Game91.1104.1
Points Allowed/Game18.725.7

As you can see, the Broncos defense has backslid statistically across the board this year. After ranking second in the NFL in total defense in 2012, the Broncos have slipped to 23rd this year. Denver is allowing over a touchdown more per game this season than last.

Granted, not all of the Broncos' defensive woes this year can be attributed to Miller's absence. There have been injuries in the secondary, and Elvis Dumervil left the team in free agency.

Still, there's also no denying that the Denver defense improved once Miller returned to the field.

Denver Defense 2013
Week 1-6Week 7-15
Yards Per Play6.14.9
Yards Per Pass Attempt8.66.2
Opponent QB Total QBR6042

Now, some of this may seem like Chicken Little-ing to many. After all, with a win in Oakland Sunday, Manning and the Broncos can clinch home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs. The team is scoring an eye-popping 38 points and change per game.

Defense Schmefense. Who needs it?

Well, the Broncos will at some point.

In last year's playoff loss to the Baltimore Ravens, the 2012 Denver defense played a lot like the 2013 Denver defense. The result? A 13-win season that amounted to a fat bag of nothing.

Earlier this season, the defense was unable to get any sort of consistent pressure on Tom Brady in their game against the New England Patriots. The result? A squandered 24-point lead and one of three Denver losses this year.

It's entirely within the realm of possibility that in order to reach the Super Bowl, Denver could have to beat all three teams that defeated the Broncos this year.

What do the Indianapolis Colts, Patriots and San Diego Chargers all have in common?

A quarterback who can make you pay if you afford him all day to throw the ball.

Unfortunately, things aren't apt to suddenly improve for the Broncos defensively. In addition to Miller, starting defensive end Derek Wolfe has been sidelined by a mysterious illness. Were it not for a great year from Shaun Phillips, the Denver pass rush would be that much worse.

And so in a season where Manning and the Broncos are re-writing the record books on offense, it's probably going to take similarly gaudy production if Denver is going to end its season in New Jersey.

Maybe that's fitting, but it's also more than a bit worrisome.