ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- If
But there's no guarantee that these foes will remain at that level, and the fact that the two previous winners happen to be the last two world champions demonstrates the degree of the early challenge the Broncos' battered defense now faces.
Nevertheless, the absence of a team that won more than 10 games last year in the first six weeks is the only solace the Broncos can take from the suspension -- that he will return in time for a five-week stretch that features three games against Indianapolis, Washington and New England, and that begins a seven-game run that includes five games against teams with mobile, athletic quarterbacks: Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III, Alex Smith (twice) and Jake Locker. And the other two games in that run are against teams led by still-dangerous Philip Rivers, who has more wins against the Broncos than any other active quarterback, and Tom Brady.
By comparison, the Broncos will likely see one, or at most two, mobile quarterbacks in the first six games, depending on whether Terrelle Pryor seizes the starting job in Oakland or not.
For now, the Broncos will likely fill in for Miller collectively.
"There's always a plan, because you don't know what's going to happen next in this league," Head Coach John Fox said.
Phillips can still be an effective pass rusher, and while an every-down role at this point in his career is not optimal, he has proven effective enough as a nickel and dime rusher from the edge this summer to be an asset in that role.
But truly replacing Miller is virtually impossible. So forget about that.
His first-half work in Saturday's 40-10 loss to the Seahawks reflected this; although he didn't notch a sack, he helped stop a fourth-and-1 run, stunted inside with
Miller sets the entire defense up for big plays, even when he doesn't actually make it onto the stat sheet. Few are better at steering a running back outside of his blocking lanes and to the edge, where the sideline and a cornerback or two are often waiting, making Miller a vital element of
Miller's absence is bad enough. It's complicated by the haziness of potential availability for Wolfe and cornerback
The cliche' "next man up" will always be thrown around in situations like this, but you've only got so many "next men" available before a unit appreciably declines.
"I know it is 'next man up,'" but (Miller) is a hard man to replace," Fox said.
Further, "next men" are usually backups for a reason: they're either not of the same quality as the starters or are unknown quantities. In some cases, you'll find a potential gem: the recent work of safety
But life without Miller -- and potentially Wolfe and Bailey, as well -- likely means more points allowed on the scoreboard, and a greater burden on the offense to generate touchdowns and clock-chewing possessions that relieve the stress on a defense that is likely stretched to or beyond its limit on the losses it can bear.