ENGLEWOOD, Colo. – The list of Broncos that have gone down with an injury at one point or another this season is a long one. It is also a very talented one.
On the defensive side alone, the likes of Champ Bailey, Von Miller, Kevin Vickerson, Rahim Moore, Derek Wolfe and most recently Chris Harris Jr. have been sidelined by long-term injuries.
But that hasn't slowed down the defense.
In fact, the 17 points allowed on Sunday to the Chargers – a team that came in riding a ton of momentum, no less – tied for the fewest points the Broncos have allowed this season. More than anything, that highlights the depth of the defense.
"I don't think this whole season we have had a consistent starting lineup," defensive tackle Terrance Knighton said. "That's just the onus of the guys in the room. We embrace every role we have on the team and whoever is in there we expect to make plays. It really doesn't matter, whoever is in there we expect to make plays. With the goal that we have in mind to win the Super Bowl, we can't have any setbacks."
The Broncos found out Monday that Harris Jr. would be out for the rest of the season with an ACL injury, just the latest on a long list of injuries the team has been forced to respond to.
But if nothing else, the Broncos have plenty of experience handling this kind of adversity. See: "Next Man Up."
"There's no doubt that he's probably one of our better performers on defense throughout this season," Head Coach John Fox said of Harris Jr. "It'll be the same – we've lost some pretty good performers throughout the season. This team has been resilient. We'll take a 'next-man-up' approach and we'll keep you posted on that as we go forward."
The Broncos have seen performances from players like defensive tackle Sylvester Williams and defensive end Malik Jackson help fill the voids left by Wolfe and Vickerson. At linebacker, Nate Irving and Paris Lenon stepped in for Miller and on the back end, rookie cornerback Kayvon Webster alongside savvy veterans Mike Adams and Quentin Jammer have been there when called upon.
And though the starting unit looks very dissimilar to its opening-day form, it has been just as effective as ever in recent weeks.
"Everybody on this team is a professional athlete," Lenon said. "Just because you aren't necessarily the starter doesn't mean that you feel any less about your abilities or you prepare any differently. Guys that were backing up, they still prepared like they were going to start games basically. You have to. Because this is a violent sport and at any moment, that guy that is the starter can go down and then it is truly the next man up.
"So, you can't just sit back and assume that 'He's going to be out there the whole game, I can just hang out.' No, no. You have to prepare like you're going to be out there."
The Broncos have been preparing like that since the offseason and it's paying dividends in the postseason.
"I think we've got some good players," Adams said. "And I've said this before, in training camp – it was so hard in training camp because we had so many guys competing. And coaches made it hard. And we made it hard for the coaches to make decisions about who to cut and who to keep. I guess they made some bright decisions because the guys that go down, then you've got people stepping into these roles and we don't miss a beat."