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'This is a playoff game early in the season': Von Miller, Broncos face big test vs. Ravens

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — The NFL postseason doesn't begin for 15 more weeks.

After the Broncos' Week 4 game against the Ravens, Denver will have 13 more opportunities to shape its playoff resume.

This weekend's matchup is far from a must-win in the grand scheme of the 2021 campaign.

And yet, the Broncos' battle with the Ravens this weekend feels like the team's biggest game in quite some time.

"We have a great team coming up this week," Von Miller said Thursday. "It's really like a playoff game early in the season. A lot of these guys haven't even played in a playoff game before, and that's kind of been my message to these guys — like, this is a playoff game early in the season. This is the time for us to show what we've got against a worthy opponent, and that's where our focus has been."

Miller has plenty of experience in high-stakes playoff matchups, as he's appeared in seven playoff games and dominated the Broncos' road to a Super Bowl 50 title. But he's one of few players on the team's active roster that has playoff experience. Just 14 players on the Broncos' active roster have tasted the postseason, and just seven of the 22 team's offensive or defensive starters have made the dance.

Against Baltimore, though, Denver should be able to closely replicate the intensity that would accompany a game in January. The Broncos will face a division-leading team with an MVP candidate in Lamar Jackson and a historically strong defense. After winning their first three games by double-digits, the Broncos will likely face a tighter contest in Week 4.

"They're a unique team," Miller said. "They have a unique style — a very, very effective style, but it is unique. It's led by Lamar Jackson. He can run, he can throw, he can do all types of stuff. He can shake guys in the hole and outside the hole. If you get him in space, it's a nightmare for anybody. You could be Justin Simmons, and it's a nightmare to tackle that guy. It's going to be a tough test for us. They have a tough team. They pride themselves on being physical and being a run-first team. We have to match them. We have to come out there, play our style of football and just take it one play at a time."

On defense, Miller's contributions should continue to pace the defense. The 32-year-old veteran earned AFC Defensive Player of the Month honors after he led the NFL in tackles for loss and finished second in the AFC in sacks in September. Head Coach Vic Fangio said Thursday that he doesn't expect Miller to slow down any time soon.

"He's well deserving of the award," Fangio said. "He's played really well, and we're going to need to continue to have him play really well. I'm really happy for him after having the tough injury last year. I think the guy has a lot of years left, not just this year."

Miller said Thursday that he's stayed off social media and he's previously noted that he's avoided media coverage this year, but wide receiver Courtland Sutton believes the doubts Miller faced this offseason have fueled the eight-time Pro Bowler.

"I think Von was that bear that got poked," Sutton said. "… He heard the things that people were saying about him not being the same guy, him not [being] able to come back and be the same guy, and he's on a mission to prove to not [just] everybody else but also to himself that he is who he is."

As Miller proves himself on the defensive side of the ball, the Broncos' offense has its own opportunity to make a statement. Teddy Bridgewater and Co. have been efficient and boast the league's 12th-best scoring offense, but the unit hasn't been tested in the fourth quarter in a close game. When the Broncos do arrive at a must-score scenario, they believe they'll be able to deliver.

"I'm confident in our guys to be able to play winning football in any situation," Offensive Coordinator Pat Shurmur said Thursday. "You have to try to win games, and you have to do it with the players that are available. I think as we go along here and we continue to improve, that's going to come up. I think all teams you play are good. There are just some games where you're ahead at the end, there's some games when you're behind, and there's some games when they're really close. You have to try to find a way to win and all those situations."

And as they do so, the undefeated Broncos should have a chance to prove their standing as a contender in the AFC.

"We're just controlling what we can control, taking it one play at a time and one game at a time," Miller said of the team's start against winless teams. "We didn't make the schedule, we're just playing the games. We have some tough teams coming up. We have the Ravens, the Steelers, and then the Raiders right after that, so we have more than enough time to show what type of team that we are. We're just taking it one week at a time for sure."

And according to Miller, this one week will feel just a little more important than the rest.

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