Putting Von Miller and the Broncos defense under a harsher light

How good really was the Denver Broncos defense last year, and how does that carry into 2012? Let’s put Von Miller and crew under a harsher light.

Peyton Manning’s two-interception stat line from Saturday betrays how much the returning legend will reinvigorate this offense. While there are legitimate concerns about his rusty arm and fused vertebrae, they actually draw attention away from the Denver Broncos’ bigger question mark.

Outside of an excellent set of bookend pass rushers with Elvis Dumervil and Miller, the Broncos defense provides myriad reasons for concern.

Brodrick Bunkley’s departure leaves a massive interior void and it’s hard to count on major instant contributions from rookie Derek Wolfe. Miller’s only entering his prime and figures to have full use of both hands this season, but future Hall of Famer Champ Bailey’s a mere mortal turning 34 and D.J. Williams will miss the first six games.

Denver’s 2011 defense was seared into the national consciousness by Miller’s mid-season reign of terror over veteran NFL right tackles and an ability to keep the score low during a Tim Tebow-quarterbacked six-game win streak.

But lost amongst this are lurking variables that point to a 2012 regression — and I’m not just referring to Denver’s impromptu run-heavy offense that reduced field-shortening turnovers and produced the game-shortening effect of limited snaps.

Denver finished 20th in total defense, 24th in points allowed, 19th in sacks and 28th in interceptions last season. The Broncos also lose defensive coordinator Dennis Allen to Oakland, who thought enough of the job Allen did with this defense to make him head coach.

What also likely disappears in 2012 is the incredibly fortunate quality of the opposing offenses Denver faces, with the coming schedule featuring the Steelers, Falcons, Texans, Patriots, Saints, Panthers and then division foe San Diego twice and other units with considerable potential. During that 2011 stretch where TV producers from ESPN and CBS fell in love with the Broncos, America got to view low-scoring slug-it-out string of games where Miller absolutely shined. The NFL Network Thursday night humiliation of Wayne Hunter and the Jets also comes to mind.

Miller should still be very good next year and was totally deserving of his 2011 NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year award, but let’s put that marauder’s run from Week 10 through Week 14 (minus Week 13 as Miller did not play) under a harsher light, where Miller compiled six of his 11.5 sacks in just four games and Denver’s defense allowed one touchdown in each contest.

Week: Opposing Team and total points, QB, starting RT (blocking Miller’s side), Miller QB sacks/hits/hurries (via Pro Football Focus).

Week 10: Chiefs 10, Matt Cassel, Barry Richardson, 1/2/3

Week 11: Jets 13, Mark Sanchez, Wayne Hunter, 2/2/3

Week 12: Chargers 13, Philip Rivers, Jeromey Clary, 1/2/5

Week 13: Invalidated as Miller DNP

Week 14: Bears 10, Caleb Hanie, Lance Louis, 1/1/2

Wow, I’ve just named arguably the four worst right tackles and three of the worst quarterbacks that were allowed to start last year. Then of course Rivers had the down year, which would’ve been a downright poor year if San Diego had not later plugged in Jared Gaither at left tackle, letting Rivers at least take a breath before having to release.

So this provides reasons for skepticism about Miller matching his peak rookie season production and also provides further indictment on the Denver defense as a whole, with Miller’s Week 13 DNP seeing them allow 32 points to an Adrian Peterson-less Minnesota offense.

There’s no certainty that Peyton Manning will create short field via turnovers less or even give it up fewer times — in 2011 Tebow had 1.1 turnovers per start on six picks and six fumbles lost for the season, while 2010 Manning had 1.1 turnovers per start on 16 picks and one fumble lost — but it’s safe to bet on Manning’s offense being far more up-tempo, pass-heavy, higher scoring and thus yielding more total snaps in each game.

The fantasy slant is that the Broncos Team Defense and IDP guys not named Dumervil or Miller aren’t all that appealing within the top 20 picks at their position.

It should also not shock anyone if Manning merely replicates last year’s 8-8 regular season, but those offense-inclined could find the Broncos much more fun to watch — partly because that defense has regression written all over it.

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