Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Legion Of Doom: Denver Sackmasters Set To Wreak Havoc

Denver's defense is preparing for a new era in the NFL -- the passing era.

Perhaps learning from the success of the Green Bay Packers and Pittsburg Steelers -- the two teams that faced off last February in the big game -- the Broncos know that there are two things every team covets in today's NFL. Both the Packers and Steelers possess these two heavily desired assets: A franchise quarterback and players on defense that get quarterbacks on the ground.

The Broncos' ability to generate a pass rush will be essential this season when the team faces quarterbacks such as Aaron Rogers, Jay Cutler, Tom Brady and Phillip Rivers (twice). When the Packers consistently pressured Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlsiberger in Super Bowl XLV, Green Bay's defense recorded two interceptions and a sack on the way to a 31-25 victory.

Whether or not Denver has a franchise quarterback on their roster is a topic for another time. We are going to look at the players programmed to get after the quarterback. Outside linebackers Clay Matthews and James Harrison are both sack specialists and key components of their respective defenses, the Packers and Steelers. The Broncos have several players with similar pass rushing abilities that the team is hopeful can lead them to big games.

Last season, Denver's defense lacked an aggressive pass rush during the absence of outside linebacker Elvis Dumervil, who missed the entire season due to injury. The Broncos recorded 23 sacks (compared to their opponents 40) in 2010, just six more than Dumervil totaled a year prior (in 2009).

This fall, Dumervil should be back and hungry to pick up where he left off. The former Louisville Cardinal has gained sixteen pounds of beef and will be moving back to defensive end, the position he played throughout his college career and first three years in Denver. During his second season in the league, 2007, Dumervil compiled 12.5 sacks rushing off the edge of Denver's line.

Across from Dumervil will be third year player Robert Ayers, who struggled as an outside linebacker in Denver's 3-4 defense the past two seasons. Moving back to his natural defensive end position, Ayers is poised to benefit from the attention teams will be forced to give Dumervil on nearly every down. During his senior year at Tennessee, Ayers notched up 15.5 tackles for loss and entered the draft considered as one of the top defensive ends available. The Broncos are hopeful that Ayers, who showed vast improvements in year two, can return to his college glory days and fiercely apply pressure to quarterbacks again this season.

Joining Dumervil and Ayers as rotational ends will be returning pass rusher Jason Hunter, free agent acquisition Derrick Harvey and rookie Jeremy Beal, a 7th round pick out of Oklahoma. Moving from outside linebacker to end, Hunter recorded 3.0 sacks in 2010. A former first round draft pick, Harvey joins the Broncos after recording 8.0 sacks during a three year span in Jacksonville. Beal is a "sleeper" to watch. After breaking sack records at Oklahoma, he comes to Denver to compete for a roster spot.

The final piece of Denver's pass rushing puzzle is a player that many Bronco fans are a little excited about. Former Texas A&M star outside linebacker Von Miller was drafted by the Broncos second over in the draft last April and is eager to join Dumervil on Denver's defense.

Shortly after the draft, Miller told media members that he's ready to be "Robin," the sidekick of Dumervil's "Batman," coming to save the day. The résumé of Batman's wing man just got a whole lot more impressive.

Miller comes to Denver after recording 27.5 sacks and 39.5 tackles for loss during his final two seasons in college as an outside linebacker. For the Broncos, Miller will play the "Sam" outside linebacker position. On passing downs however, it is expected Miller may move to defensive end or even creep up to the line from his linebacker position, giving Denver's defense a 5-2 look.

The Broncos have been lining Miller up on the opposite side of Dumervil in most situations during practice, which will force teams to pick their poison on game days. If teams choose to double team Miller, Dumervil will be left with a man-to-man match up. Matching Dumervil up with a single offensive tackle hasn't proven to be too successful for teams in seasons' past.

On the other hand, if teams decide to double team Dumervil, it will leave both Miller and Ayers with one-on-one match-ups. Denver has plans to institute blitz packages and stunts for Miller, creating mismatches and giving him power to wreak havoc on offenses. As if one was not enough, facing both Dumervil and Miller will give offensive coordinators nightmares.

An attacking defense that pressures offenses will not only pile up the sacks, but turnovers as well. The secondary will benefit from hurried throws and poor decisions by quarterbacks in the face of chaos. Two seasons ago, Denver's defense recorded 39 sacks. With all the pressure, it's not surprising that the team notched up 17 interceptions as well. As was mentioned earlier, the Broncos only recorded 23 sacks in 2010. With the little help from the Broncos pass rushers, Denver's secondary only recorded 10 interceptions last season.

Looking for a defense that creates big plays, Broncos defensive coordinator Dennis Allen has said he won't be afraid to dial up the pressure.

"We want to be a violent, aggressive defense that plays within the rules, but we're going to try to hit you as hard as we can," said Allen following Monday's practice session. "Obviously, schematically we're going to try to bring pressure in different areas when we get you in those types of downs and distances."

With the talented players such as Miller, Dumervil and others with first-round potential, Denver's defense is unquestionably ready to get after quarterbacks. The only question is, will they be able to stop the run?

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