The Denver Broncos have a new look on defense this year, having hired Wade Phillips to coach the unit and implement his 3-4 defense. But they might have trouble stopping their opponents if their defensive line continues to be banged up throughout the course of the 2015 NFL season.
Denver has suffered multiple injuries on the defensive line, limiting their depth at the position. Nose tackle Marvin Austin’s season is done before it even could begin, having been placed on injured reserve with a groin injury. Defensive end Kenny Anunike underwent arthroscopic knee surgery last week, and he’s no guarantee to be ready for Week 1 of the regular season.
Anunike was one of Denver’s best players in their preseason opener. His eight tackles were twice as many as anyone else's on the team, and he added a sack for good measure.
“They went in there to basically take a look at what was bothering him and obviously found out and got it taken care of," Broncos head coach Gary Kubiak said. “It will be about two to three weeks ... He’s a hard-worker and we’ll get him back."
Derek Wolfe is healthy, but he is set to miss a quarter of the regular season. The defensive end has been suspended for four games for violating the NFL’s performance-enhancing drug policy.
Starters Malik Jackson and Sylvester Williams are both healthy, and sixth-round pick Darius Kilgo has seen more playing time. He’s recorded six tackles and two sacks in Denver’s two preseason games, and the Broncos have managed to play just fine without their injured defensive linemen.
Through two preseason games, the Broncos lead the NFL with 12 sacks. No other team has recorded more than nine total sacks, and Denver has recorded more than half their sacks from its linebackers and secondary.
“I think more with Coach Phillips, we just don’t sit around and wait for stuff to happen,’’ linebacker Von Miller said on Saturday night. “We had a lot of good players last year, so it’s easier to sit back and try to wait for somebody to make a play. With Coach Phillips, you going to go out there and manufacture a play, and that’s what I like about the defense.’’
First-round pick Shane Ray has been impressive thus far, and he could be a big part of Denver's pass rush. He recorded four tackles and a half sack this past weekend, while forcing a fumble in the preseason opener.
Even if Denver’s front-three isn’t healthy for the first few games of the regular season, they might still have some success in getting to the quarterback. In Week 2 and Week 3, the Broncos will face Alex Smith and Matthew Stafford, who ended the 2014 season tied for fourth with 45 sacks. Their next game will be against Teddy Bridgewater, whose 39 sacks ranked seventh in the NFL, even though he played just 13 games.
Denver is 2-0 in the preseason, beating the Seattle Seahawks and Houston Texans on the road. Only the Dallas Cowboys and Washington Redskins have given up fewer yards than the Broncos this preseason.