Inside a locker that quote-hungry journalists readily flocked to, a statue-like Von Miller sat with his head down.
Usually by this time, the Broncos linebacker had transformed into his alter-ego, who wore wide-rimmed glasses and answered any question with a soft, laid-back smile.
But after the loss that ended the Broncos’ season, Miller stayed in his full gear for nearly an hour after the game – just sitting in his locker with a confused look on his face.
Maybe he was thinking about a season’s worth of missed chances the Broncos’ defense had in one double-overtime loss. Maybe he was thinking what more he could have done. Maybe his neck was sore …
Either way, on that frigid January afternoon, the Broncos defense, which ranked third in the NFL in passing and rush-yards allowed in the regular season, didn’t have the same spark on that day. And for a defense that gave up only 18.1 points per game in first 16 games, the Ravens seemed comfortable while racking up 479 total yards and 6.5 yards per play in their second-meeting with the Broncos.
“This will burn for a while, and it should,” Miller told reporters a day later. “But for us to get where we want to be, we have to overcome stuff like this.”
And overcoming starts with facing the facts: When it really mattered, the Broncos’ secondary was burnt, their line was bullied and their playmakers were nonexistent.
Meaning: Look for the Broncos to add (a) playmaker(s) on the defensive side of the ball. And truth be told, they can look for one at any position.
Hold the hate mail and your throat-cutting gestures, but Champ Bailey isn’t the shutdown cornerback he used to be. And even though he only allowed three touchdowns in 17 games last season, the 12-time Pro Bowler doesn’t have the playmaking speed he did in his former days.
Because when Denver needed him the most, the 34-year old was gassed.
For nine years the Broncos’ defense has been able to count on Bailey. But on that Saturday he was shuffling behind Ravens receiver Torrey Smith when he caught touchdowns of 59 and 32 yards.
For Broncos fans, it was strange to see the then underappreciated quarterback Joe Flacco attack their seven-time All Pro cornerback – let alone succeed. It was strange to point the blame finger at No. 24.
But it happened.
So if the Broncos feel they a little more punch in a secondary that includes an aging Bailey, Chris Harris and Tony Carter –expect them to go big — Jet cornerback Darrelle Revis big.
According to the Daily News, the Jets are actively shopping the sixth-year shutdown cornerback, who is currently five months into rehabbing a torn ACL.
When he’s healthy, Revis is arguably the best corner in the game. When he’s not, he’s a suckling mosquito, wasting away your franchise’s lifeblood. And the fact is if the Jets are willing to deal Revis, a player they signed to a four-year 46-million deal in 2010, they must be feeling a little woozy about his future.
Currently, Revis, whose rehab is being filmed as a documentary by NFL Network (maybe feeling glum he wasn’t in the HBO’s “Hard Knocks” enough because of a contract holdout with the Jets), is set to make $6 million in 2013. And if Revis looks healthy before a trade ensues, expect the Jets to ask for a first-round pick and more in return.
Read above, if the Broncos did make that kind of move at cornerback, Bailey could be pushed to free safety.
That’s one option – albeit an option that doesn’t sound likely as Elway has said repeatedly Bailey will stay at cornerback next season.
So if Bailey isn’t moved, safety may be the biggest need for the Broncos moving forward.
You see, the team’s current free safety, Rahim Moore, is one of the biggest goats in Denver pro sports history. Nice guy, but a goat in the Mile High City.
So when you’re looking for a change from the horror visions of Flacco sailing a 70-yard pass over Moore’s head, Ravens safety Ed Reed and 49ers safety Dashon Goldson stand out.
Truth be told though, Reed, 34, has the knees of your grandpa, and would be a longshot to stay healthy for an entire year.
Meaning Goldson may be a better choice for the Broncos here, as his two pluses are that he causes turnovers and prevents the play Moore couldn’t, “The Big Play.”
Recently, the San Francisco Chronicle reported that the Niners aren’t likely to use their tag on the sixth-year man.
Here’s where your award winners were last season, including D.J. Williams for best screen play, referring to when a Broncos play appeared on your computer screen after he tweeted it out. Ba-dum-chee!
Truthfully though, in a leading role, Miller was tremendous. He had 18.5 sacks, six forced fumbles and would have been the defensive player of the year if Houston Texans’ J.J. Watt didn’t pop his bleach blonde head out of nowhere, becoming one of the best defensive ends in the past decade. (In fact, Miller also took home best original score when he picked off Tama Bay Buccaneers quarterback Josh Freeman and ran 26 yards for the score followed by a little jig). In a supporting role, Wesley Woodyard led the team in tackles with 117 and tied a team-high in interceptions with Chris Harris (3). And for the lifetime achievement award, Keith Brooking filled in nicely whenever and wherever he was needed at the ripe age of 105.
So realistically, don’t expect the Broncos to do anything drastic at this position.
Instead a guy like Bengals middle linebacker Rey Maualuga, a former All-American at USC, could be a nice fit in Denver, especially if the Broncos can get him cheap after his one-sack season last year.
This is not only the Broncos’ biggest defensive concern, but one of their biggest overall concerns — Concerns #1 and #2 come out next week (wink, wink; nudge, nudge; poke, poke).
The Broncos are expected to sprint after tackles in the draft and plead with them in free agency.
Broncos’ tackles from last season, Justin Bannan and Kevin Vickerson, are both free agents.
Elvis Dumervil makes a whole bunch of money even in athlete terms. In fact, he was the highest paid Bronco last season making $18,948,000 – nearly 1 million more than Peyton Manning.
So if the Broncos want to get a name here, they’ll need a coupon and a good salesman.
Sure, there are so many names out there — Osi Umenyiora (NYG), Richard Seymour (OAK), Cliff Avril (DET) and Michael Johnson (CIN) – but the Broncos have already given the rock to Manning to convince former teammate one guy — Dwight Freeney — to come to the Broncos.
“He sent me a text and he just said, ‘Hey man, don’t worry, come play with me in Denver,” Freeney told ProFootballTalk.com. “I don’t know how serious it was but, you know, it’s good to hear some of your former teammates still follow you, they care and they want to see you succeed.”
Freeney, a seven-time Pro Bowler, has played for the Indianapolis Colts his entire 11-year career. He won and lost a Super Bowl with Manning, and now, the recently injury-prone Freeney was shown the same door as No. 18 by the look-to-the-future Colts.
But looking at it in a Broncos perspective, the sack master out of Syracuse could fit nicely in Jack Del Rio’s system that led the league with 52 sacks last season.
“I think they’ve got a couple good pass rushers over there, I don’t know if they
have room for me,” Freeney said.
Now is the courting period.
And perhaps if the Broncos can add another playmaker or two on their defense, their faces won’t be covered in regret at the end of next season.
It’s decision time for the Broncos.
MORE BRONCOS NEWS
Broncos sticking with Rahim Moore (CLICK HERE)
Manning could be in line to restructure deal (CLICK HERE)
SI Mock Draft has Broncos leaning toward CB (CLICK HERE)