Last season, the Broncos split the series with their AFC West division rival the Los Angeles Chargers, defending their home turf at Mile High, but dropping a game to the Chargers in San Diego.

One of the reasons for the Broncos’ success against the Chargers in recent years has been due to a pass rush that has made life difficult for quarterback Philip Rivers.

In the two games last season, the Broncos sacked Rivers a combined seven times, limiting the QB to 166 and 246 yards passing, respectively.

If the Broncos are to continue this success against the Chargers, putting consistent pressure on Rivers is crucial. In a fiercely competitive AFC West that saw two teams represent the division in the playoffs, the Broncos cannot afford to drop a game to the Chargers.

Getting to Rivers has been almost a given, as the Broncos boast one of the best pass rushers in the NFL, Von Miller, who notched two sacks against the Chargers last year. This time around, getting consistent pressure on Rivers won’t be as easy as it had been in years’ past.

During the 2017 offseason, the Broncos saw future Hall of Famer DeMarcus Ware retire, paving the way for the Broncos’ young, promising pass rushers to see more playing time.

Former first round draft pick Shane Ray and former undrafted free agent out of Colorado State Shaquil Barrett were set to carry the torch from Ware’s departure, playing opposite of Miller. Unfortunately, the Broncos encountered setbacks with both players, as Barrett and Ray both sustained injuries during the offseason. Barrett suffered a hip injury during the teams OTAs, while Ray suffered a torn ligament in his wrist during the beginning days of training camp.

Both players are expected to return before Week 3, but both players will likely only see Rivers once, as the Broncos open the 2017 season against the Chargers in Denver.

Suddenly, a position of strength and depth has become thin for a team who lost three of its best players at the position from 2016 for at least a portion of the season.

If the Broncos are going to continue making life difficult for Rivers and the Chargers, the entire defense will need to step up and get consistent pass rush from all areas of the defense.

Look for new defensive coordinator Joe Woods to possibly dial up unique blitz packages to utilize other players to get to Rivers early and often. This will force the Chargers to focus not just on double-teaming Miller, but also accounting for the rest of the defense in terms of quarterback protection.

It’s worth noting that safety T.J. Ward recorded a whopping 17 tackles in two games against the Chargers in 2016, including a sack in the Broncos’ win.

A bolstered defensive line could also see players such as Derek Wolfe, Adam Gotsis and even rookie DeMarcus Walker generating a pass rush to force Rivers to scramble into the waiting arms of The Vonster.

In terms of who will fill the void at outside linebacker until Ray and Barrett return, look for Kasim Edebali and Vontarrius Dora to fight for a starting spot opposite of Miller. Edebali, acquired in free agency from New Orleans, is hungry to make his presence known. Dora, an undrafted free agent from 2016, can’t be missed on the defense, sporting No. 68 coupled with a wicked first step. The rookie Walker may get a look there as well.

Overcoming early injuries is no easy feat for any team in the NFL. However, it’s far from impossible and the Broncos have the overall talent on defense to continue playing at an elite level.

It will be up to the pass rush to ensure that the Broncos stay ahead of the Chargers in the race for the AFC West.