JERSEY CITY, N.J. – When Denver Broncos linebacker Von Miller opened the season with a six-game suspension for violating the league's substance abuse policy, the team was forced to mix and match their pass rush unit as their plans were pushed aside right from the start.
They got plenty of help from defensive end Shaun Phillips, who led the team with 10 sacks, as well as a variety of personnel groupings to generate the pressure they believe they need.
But to get to Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson, the Broncos know they not only have to be aggressive, physical and careful not to allow the mobile Wilson an escape route, but to also not give him the room to move around to reset and a throw.
"His tendency is that he is a right-handed quarterback; he wants to get out to his right and throw," defensive tackle Terrance Knighton said. "He's more successful that way. So we've got to do a good job of keeping him in the pocket and force him out of his comfort zone. When he's moving left he'll tend to run it more and when he's moving right he wants to pass it more. We just have to do a good job of containing him. He'll get out and he'll make his plays during the game, but we'll just have to limit them."
The Broncos don't consider Wilson a quarterback who was trapped in the pocket behind a leaky offensive line. No, they see a guy who has taken his team to the playoffs in each of his first two seasons who will hold the ball because he believes he can, and often does, make a play if he can simply buy a little more time.
"Some mobile quarterbacks use their legs to just take off and run and some use their legs to create opportunities to throw the ball,'' Broncos linebacker Paris Lenon said. "I think he does a little bit of both. You see him avoid pressure, create time, throw the ball down the field and sometimes he does keep the ball and move the chains himself. He's a difficult guy to deal with, but you have to have a plan.''
The Broncos, who dropped the read-option offense on the NFL in 2011 with Tim Tebow at quarterback, have defended offenses with that element in the playbook well this season. The Broncos limited Washington Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III to 139 total yards this season and sacked Oakland Raiders quarterback Terrelle Pryor five times combined in two meetings.
Neither Pryor nor Griffin III had the season Wilson did this year, but the Broncos did have success against both the Redskins and the Raiders with a more 3-4 look on defense. Broncos cornerback Champ Bailey has talked about the importance of not leaving the Seahawks receivers to try to tackle Wilson once Wilson is on the move, because Wilson routinely finds those players for big plays.
"Have a plan to try to not allow him to have that extra time,'' Lenon said. "If he does have that extra time, you have to find a receiver and you blast him in that situation because those guys are uncovered and they can make big plays."