With the trade that sent Von Miller to the Los Angeles Rams a week ago, that game marked the last time the team's top pass-rushers -- Miller and Bradley Chubb -- lined up in the same defensive formation for the Broncos. Chubb, the No. 5 overall pick of the 2018 draft, went to injured reserve the following week and hasn't played since.
Without Miller -- the longest-tenured, most decorated player on the team's roster -- there is a real what-now feel about the team's defense in the short-term. Miller was a team captain and the franchise's all-time sacks leader. He led the team in sacks this season as well (4.5), despite missing the Week 8 game against Washington.
Since the game at Jacksonville, the Broncos defensive depth chart has been decimated. The Broncos pitched a shutout for three quarters during a 30-16 win over the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday despite starting cornerback Pat Surtain II and defensive end McTelvin Agim not finishing the game.
"We had guys running in and out of there like crazy," coach Vic Fangio said. "Part of the problem there at the end was when they got the two garbage touchdowns was we ran out of guys."
Miller's departure, along with cornerback Bryce Callahan's left knee injury against Washington (he went to injured reserve last week) mean the Broncos could already have seven front-line defensive players -- guys who have started games on this season -- who may not be available this week against Philadelphia. Chubb, linebacker Josey Jewell (chest) and linebacker Alexander Johnson (chest) are on injured reserve, defensive tackle Mike Purcell (thumb) did not play against Washington or Dallas. Surtain, who left Sunday's win in the third quarter with a sprained knee, will miss multiple games.
The Broncos still have Pro Bowl safety Justin Simmons, though. And they made two deals days before the trade deadline to add linebackers -- Kenny Young from the Rams and Stephen Weatherly from the Minnesota Vikings. Both are already solidly in the rotation on defense, with Weatherly playing 55 snaps in place of the injured Reed against the Cowboys and Young 39 and 41 snaps in the two games since he arrived. The Broncos also had rookies -- Baron Browning and Jonathon Cooper -- play at least 53 snaps in each win over Washington and Dallas, as four rookies have played on defense overall in those two games.
Browning, who was on the field for every defensive play in Dallas, has been tasked with wearing the communication device in his helmet to receive the defensive calls from the sideline to relay to his teammates.
"I'm just kind of asking older guys questions like Josey [Jewell] and [Johnson]," Browning said. "I lean on those two a lot. Even kind of going into this week, I was already asking Josey questions. I probably ask Josey at least one question a day. I text him all the time, and I call him any time I have a question. The same with A.J. [Johnson]."
For the Broncos to keep applying pressure on opposing quarterbacks they will have to mix-and-match in the pass rush as they did in the win over Washington, when they leaned on five-player pressures, or as they did with Cooper this past Sunday. Cooper had both of the Broncos' sacks against the Cowboys.
"I felt a responsibility, honestly, because I am in that position room," Cooper said. "And when you see a Hall of Famer like Von Miller leave and then you see Malik Reed go down and Chubb is not back yet -- I look up to those guys a lot -- I felt a responsibility ... I just wanted to go out there and make them proud."
Chubb could be on track to return later this month, Fangio said, if things continue to progress after September surgery to remove a bone spur in his left ankle. He had surgery to remove a bone spur in his right ankle after the 2020 season ended. Chubb also tore an ACL during during Week 4 of the 2019 season and has missed 21 games the past three seasons.
Asked this past week when Chubb could return to practice, Fangio said: "It won't be next week [Dallas]. Probably not the following week [Philadelphia]. I think after that is when you can start asking the question a little bit more."
The Broncos are 5-4, but seven of their remaining nine games are against teams who are currently among the league's top 16 in scoring. And they'll now have to face them without Miller in the lineup for the first time since the 2010 season.
Broncos defensive end Shelby Harris believes the Broncos showed the resiliency they will need in the closing seconds against Washington. The Broncos defense believed, and celebrated, like it had closed out the win with a fourth-down stop with 37 seconds to play. But a Melvin Gordon III fumble gave Washington the ball back on the Broncos' 24-yard line with 21 seconds left.
The Broncos again held Washington on the next four plays to close it out.
"Things happen, but a great defense figures it out," Harris said. "That was the message we kept harping on. A great defense is going to figure this out. A great defense, no matter what's thrown at them. They're going to overcome adversity and that's what we did ... we really can do whatever we put our minds to, but it needs to be 11 collective minds for the same goal."
Or as Simmons said Sunday: "Your best players have to play their best games and their biggest games. ... I think it really speaks to the guys in the locker room, you handle the trade with Von one way or another. And I think you saw [Sunday] how guys responded. That is the standard."