‘Next man up’ is one of the most over-used cliche’s in sports, but it’s one that is extremely prevalent for the Broncos’ defense right now.
One player who felt like chopped liver after Von Miller was suspended was ex-Chargers rush linebacker Shaun Phillips, who basically became an afterthought to the media. Miller’s absence is much more the story than Shaun Phillips’ presence, but the fact that he was discounted almost completely by most everyone was a huge mistake.
Phillips was an afterthought in free agency, even after racking up 9.5 sacks in 2012 with the Chargers. He is still only 32 years old, and the Broncos scooped him up on draft weekend after flirting with guys like Dwight Freeney (Chargers), Osi Umenyiora (Falcons), and John Abraham (Cardinals).
The veteran out of Purdue signed a one-year contract worth $1 million in base salary with another $2 million able to be earned via incentives.
After the first game he played in Denver, it looks like Phillips could be well on his way to earning those incentives.
Despite the circumstances, and the fact that the Broncos’ pass rush was clearly not the same without Miller (or Dumervil, for that matter), Phillips graded out the highest among all Broncos defenders, and that’s considering the strong play of a few guys on Thursday night like safety Duke Ihenacho and linebacker Wesley Woodyard.
According to Pro Football Focus, Phillips was absolutely dominant in his Denver debut. Here’s what they had to say after his 2.5 sack, 2.5 tackle for loss performance.
The Broncos had two shining stars on defense last night with Bronco debutants Shaun Phillips(+6.4) and Duke Ihenacho (+3.1) getting off to stellar starts to their Denver careers…the Broncos highest-graded defender was Phillips, the former Charger, who provided the pressure that many (including myself) questioned whether it would come in the absence of Von Miller. Yes, he got a favorable match up against rookie right tackle Ricky Wagner, but to his credit he took full advantage and did more than just rush the passer adding two stops against the run early in the second quarter and even dropping to cover Ray Rice on a wheel route, which he did so well that he forced Joe Flacco to throw the ball out of bounds. More performances like this in the first six weeks and the Broncos will start to build a real defensive identity without Miller, which will make his return all the more intimidating for the rest of the AFC.
Phillips’ performance against the Ravens was a huge boost to a Broncos defense that desperately needed it. Already without Von Miller, the Broncos also had to play without future Hall of Famer Champ Bailey and starting inside linebacker Stewart Bradley.
He showed up in a big way.