Sep 5, 2013; Denver, CO, USA; Baltimore Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco (5) is sacked by Denver Broncos outside linebacker Shaun Phillips (90) in the third quarter at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. The Broncos defeated the Ravens 49-27. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Shaun Phillips, Roberts Ayers anchor Denver’s underrated D-line

All the pundits wanted to talk about this off-season was how the Denver Broncos’ pass rush would be significantly weakened by the free agent loss of Elvis Dumervil and the suspension of Von Miller.

Two games into the season, and the league-wide consensus that the Broncos don’t posses the ability to rattle opposing quarterbacks is defunct thanks in large part to the pass rushing combination of Shaun Phillips and Robert Ayers.

Although Denver’s sack totals are less than they were at this time last year, Phillips and Ayers each rank inside the top 15 amongst defensive ends in pass rushing percentage — 8.26% and 7.63%, respectively — and have combined 19 pressures, four sacks and 13 hurries.

They aren’t working alone, and that’s what makes this unit underrated, undervalued and under-appreciated.

Former second round draft pick Derek Wolfe has hurried opposing quarterbacks 5 times and pressured them 6 times in only two games, and those numbers are only going to improve as opponents start to pay more attention inside, where the Broncos have really been a force this year on passing plays.

The defensive tackle rotation of Malik Jackson, Terrance Knighton, Kevin Vickerson, and Mitch Unrein has been so effective — 12 pressures, 8 hurries and 3 hits combined — that first round draft pick Slyvester Williams has been limited to only 25 passing snaps.

And, it’s worth noting that the Broncos have led by a substantial margin in the second half of each game, which means the defensive line has seen an unusual amount of late-game passing situations.

Still though, the sample size is small for the big boys up front. Jackson leads the defensive tackles in 50 pass snaps and 6 pressures. He ranks 15th amongst defensive tackles in pass rushing percentages.

It’s understandable why the Denver offense gets all the headlines and praise — they deserve it. However, what fans should collectively rejoice over is the fact that the team’s most uncertain and most unheralded unit heading into the season is performing at a high level — 36 pressures on 558 total passing snaps (6.5%). And, they are doing it without their best player (Miller) and the team’s top rookie (Williams).

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Tags: Denver Broncos Derek Wolfe Robert Ayers Shaun Phillips Von Miller

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