Yesterday's game between the Denver Broncos and San Diego Chargers was one of the most physical NFL games I've witnessed all season, and arguably the toughest for the Broncos. Many players were banged up, as a result.
Some were lucky enough to return to the game, while others could not. Danny Trevathan, after spending most of 2014 injured, returned to action yesterday for the first time since week 6. Unfortunately, it will be his last action with the Broncos this season.
The team put him on injured reserve today, ending his season, after he dislocated his knee cap vs the Chargers. Trevathan not only led the team in tackles in 2013, but was the defense's leader, as he was the player with a radio in his helmet, relaying the signals from the sideline.
Because of three injuries to his leg, Trevathan was only able to appear in three games this season, notching 11 combined tackles. The first time he went down, in the preseason, the Broncos turned to Brandon Marshall to not only replace him at weakside linebacker (Will), but also as the on-field signal caller.
In Trevathan's stead, Marshall has led the team in tackles with 129 and has also notched 2 sacks and one interception. Marshall has played at a Pro Bowl level, more than mitigating the sting of losing Trevathan for the team.
But Marshall also went down yesterday with a sprain to the Lisfranc area of his right foot. He did not return to the game and was seen afterwards in a walking boot. The team expects him to be out 1-2 weeks.
With starting middle linebacker (Mike), Nate Irving, already on injured reserve, the Broncos were forced to turn to their third-string linebackers yesterday. Todd Davis, who was picked up on waivers just a few short weeks ago, stepped in and notched 4 combined tackles.
With the Cincinnati Bengals, who happen to lead the AFC North, next up on the schedule, defensive coordinator, Jack Del Rio, will have to turn to Davis and Steven Johnson. The rookies, Corey Nelson and Lamin Barrow, also figure into the mix.
Fortunately for the Broncos, yesterday's trial-by-fire gave Del Rio a taste of how best to utilize these young players on the bottom of the team's depth chart. After yesterday's game, John Fox was asked how tough it was to have both experienced players with radio helmets out.
“It was interesting," Fox said via the team. "You’ve gotten away from signals on defense, but we had to re-adapt that. We had a little system in place, so we didn’t have to signal. I don’t want to get too much into that but it was actually without having to communicate visually with signals and without any kind of helmet communication. I thought our staff did a good job of adjusting to that.”
For being on the fly, Del Rio and his assistants did do a phenomenal job of adapting to the situation. Phillip Rivers and the Chargers offense were stymied all game long. Fox again reinforced that notion.
“I thought they did a tremendous job. It was a big spot, had a lot riding on it, both sides. Our guys prepared very hard. I thought it was a pretty gritty performance with all that happened. A bunch of guys were getting nicked, their team got nicked too, so it was a very physical game. Our guys stuck in there and found a way to get it done.”
No team relishes having to turn to their third-string linebackers down the stretch, but Fox is confident in his group of young backups, who will now be forced to the forefront.
“We’re going to lean on everybody on that 53-man roster. They’re part of it. They’ve had some opportunities on defense. They’ve had plenty of opportunities on fourth down throughout the season where they performed very well. I think it’s a great proving ground in the National Football League in special teams. We will assess that as we get into the week’s work against Cincinnati. When we form up back on Thursday, I’m sure we will have a plan. It’s not there quite yet.”
Fans can also expect to see a lot of saftey, T.J. Ward, in the box. Ward excels inside, where he can read and react down-hill. This would also likley mean additional snaps for David Bruton, who has stepped in for the injured Quinton Carter and performed admirably, over the last two weeks.
The Broncos are playing as physical and smash-mouth as any team in the NFL right now, and with that level of swagger and intensity, these more inexperienced linebackers should be able to step in and stop the gap.
With the Bengals protecting a 1/2-game lead over the Baltimore Ravens, you can count on them bringing their A-game on Sunday. But the Broncos will come out swinging, as well, as they hope to secure their place in the AFC playoffs as the No. 2 seed, which would not only guarantee them a first-round bye, but also a home game.
It's a sad turn of events for Trevathan; one of the Broncos most talented young defenders. But at least now he'll be able to get the surgery, and most importantly, the time, to fully heal and get the strength back in his leg.