Mark my words: if the Jacksonville Jaguars put a scare into the Denver Broncos today (that is a big and hopefully unlikely if), it will be in large part because middle linebacker and defensive captain Wesley Woodyard is out of the lineup. Champ Bailey returns to the lineup today, and combined with Von Miller‘s return from suspension next weekend, that means the Broncos are getting their two highest profile defenders back in action. But you could make a strong argument that Woodyard is the most important member of the defense.
He wears the radio helmet and calls the plays on defense. If you dig momentum and emotional leadership, it is clear watching any Broncos game that this defense looks to Woodyard. Once he exited last Sunday’s game against the Dallas Cowboys with the neck injury that will keep him out against the Jaguars, the defense looked flat and proceeded to surrender 48 points. If statistics and measurables are of interest to you, consider these stats: Woodyard is tied for the team lead with 28 tackles and leads the team with 20 stops (according to ProFootballFocus.com). He has also been surprisingly productive as pass rusher, with three sacks and nine hurries.
There is little doubt that the Broncos will score points on offense. So when you are trying to measure where they stand as Super Bowl contenders, almost all of the questions lie on the defensive side of the ball. Some of those questions will be answered as Jack Del Rio‘s group sees where they stand with the returns of Bailey and Miller. But I am here to tell you that we won’t like how the Broncos look as a Super Bowl champion-worthy defense if Woodyard is not in the lineup.
Other notes: Robert Ayers, who is also enjoying a productive season (three sacks and a team leading 14 hurries, according to ProFootballFocus) is also out for today’s game due to a bum shoulder. Finally, Tony Carter is a healthy inactive after a terrible game last week and will give way to veteran Quentin Jammer.