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How Von Miller's suspension will affect Denver Broncos

The Denver Broncos can't replace Von Miller. They just have to compensate.

The NFL's best outside pass rusher was suspended for six games Tuesday for violating the league's substance-abuse policy. This was the most damaging item of bad news in an embarrassing offseason in Denver.

Von Miller turned a good Broncos defense in 2012 into a great one. If not for J.J. Watt's extraordinary season, Miller would have won the NFL Defensive Player of the Year award in his second season.

No pass rusher in football has a faster first step. No outside pass rusher requires more attention, and Miller's strong play in run support showed he was a complete player. His absence will require plenty of other Broncos to step up.

"Replacing (Von) on the field will not be easy, but every team must deal with adversity," Broncos coach John Fox told reporters Tuesday. "We will plan accordingly and be prepared. I am confident our team will step up and meet the challenge."

So how will they do it?

Thin pass rush

Denver already looked thin on the defensive line after being forced to release Elvis Dumervil following a contractual mishap. The team needs up-and-down fourth-year pro Robert Ayers to be a quality starter rather than a nice option on passing downs. Free-agent pickup Shaun Phillips was signed for insurance; now the injury-prone former San Diego Charger will have to provide consistent edge pressure.

The Broncos also don't know when defensive end Derek Wolfe will be back after his scary injury over the weekend. It's unclear if first-round draft pick Sylvester Williams will make much of an impact in a questionable defensive tackle rotation.

More pressure on the secondary

No. 1 cornerback Champ Bailey had some struggles early in the preseason and then hurt his foot. His status for Week 1 is uncertain. Free-agent pickup Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie also is coming off an injury. The Broncos' defense overachieved last year, but they are changing a lot of pieces this offseason (including a new starter at middle linebacker).

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Schedule is favorable

Miller can return in Week 7 in Indianapolis. Before then, the Broncos host four of their six games. Two of those home games come against the Jacksonville Jaguars and Oakland Raiders. Peyton Manning and the Broncos' offense are more than capable of carrying a team for six games.

It's not like any other team is running away and hiding in the AFC West. The Broncos just need to tread water, stay within reach of the top AFC teams and then hope Von Miller is the same player he was a year ago.

For this Broncos team, it's all about the last few games of the season. Not the first six.

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