Depth gets thinner with injuries at LB
New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick excels at designing game plans to take advantage of what he views as mismatches against opposing defenses.
That’s a bad sign for the middle of the Broncos’ defense Sunday. Denver could be without its two starting inside linebackers, Brandon Marshall and Todd Davis.
Coach Gary Kubiak on Monday listed injuries to Marshall (left hamstring) and Davis (strained oblique) as the two biggest he’ll monitor this week as the Broncos gear up for their most important game of the season.
The pressure ratchets up for the backups at inside linebacker, Corey Nelson and Zaire Anderson, who have been forced into extensive action over the past two games.
Marshall missed Sunday’s game at Tennessee after suffering a hamstring strain in the third quarter against Jacksonville on Dec. 4. The injury is in the same spot as the strain he suffered against Houston on Oct. 24, which caused him to miss the Broncos’ next game in San Diego. He said this injury is worse.
The Broncos are not optimistic about Marshall being able to play soon. He hasn’t run at all since the
Jacksonville game but hopes to test his hamstring in practice this week. If Marshall is unable to play, Nelson would get his second consecutive start. He missed only one snap Sunday.
Nelson is the Broncos’ fastest linebacker. When he was a backup, he was typically used in pass coverage, playing more than 30 percent of the defensive snaps even before Marshall’s injury. Broncos defensive coordinator Wade Phillips has been happy with Nelson’s surprisingly stout play against the run so far.
Davis suffered his oblique injury against the Titans, leaving his status for Sunday’s game uncertain. Kubiak listed Marshall as day to day, while Davis is still being evaluated. Davis has started every game this season and ranks second on the team in tackles.
“He tried to battle through it,” Kubiak said of Davis. “But Zaire came in and played really well.”
Anderson’s tenacity and aggression against the Titans’ run game were among the reasons the Broncos improved in that area as the game wore on.
After giving up 138 yards rushing and 13 points in the first half, Denver allowed only 42 rushing yards and zero points in the second half.
The Broncos face another tough challenge Sunday against a Patriots offense that ranks sixth in the NFL in yards rushing per game.
Both Nelson, 6-foot-1, 226 pounds, and the 5-11, 220-pound Anderson are considered undersized to be playing inside linebacker. Quentin Gause, a rookie linebacker promoted from the practice squad Saturday, is the only other healthy inside linebacker on the team.
“Zaire was one of our highestgrading guys defensively,” Kubiak said. “Corey played a lot of plays. He had a good half and a half that he can play better in. That could probably be said for the whole group.”
Meanwhile, quarterback Trevor Siemian left Sunday’s game with no physical setbacks in his first game back since suffering a left midfoot sprain against Kansas City.
Siemian went 35-of-51 for 334 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions.
“He should be good moving forward,” Kubiak said. “I’m proud of Trevor coming back, battling through his injury, and being there for his team.”