ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Now that Von Miller is gone, no one inside the Broncos’ locker room carries a greater burden of expectations than Bradley Chubb.
Teddy Bridgewater is a quarterback, yes, but after missing two-plus seasons recovering from a torn ACL, and another two years as a backup, the sense is anything he does goes beyond expectations.
No Broncos player but Chubb is a top 5 draft pick. Pat Surtain II is close as the No. 9 overall draft choice but as a rookie cornerback he doesn’t need an interception every game to quell questions about his play. Surtain is in the business of preventing plays. Chubb has to make them.
Big difference. Chubb is graded on whether or not he gets a sack. If he gets one, great. If he doesn’t, was Chubb worth the No. 5 overall pick? The top 5 draft pick is a load he’s learning to carry.
“That’s what makes the injuries hard,’’ Chubb said this week in a sit-down interview with 9News. “The ankles and stuff are hard because you’re carrying all these expectations. Not even from what people want from you, but from what you want from yourself. You want to go out there and be the best and that’s why I got frustrated with those ankle injuries but now I try to take it as a blessing.
“Von used to always say, ‘Pressure is a privilege.’ If nobody expects anything of you, you don’t have any pressure to do anything. If everybody is looking for you to make that play and they know what you’ve done in the past, they know what you can do, so that’s why you have that pressure on you.
“It’s been good. I try to embrace it and with the guys we have in that room it’s kind of easy. If I have a problem I relay it to them and they help me get over it and vice versa. It’s been real special.”
Miller was a No. 2 overall pick in 2011 who became the team’s all-time sack leader but he’d read or hear about it whenever he went through a three- or four-game sack drought. First-year general manager George Paton made a leap for the Broncos’ future last month when he traded Miller to the Los Angeles Rams, along with $9 million in cash, in exchange for second- and third-round round draft picks.
And yet in another example of the freaky unpredictability of sports – there’s a reason why the Vegas casinos are palaces, not shacks -- the Broncos have played much better without Von than they with did in the final weeks with him while the Rams have tanked.
It’s not because the Broncos are a better team without Von Miller or the Rams are worse with him. It’s just one of those inexplicable phenomenon’s that can only be credited to sports. Although Chubb does have a theory on why the Broncos have gone 3-1 since the Von trade, setting up an AFC West matchup with first place at stake this Sunday night against the Kansas City Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium.
“Von he’s the most decorated player probably in Broncos history,’’ Chubb said before quickly adding the qualifier, “defensively” to most decorated player. “Super Bowl MVP. And then all the things he’s done in the community with Von’s Vision initiatives. A guy coming in and seeing Von Miller – this guy is not going anywhere. He’s going to retire a Bronco. And you see him move on, you’re, OK, nobody’s safe. I’ve got to step my game up or else I’m going to be the next guy out. It lit a fire under everybody. Everybody knew that George is not playing. We’ve got to win games and it’s going to be somebody’s job if you’re not.”
Speaking of odd sports swings, the Chiefs have won five AFC West titles in a row immediately after the Broncos won five consecutive titles. The Broncos had seven in a row in the series a streak shouldered with 11 consecutive losses.
Chubb has been around for six of those losses. The Broncos have five wins against the Chargers since Chubb’s lofty draft selection in 2018, and the Raiders twice. But the Chiefs?
“Haven’t got over that hump yet,’’ he said. “For sure it’s one of those things you kind of take personal, you know what I mean? You play them twice a year, and you lose both times the last three years before this. So yeah, you take it personal. You take this week a little bit more seriously than you do the other ones and you go out there and put your best foot forward.’’
And last week was a big as it gets for Chubb. He got emotional during the playing of the National Anthem at Empower Field at Mile High as he was about to play in his first game since his second ankle surgery in September.
“When you first ran out the tunnel, that’s kind of when it first started,’’ he said. “I ran out of the tunnel for the first time all year and the crowd’s cheering and it kind of hit me. And then you see the flag comes out and they sing the National Anthem and it’s like, ‘OK this is real. We’re about to play football right now, we’re about to get to it.’ Just the whole rehab process came over me. Everything I’ve been hearing off the field, on the field, all of that came over me at the time. It’s been a roller coaster of emotions and I started to get a little bit emotional out there but I tried to suck it back in and get ready for the game.”
He also delivered the pregame breakdown speech to his defense. His message with the X-rated language removed: Nothing’s promised. Let all hang out.
“Nothing’s promised at all,’’ he said. “I’ve been through it with the ankle injuries and the knee injury. You don’t know when your last play is going to be. You don’t know when you might be done for the season. You never know. You’ve got to take every play and every opportunity you get with full steam ahead. You don’t want to live with regrets because there were times where I was on the couch and I thought I wish I would have did this, I wish I would have done that. But you don’t get those times back, you don’t get those days back. You’ve got to live full-steam ahead every day.’’
So, Bradley, about chasing down Mahomes. No one escapes on a deeper scramble behind the line of scrimmage than Mahomes. It should be a flaw. But he often has had enough arm to still make the big completion from 15 yards behind the line.
“You see those things and you hope it’s not going to happen against my team and when you’re rushing, you rush at that angle and when you’re cutting in to get to him and that’s when he makes those deep cuts to the backfield and gets the ball off,’’ Chubb said. “On film it’s one of those things as a rusher you have to take to account and you have to have all four guys or five guys, you need everybody on the same page.
“One thing that helps us is if somebody goes under the other dude is on top or goes around. Just communicating with each other. Never having two guys too low or too high so he can step up or step back. It’s communication and everybody rushing together.”
To break that 11-game Chiefs’ losing streak, the Broncos will need Chubb to get after Mahomes. He’s aware of the expectations. And planning to meet them.