It's been a trying year for the pass rushing class of 2011. Exactly one year ago, at this time I was documenting their terror streak through the NFL as they were each on the cusp of Michael Strahan's single-season sacks record.
This year, they've gone M.I.A. for one reason or another. I haven't heard J.J. Watt's name all season long. Probably because his Texans are on the completely opposite end of the NFL power structure than was expected. At least Watt played all 16 games.
49ers outside linebacker Aldon Smith was limited to nine games while shuffling in and out of rehab, following an arrest on suspicion of drunk driving. Then, in October he was charged with three felony counts of illegal possession of an assault weapon, but he still pushed through to accumulate 8.5 sacks. Any suspension that Goodell hands down to Smith won't be carried out until the 2014 season. At least he'll be available for the postseason ride. Von Miller isn't so lucky.
Miller was suspended for the first six games of the season because of a violation of the league's substance abuse policy before recording five sacks in nine games and was the most important defender on a defense that simply needs to be competent to reach the Super Bowl. However, on Monday morning, a league source informed ESPN's Adam Schefter that Miller tore his ACL during Sunday's victory over the Texans and will undergo season-ending surgery this month.
Peyton Manning took back his single season passing touchdown record, but he'll likely have to throw more often in the playoffs without Miller wreaking havoc defensively.
It's a troubling blow to a Denver defense that returned cornerback Champ Bailey on Saturday. Without Miller, the Broncos pass rush is tepid at best and doesn't inspire much fear in opposing dropback passers. After the inauspicious loss of Elvis Dumervil in the offseason, the Broncos Super Bowl odds just took one on the chin.
It hasn't been all bad for the class of 2011 though. S. Louis Rams defensive end Robert Quinn wrapped up his 18th quarterback sack this season and is getting considerable mentions in Defensive Player of the Year chatter.