The San Francisco 49ers and Denver Broncos are quite fortunate, because Aldon Smith and Von Miller are the two best pass-rushers in pro football.
And considering that each team leads its respective division, it's also not surprising to see the 'Niners and Broncos fielding unreal defenses. To that end, San Francisco and Denver's defensive dominance throughout 2012 begins and ends with Smith and Miller.
The NFL is obviously pass-heavy and offensively oriented. Well, to counteract an aerial onslaught these days, defenses have to apply constant quarterback pressure.
This is exactly what Smith and Miller provide.
As a result, there is no special recipe or secret in playing great defense and shutting explosive teams down. Just get to the quarterback and wreck as much havoc in the backfield as possible.
With that said, let's break down Smith and Miller and see who brings more pain.
Aldon Smith, San Francisco 49ers
Throughout his rookie season, Smith was primarily a pass-rusher. Then again, that is his forte, and the 49ers had to utilize him accordingly.
In 2011, Smith finished with 14 sacks, two forced fumbles, four defended passes and 37 tackles. He also performed well in the postseason by recording two more sacks and four tackles.
Jump to pre-Week 15 of 2012, and Smith immediately leveled up.
In just 13 games this season, he has collected 19.5 sacks, 57 tackles and three forced fumbles. Compared to his rookie campaign, Smith has developed closer to becoming a complete defender. He's obviously upped his pass-rushing skill set, but improvements were also made against the run.
And because of that quick development, Smith lines up for a defense that allows an average of only 14.2 points and 275.5 total yards per game. Even better, San Francisco only gives up 3.6 yards per rushing attempt and a 59.9 completion percentage.
Therefore, even when not getting sacked, the quarterback is still feeling Smith's pressure.
Von Miller, Denver Broncos
On the first play of his first game in his NFL career, Von Miller laid a hit and caused a fumble.
From then on, the No. 2 overall draft pick took over pro football in 2011 and never looked back. In his initial season, Miller finished with 11.5 sacks, two forced fumbles, 64 tackles and four defended passes.
He was then named the 2011 NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year.
That impact rolled into the postseason as well, with Miller recording a sack and three tackles in Denver's playoff win over the Pittsburgh Steelers.
This year, Miller is proving to be the updated version of the No. 58 that he wears: Derrick Thomas. With 57 tackles to this point, Miller has also recorded 16 sacks, forced six fumbles and took an interception back for a score.
Compared to his rookie campaign, Miller simply upgraded as a complete defender.
In turn, the Broncos rank No. 6 against the run, No. 7 against the pass and No. 4 in total defense.
Which Pass-Rusher Is Better?
The answer is Von Miller, period.
Now yes, Smith is unbelievably dominant, and you can't go wrong by taking either one.
Nevertheless, Miller is a better defender from an all-encompassed perspective. He causes fumbles at a high rate of consistency, which provides more turnover opportunities.
Factor in Miller's ability to sink in coverage, and his outside presence is not as blatant. We know Smith is blitzing, because he has yet to develop as a coverage player. As for Miller, his pass-rush is not as obvious even in strict passing situations because of his coverage talent.
Not to mention, the 49ers present a better overall defense.
As reliable as Wesley Woodyard, Elvis Dumervil and rookie Derek Wolfe are to complement Miller, none of them is as dominant as Patrick Willis, Justin Smith or Ahmad Brooks.
The rest of Denver's defense can be set up courtesy of Miller's ability, and San Francisco was already defensively sound in 2010, unlike Denver.
Miller has simply made a stronger impact. Denver went from the NFL's worst defense in 2010 (ranked dead last in allowing 29.4 points per game) to among the elite in 2012.
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