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Breaking Down Von Miller's Return to the Denver Broncos Defense

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Breaking Down Von Miller's Return to the Denver Broncos Defense
Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

Von Miller made a triumphant return to the Denver Broncos in Week 7 against the Indianapolis Colts. He had been suspended for the first six weeks of the 2013 season due to violating the league’s substance abuse policy. Now that he’s back the Broncos are hoping for big time production from their premiere pass-rusher.

Being in the Broncos locker room during the week it seemed to me like Miller was more focused on football than ever before. He also had mature and insightful answers when talking to the media leading up to this game. He understands what football means to him now, and has been humbled by his poor choices.

After he came back from his suspension Miller talked about the importance of trust. “Trust is huge. I can’t sit here and say this is not going to happen or this is not going to happen and all—all I can do is just take it one day at a time and gain everybody’s trust back one day at a time. Trust is hard to gain but it’s easy to lose. I’m on that journey to gain everybody’s trust back. If God stays the same, I still have a long career ahead of me and I’m certain I can gain everybody’s trust back.”

The team has been getting along fine without him. Their pass rush was around the middle of the pack in the NFL with guys like Robert Ayers (4.5 sacks) and Shaun Phillips (6.5 sacks) standing out. The Broncos figured to be better with Miller on the field, and some fans expected an instant increase in sacks when Miller returned.

Against the Colts, Miller didn’t record a single sack.

He finished the game with only two tackles (both solo), one tackle for a loss and two quarterback hits. People need to look beyond the box score when rating Miller’s game.

There were some misguided reactions from some fans and some in the Denver media after the Broncos first loss of the season. Some were insistent that Miller had zero impact upon his return.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Miller did not get a sack, but his mere presence on the field changed the way the Broncos defense performed.

The Broncos entered Week 7 with the 32nd ranked pass defense in the league. That’s a nice way of saying they’re the worst in the NFL. They were allowing an average of 360.7 yards passing per game.

The Broncos held Andrew Luck to the lowest amount of passing yards they had all season long. His 228 yards rank behind what less developed passers like Chad Henne (303), Michael Vick (248) and Terrelle Pryor (281) racked up against the Broncos.

Part of that is the design of the Colts offense, but part of that is also how Miller changed the game.

Let’s take a look at the way Miller impacted the Colts offense on Sunday.

 

He Caused Penalties

Offensive linemen can’t look forward to facing Miller. His speed, quickness and snap anticipation are among the best in the league. This makes any tackle trying to block him nervous.

Cherilus False Start 2 on Make A Gif

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Early in the first quarter we see Colts right tackle Gosder Cherilus penalized for a false start, a 5-yard penalty that moves his team back. This was at home, when the crowd was being quiet and with Cherilus knowing the snap count.

 

The Broncos Can Move Him Around

Opponents know that Miller must be accounted for at all times. The Broncos know this and that’s why they move him around to both sides of the line.

After Miller’s suspension was lifted, Broncos head coach John Fox had some thoughts on the impact Miller can make on their defense. “This game is about matchups. I’ve said that multiple times, mostly as it relates to our offense, but defensively, he’s a dynamic rusher. He’s one of the better ones in this league; I think most people would agree. Obviously we’re real excited to get him back. We’ll see what kind of football fitness he is in come Wednesday. But he creates a tough one-on-one matchup for most offenses.”

The Broncos love to create those mismatches with Miller on the field. They will find a weak spot on the offensive line when putting together the game plan for an opponent. Then they expose that weakness with Miller.

 

Miller Gets Plenty of Attention

It’s not just pre-snap when Miller gets the attention of an opponent. After the snap we saw Miller regularly double teamed by the Colts. At the very least the Colts were trying to chip Miller with a running back.

This extra attention frees up the other pass-rushers on the Broncos defense.

In this picture we see Luck staring down Miller right before the snap. It’s clear that Luck is concerned with where Miller is going to rush from.

Miller has Luck's attention before the snap.

As the play unfolds Miller does a quick spin move to the inside and has a clear path to the quarterback. Luck sees this and takes a step forward to try to get away. What Luck doesn’t see is Phillips stunting from the other side. The result of the play is a sack for Phillips.

Phillips gets free and Luck doesn't see him.

This play is a 3rd-and-goal for the Colts. Luck again was changing the line call to adjust for where Miller was. As the ball is snapped we see Trent Richardson chip Miller as he gets upfield.

Knighton gets a sack here and the Colts kick a field goal.

What Richardson (and Luck) miss is Terrance Knighton crashing in from the left side of the offensive line. That adjustment before the snap allowed Knighton to get into the backfield quickly and bring down Luck for another sack. The Colts were then forced to kick a field goal.

This next play isn’t a sack, but it illustrates how Miller can again change the line calls.

The Colts run a play action fake, and running back Donald Brown properly reads where Miller is going. He jump cuts outside to help out with Miller.

This happens just as Malik Jackson is splitting a double team. Jackson is dragged to the ground, but lands near the feet of Luck. This forces Luck to throw the ball before he is ready. The result is an off target throw to T.Y. Hilton and an incomplete pass.

Miller can impact the game in a number of different ways. By merely being on the field he makes the teammates around him better as their individual matchups are improved.

 

He Can Stop the Run

The Colts wanted to run at Miller during his first game back. That desire was foolish, and it proved to be a mistake.

During his suspension Miller was able to add 15 pounds of muscle, while also lowering his body fat. With a heftier weight Miller should be able to handle stuffing the run even better.

Fox commented on the added weight Von has put on during his suspension. “You wouldn’t notice it. His movement skills and all those things are as I’ve remembered.”

Miller’s game is all about quickness and speed, but the added weight didn’t seem to slow him down against the Colts.

He can get inside the offensive line in the blink of an eye. Several times against the Colts he forced the running back to change direction after penetrating the line.

Here we see Richardson bounce outside after he sees Miller cut inside. It’s no problem for Miller as he used his elite burst to wrap up Richardson from behind.

Miller does this regularly to backs who run away.

Miller is not only a chase tackler, he can take a back down head on if he has to.

On this play we see Miller get past his blocker by tossing him to the ground and using a lateral move to find space on the inside. It’s Miller versus Richardson one-on-one and the Broncos defender wins the battle with a smothering tackle that leads to a 2-yard loss.

Future opponents for the Broncos had better think twice before they game plan to run at Miller.

 

Broncos Defense Has Improved Coverage with Miller

No offense to backup linebacker Nate Irving, but he’s not on the same level as Miller. That’s especially true as a pass-rusher, but it is also true in coverage.

Miller is not just a one-dimensional player who goes after the quarterback with little regard to coverage responsibilities. In fact, just the opposite is true. Miller has the speed and quickness to stay with most any player in coverage.

Against the Colts we saw Miller asked cover Reggie Wayne on an underneath route. In this first picture we see the Broncos showing blitz. Miller is close to the line of scrimmage, and Luck has to be thinking about his hot read.

As the ball is snapped Miller takes a jab step towards the line of scrimmage. He then quickly turns to his right and runs in stride with Wayne. As the picture highlights, the Broncos truly have a player capable of covering sideline-to-sideline in Miller.

During the week of practice for the Colts game, Broncos linebacker Wesley Woodyard was complimentary of Miller’s coverage skills. “He’s been looking good. Von is Von. He loves rushing—that’s what he’s been doing, he’s been rushing. But the most important thing, he didn’t have any mess-ups in coverage. That’s always great to know that he’s on-point with his game plan.”

 

Summary

Miller did not get a single sack on Sunday against the Colts. However, fans need to look beyond the box score to see the sizable impact he made on the opposition.

With Miller on the field the Broncos were able to draw false start penalties as the opposition anticipated his lightning-fast first step. When that happened it put the defense in a more favorable down and distance.

Miller worked both the left and right side of the line against the Colts, sometimes lining up as a linebacker and sometimes lining up as a defensive end. The Colts offensive line had to make sure they all knew where Miller was every time before the ball was snapped.

Even though the Colts attempted to run at Miller on several different occasions, he did a good job of stuffing the run. Miller stayed disciplined, kept contain and was able to find the ball carrier quickly to make the tackle.

Miller’s presence gave the Broncos better coverage from the second level of their defense. Whether it was wide receiver Reggie Wayne underneath, or tight end Coby Fleener down the seam, Miller did a good job staying with his man in the open field.

In the locker room after the Colts game Miller had some positive thoughts about his performance. “I felt great. I felt physically and mentally ready to go. The Colts have a great offense. The offensive line blocked well. Andrew Luck is a great player. He was able to shake out some situations and make plays for his team. They’ve got a great team over there. We’re just going to keep battling it out and keep trying to get better over here.”

Miller is back for the Broncos, and their defensive fortunes should improve. He did a fine job against the Colts, showing proper discipline, outstanding quickness and strength at the point of attack.

It’s scary for opponents to watch film of the Colts game and realize that Miller is only going to get better as the season goes on.

 

All quotes and injury/practice observations obtained firsthand. Record information provided via email from the Denver Broncos.

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