The Denver Broncos wanted to improve their pass rush this year. That's one of the main reasons why they signed future Hall of Fame defensive end DeMarcus Ware in free agency. The plan was to team Ware with linebacker Von Miller to give the team one of the most dangerous pass-rushing duos in the league.
Both players were coming off disappointing performances in 2013. Ware, then with the Dallas Cowboys, was held back by a nagging elbow injury and finished the year with only six sacks. Miller was suspended the first six games of the 2013 season, only to return (15 pounds heavier) and suffer a torn ACL in Week 16 against the Houston Texans.
Before the start of the 2014 season, both Miller and Ware eluded to a certain number of sacks they wanted to compile this year. They never expressed a specific number, but it was revealed the total in mind was what a whole team can get. That puts the number around 30 sacks between the two—certainly an achievable goal if they both stay healthy and play up to their potential.
So how do Miller and Ware stack up against other pass-rushing duos in the NFL? Let's take a look at how Denver is getting the most out of these two. We'll do that in this article by comparing other pass-rushing duos with 4.5 sacks or more in 2014.
Over the first three weeks of the season, Miller has been used more than some originally thought. Of the qualified players in this study, Miller ranks fourth with 167 snaps played in 2014. Ware ranks seventh with 151 snaps.
The chart below shows that Miller has more tackles than any other qualified player in this comparison.
|2014 Tackles, Weeks 1-3|
|Von Miller||Denver Broncos||15||9|
|Willie Young||Chicago Bears||12|
|Tamba Hali||Kansas City Chiefs||11|
|Carlos Dunlap||Cincinnati Bengals||11|
|Wallace Gilberry||Cincinnati Bengals||9|
|Dwan Edwards||Carolina Panthers||9|
|Justin Houston||Kansas City Chiefs||8|
|Stephen Paea||Chicago Bears||7|
|Andre Branch||Jacksonville Jaguars||7|
|DeMarcus Ware||Denver Broncos||6|
|Mario Addison||Carolina Panthers||5|
|Ryan Davis||Jacksonville Jaguars||3|
|ESPN Stats & Inc.|
This picture shows how Miller is getting to the ball-carrier as a run defender. As Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch gets the football, Miller has to break down in the open field. Note the blocker on his way to block Miller. The star linebacker has to keep his eyes on Lynch but also anticipate the oncoming blocker.
This picture shows the blocker as he makes contact with Miller. Look at how Miller is brushing off the block and getting ready to tackle Lynch.
Miller hangs onto Lynch until other Broncos arrive and stop Lynch short on a 2nd-and-2.
During his pro career, Miller has consistently shown the ability to be a sound tackler in the open field. The film and the numbers show that Miller is living up to that potential in 2014.
This is the stat that all pass-rushing duos are measured by. This article features pass-rushing duos with 4.5 sacks or more because that's what Miller and Ware have after three weeks. The data shown below is from Week 1 to Week 3 in the NFL to show where the Broncos duo stacks up with the rest of the league after three weeks.
|2014 Sacks, Weeks 1-3|
|Willie Young||Chicago Bears||4.0||.3|
|Mario Addison||Carolina Panthers||3.5|
|Justin Houston||Kansas City Chiefs||3.0|
|Carlos Dunlap||Cincinnati Bengals||3,0|
|Andre Branch||Jacksonville Jaguars||3.0|
|Dwan Edwards||Carolina Panthers||2.5|
|DeMarcus Ware||Denver Broncos||2.5|
|Von Miller||Denver Broncos||2.0|
|Tamba Hali||Kansas City Chiefs||2.0|
|Stephen Paea||Chicago Bears||2.0|
|Ryan Davis||Jacksonville Jaguars||2.0|
|Wallace Gilberry||Cincinnati Bengals||1.5|
|ESPN Stats & Inc.|
Defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio loves to move Miller and Ware around the formation to create mismatches. Even though he's a linebacker, Miller is technically a defensive end in the nickel. In this picture, we actually see Miller standing up above the center—technically as a defensive tackle.
As the ball is snapped, you can see that Miller doesn't blitz right away. Instead, he's keeping an eye in the backfield to spy Andrew Luck. Ware does get after the quarterback, and he gets chip blocked by tight end Coby Fleener at the snap while the left tackle awaits him.
Ware engages the blocker, and Luck is flushed to his side by defensive tackle Malik Jackson. He's able to snare Luck as Jackson tackles him from behind, and the two share the sack.
This play shows Ware and Miller lined up on the defensive left next to each other before the snap. Ware is lined up on the outside, but he takes an inside move while Miller presses to the outside.
Russell Wilson takes a step forward to evade Miller's pressure on the outside, but he ends up getting trapped.
Here, we see Miller abandoning his blocker to sack Wilson.
The Broncos are being quite creative with the way both Miller and Ware are used, and they've had a fair amount of success getting pressure on the quarterback. If the Broncos offense can build larger leads, then we could see this pass-rushing duo have even more success going forward.
Disrupted Dropback Percentage
Pass-rushers don't get to the quarterback on every play, so they need to be measured by the number of times they disrupt a quarterback's dropback. A disrupted dropback is measured by adding up the number of sacks, passes defended, interceptions and batted balls and dividing that by the number of opponents' dropbacks.
As the chart below shows, both Miller and Ware have a healthy percentage—well above the league average.
|2014 Disrupted Dropback Percentage, Weeks 1-3|
|Name||Team||DsrDb %||NFL Avg.|
|Willie Young||Chicago Bears||3.5|
|Justin Houston||Kansas City Chiefs||3.5|
|Mario Addison||Carolina Panthers||2.8|
|Stephen Paea||Chicago Bears||2.6|
|Carlos Dunlap||Cincinnati Bengals||2.6|
|Ryan Davis||Jacksonville Jaguars||2.2|
|Andre Branch||Jacksonville Jaguars||2.2|
|Dwan Edwards||Carolina Panthers||2.0|
|Tamba Hali||Kansas City Chiefs||1.7|
|DeMarcus Ware||Denver Broncos||1.6|
|Wallace Gilberry||Cincinnati Bengals||1.6|
|Von Miller||Denver Broncos||1.3|
|ESPN Stats & Inc.|
Broncos head coach John Fox believes Miller is improving each week.
"I think we're making strides," Fox said. "I saw improvement from Week 2 to Week 3, and that includes Von. I think he's gotten better.
"He did miss quite a bit of last season, and like everything, it takes a little bit of time, lot of facets to play this game at a high level."
Miller is only about nine months removed from a major knee injury. The fact that he's playing at the level he's at currently is remarkable, and it shows exactly the kind of elite athlete he is.
Miller and Ware had a goal of racking up around 30 sacks this year. With 4.5 sacks combined over the first three games, they could get close to that mark.
Ware and Miller rank third and fifth, respectively, in sacks during the last four seasons (2011-present)
|Most Sacks, NFL, 2011-Present|
The Broncos were wise to add Ware to the roster earlier this year. His presence has energized and refocused Miller after a rough 2013 season.
Denver does have a dynamic duo on defense, but instead of one player being Batman and the other being Robin—the Broncos essentially have two Batmans.
All quotes and injury/practice observations obtained firsthand. Record information provided via email from the Denver Broncos or from ESPN Stats & Inc.