Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware Being Used Effectively by the Denver Broncos

Cecil Lammey@@cecillammeyContributor IOctober 1, 2014

SEATTLE, WA - SEPTEMBER 21: Outside linebacker Von Miller #58 of the Denver Broncos celebrates with defensive end DeMarcus Ware #94 of the Denver Bronco after making a play during the second quarter of the game against the Seattle Seahawks at CenturyLink Field on September 21, 2014 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)
Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

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.

Tackles

Video Play Button
Videos you might like

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
NameTeamTacklesNFL Avg.
Von MillerDenver Broncos159
Willie YoungChicago Bears12
Tamba HaliKansas City Chiefs11
Carlos DunlapCincinnati Bengals11
Jason HatcherWashington10
Wallace GilberryCincinnati Bengals9
Dwan EdwardsCarolina Panthers9
Ryan KerriganWashington8
Justin HoustonKansas City Chiefs8
Stephen PaeaChicago Bears7
Andre BranchJacksonville Jaguars7
DeMarcus WareDenver Broncos6
Mario AddisonCarolina Panthers5
Ryan DavisJacksonville Jaguars3
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.

NFL.com - Game Rewind

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.

NFL.com - Game Rewind

Miller hangs onto Lynch until other Broncos arrive and stop Lynch short on a 2nd-and-2.

NFL.com - Game Rewind

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.

Sacks

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
NameTeamSacksNFL Avg.
Willie YoungChicago Bears4.0.3
Ryan KerriganWashington4.0
Mario AddisonCarolina Panthers3.5
Justin HoustonKansas City Chiefs3.0
Carlos DunlapCincinnati Bengals3,0
Andre BranchJacksonville Jaguars3.0
Jason HatcherWashington2.5
Dwan EdwardsCarolina Panthers2.5
DeMarcus WareDenver Broncos2.5
Von MillerDenver Broncos2.0
Tamba HaliKansas City Chiefs2.0
Stephen PaeaChicago Bears2.0
Ryan DavisJacksonville Jaguars2.0
Wallace GilberryCincinnati Bengals1.5
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.

NFL.com - Game Rewind

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.

NFL.com - Game Rewind

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.

NFL.com - Game Rewind

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.

NFL.com - Game Rewind

Russell Wilson takes a step forward to evade Miller's pressure on the outside, but he ends up getting trapped.

NFL.com - Game Rewind

Here, we see Miller abandoning his blocker to sack Wilson.

NFL.com - Game Rewind

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
NameTeamDsrDb %NFL Avg.
Ryan KerriganWashington4.7.7
Willie YoungChicago Bears3.5
Justin HoustonKansas City Chiefs3.5
Jason HatcherWashington3.3
Mario AddisonCarolina Panthers2.8
Stephen PaeaChicago Bears2.6
Carlos DunlapCincinnati Bengals2.6
Ryan DavisJacksonville Jaguars2.2
Andre BranchJacksonville Jaguars2.2
Dwan EdwardsCarolina Panthers2.0
Tamba HaliKansas City Chiefs1.7
DeMarcus WareDenver Broncos1.6
Wallace GilberryCincinnati Bengals1.6
Von MillerDenver Broncos1.3
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.

Summary

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
PlayerGames PlayedSacks
Jared Allen5045.5
Aldon Smith4342.0
DeMarcus Ware4839.5
J.J. Watt5138.5
Von Miller4337.0
Robert Mathis4437.0
DenverBroncos.com

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.