There probably isn't a pass rusher currently in the NFL that I enjoy watching "get after it" more than Broncos outside linebacker Von Miller. The reason is simple: he is, pound for pound, the most complete pass rusher in the league.
I expect when I watch a dude like J.J. Watt -- 6'5 and damn near 300 pounds with long arms and unreal quickness to go along with Paul Bunyan-like strength -- to physically dominate his opponents. Not trying to take anything from Watt, who is truly a force of nature on the field, it's just that his size and physical ability give him some advantages as a pass rusher.
There aren't many guys Miller's size who are every bit as dominant of a pass rusher and also just as diverse with their moves. Maybe you have a guy who is 6'3 and 250 pounds who is a hell of a speed rusher. Maybe you have a guy that size who has great technique with his hands. Maybe you have a dude who is a good power rusher in spite of his size.
Rarely do you have a combination of all three ... and then some.
So I couldn't wait to check out the film from his big day against San Diego on Sunday.
The Chargers did not have their usual starting offensive tackles for the whole game with normal backup tackle Chris Hairston starting in place of King Dunlap on the left and Joe Barksdale starting on the right. Tyreek Burwell also came in to relieve Barksdale later in the game. Regardless, Miller was on another level on Sunday. I really am not sure it would have mattered if the normal starters played because Miller was just that good.
Just look at Von's first sack of the game. It was second-and-7 with the Chargers at the Broncos' 48-yard line with just over six minutes left in the first quarter. Philip Rivers dropped back to pass. Miller, lined up on the right side, went right into a bullrush on Hairston and knocked him back a couple of steps. Just when Hairston started to recover and sit down on the move, Miller transitioned to a rip move to escape off Hairston's block to the outside edge. Miller got Rivers on the ground for a loss of 7 yards.
I'm sure Hairston was a lot more worried about trying to block Miller's speed, rightfully so, but Miller is smart enough to use that to his advantage. When tackles jump out to try to keep him from getting around them, Miller is able put his helmet up under their chin and march them right back into the quarterback's lap.
Being able to convert speed into power isn't just a nifty trick for smaller pass rushers. It's also necessary because offenses do things to try to slow down edge rushers, like sending chip blocks their way. If all you can do is speed rush, then at some point you will probably end up picking your hip up off the turf after some overly zealous running back or tight end puts his elbow right into your body right when you think you're about to turn the corner. You get the faintest glimpse of the quarterback as you crumple to the turf in agony and despair.
Okay, maybe I overdid it back there. I still have flashbacks of being chip blocked by retired fullback/running back Larry Centers, maybe the best to ever do it. That guy would have you looking for him rather than trying to rush the passer.
But, I digress.
Miller had a pressure later on during the third quarter of the game in which he once again employed a power rush, but this time it wasn't necessarily by choice.
Chargers running back Donald Brown was offset to Miller, who rushing from the left side of the line. It was pretty obvious that Brown was going to try to chip him on the way out to his route. Instead of falling for the okey doke, Miller decided to power right down the middle of Barksdale, leaving very little exposed surface for Brown to hit. Once Brown continued his route, Miller shifted back to the outside edge of Barksdale and reached out his arm to try to knock the ball out of Rivers' hand. With both Miller and his teammate, Derek Wolfe, bearing down, Rivers was forced to get the ball out of his hands in a hurry. The pass intended for Antonio Gates ended up being a little too low and wide and it was almost picked off by Broncos safety David Bruton.
Again, this is an "undersized" guy just mauling people as a pass rusher. The neat thing is because Miller is so adept at being a power rusher, it only ends up enhancing his finesse rushes when he pulls those out.
Miller's next pressure of Rivers came with 4:09 left in the third quarter on the first play of that drive for the Chargers. Miller, lined up on the right side of the line this time, came off the ball looking like he was about to bull rush Hairston yet again. This time Hairston was ready and he almost immediately braced for impact so Miller wouldn't be able to knock him back. Unfortunately for Hairston, all Miller wanted to do was stop his feet just long enough to run around him. It was like two ships passing in the night, as my old defensive line coach Rod Marinelli used to say, with Hairston frozen while Miller continued on to the quarterback.
This time Rivers saw him coming and tried to drift away to his right while looking for a target. With nobody open, Rivers ended up having to just throw the ball away right at the moment that Miller dove into his legs. Rivers didn't have a chance on that play, all because Miller used his power rushes to set up his speed rushes.
Hairston was so fooled by that rush that he tried to hang on for dear life as Miller ripped off and kept going. He ended up rolling around on the ground in Miller's wake. Definitely not ideal.
It's important to note at this point that the score had been stuck at 17-3 since San Diego kicked a field goal just before halftime. While the Chargers didn't end up scoring from that point forward, they were still within striking distance because the Broncos also didn't score after halftime. Miller's sacks and pressures all came at meaningful times during the game.
And he wasn't done.
Miller's second sack came with 7:24 left in the game. After all that power rushing, Miller decided it was time to mash the gas on that ass when he saw that nobody was around in the backfield to chip him. Rushing off the right side, Miller exploded off the snap, chopped at Hairston's wrists to keep them off him, dipped down underneath Hairston's punch and escaped off the block with a rip move that completely loosened Miller from Hairston's grasp. Rivers was being suplexed before he knew what hit him and ended up losing 8 yards on third-and-8.
At that point both tackles' heads had to be spinning. You can't set for power and you can't set for speed or Miller will take advantage of you. So what the hell do you do?
Great question. Wish I had an answer.
On Miller's third pressure he switched it up again. Rushing from the left side of the line, Miller beat Burwell, in as a replacement for Barksdale, with a window wiper hands move to get around the corner. He was past Burwell so quickly that he was on Rivers before the quarterback had even finished his drop back steps. Once again the Chargers had elected not to have anyone in position to chip Miller.
Rivers was barely able to get the pass off as Miller hit him while he was in mid air. The ball fluttered and landed just out of the reach of Rivers' other tight end, Ladarius Green. Unfortunately for Rivers and the Chargers, that was a fourth-and-4 play with just 2:11 left in the game. Not that they had much of a chance to score two touchdowns to tie or win the game in that time span anyway, but that incompletion pretty much shut the door on their already slim chances.
Along with all of the plays that I already described, Miller also got a pressure on the last drive of the game by running an EX game on the right side of the line with Broncos defensive tackle Malik Jackson, who was lined up as defensive end. Miller notched eight total tackles overall, including the two sacks, and made a fantastic play in which he snatched the ball away from Chargers rookie running back Melvin Gordon for a caused fumble and a fumble recovery all on the same play early on in the third quarter. Oh, and one pass deflected at the line.
He pulled out all the right moves to help Denver win that game, even with the offense only scoring 10 points. That's why Miller is my choice for Hoss Of The Week for Week 13. It was truly a pleasure watching his film.
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