Make a timeline and put a red marking pin on the Patriots game. If you're fresh out of thumb tacks, find something to prick your finger just hard enough to draw blood and mark it with a red stain. This was the day of days. Ladies and gentlemen, this was the turning point. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Rahim Moore, Derek Wolfe, Kevin Vickerson. These were the names of the fallen.
All four of those key defenders started for the Denver Broncos the week before New England, and none of them started, or even played, the week afterwards. Three of them started against New England, none of them started the week after. There's your sign, my peeps. The Denver defense was playing at an elite level in the post-Von world, but injuries changed the game.
Some dude named F. Scott Fitzgerald once said, "The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function." I don't really know why I've always liked and remembered this quote because I don't even use it right. His essay went on to say, "One should, for example, be able to see that things are hopeless and yet be determined to make them otherwise." Ya, whatevs... that's not how I use it. And, obviously, my way is the correct way.
I want you to be able to hold the idea that the sky is blue, while also knowing that the sky in outer space is black. Without having your head explode, ya dig? Kim Kardashian is both hot and heinous. When she opens her mouth, it's a turnoff - but that doesn't make her physical appearance any less attractive. Argue until you're red in the face that the sky is blue or that Kim talking makes you less randy, but it has no impact on each respective truth when they're isolated: The sky is black in outer space. And as for Kim... you know you'd hit it.
The translation for all of ye who do not speak the language of my inner thoughts is that we should be able to hold (seemingly) opposing thoughts about Von Miller and the defense in our collective minds while still retaining the ability to function. The Denver defense was horrible while Von was gone last time; The defense will not be horrible while Von is gone this time. See what I did there? The sky is black; the sky is blue. Both can be true. You do not have to believe that Von Miller had limited impact on our defense for you to be optimistic about the future of our defense. It's okay to tell the truth, to see the light and to admit the true impact of Von Miller.
Season-long statistics clearly show that the defense sucks balls all year long; The defense did not do any of this alleged ball-sucking "all year long". Stop ignoring the day of days. Stop ignoring the injuries as a way of convincing ourselves that Von Miller is irrelevant... as a way of convincing ourselves that the Broncos will survive without him. They will survive without him, but that doesn't mean he's not both a stud and a star.
I'm here to tell you the true tale of Von's impact once and for all.The only major difference being that unlike the story that gets so much play, mine has a middle rather than simply a beginning and an end. Mine won't ignore the injuries.
The "Pre-Von Miller" Phase
Allowing 351 passing yards per game, the Denver Broncos defense was very literally ranked dead last while without Von. This, despite facing quarterbacks with an average piss-poor passer rating of 27th out of 38 qualifiers.
The Broncos defense had given up 362 yards to both Joe Flacco (4th most interceptions on the year and 33rd in passer rating) and Eli Manning (most interceptions in the league, 36th in passer rating); allowed Terrelle Pryor (37th in passer rating) to look like Brady by passing for 281 yards, 1 TD, no picks; gave up 297 passing yards and no interceptions to Michael Vick and Nick Foles of the Eagles; allowed an incredible 506 yards and 5 TD's to Tony Romo (ya, that happened), and then finally surrendered 303 passing yards to the waterboy Chad Henne (31st in passer rating). Yikes! All those numbers and parenthesis are sorta sticking together. Do me a favor and read that again, would ya? If not, just know that those quarterbacks sucked but we sucked worse.
"The Von Miller Transition"
The defense gave up 228 yards and 3 TD's to Andrew Luck. That was game seven. I call this "the transition" because while you can see that the pass defense certainly played better, it still wasn't very good (touchdowns, overall feel), and it was only Von's first game of the season.
The "Post-Von Miller" Phase
The defense gave up just 180 passing yards (1 TD and 4 interceptions) to the Washington Redskins, a team that was actually 5th in yards and 10th in points at the time. The Denver defense stood just as tall the following week - 218 passing yards - especially considering that a rejuvenated Phillip Rivers was the opponent (4th in passing yards, 5th in passer rating on the season). Alex Smith was up next and passed for a very manageable 230 yards (15th in yards, 15th in passer rating on the year). For the first two quarters of the next game the defense absolutely bombarded Tom Brady (6th in yards, it is Tom Brady after all) to the tune of 70 passing yards and 3 sacks, including a strip-sack, a scoop-and-score, and three total turnovers. DRC went out at the half, Vickerson went out, Moore didn't play at all, and Wolfe was ineffective and pretty much MIA (zero tackles, fairly invisible - went to the hospital later that day). Tom Brady came out after halftime and almost exclusively picked on DRC's replacement, third-round rookie Kayvon Webster. Nothing was ever the same from then on.
Any trends stick out at you?
Well I sure as hell hope so. The pre-Von defense (weeks 1-6) never gave a team less than 281 passing yards (Terrelle Pryor, a career high for him) - and this was against a group of guys with an average passer rating of 27th in the league. Once Von was back out there, and even though it was against much better opposition, the defense never gave more than 230 passing yards (weeks 7-10). The defense was basically playing twice as nice even though the opposition was twice as mean.
The defense allowed 351 passing yards per game without Miller and then genie-blinked an immediate supersonic transformation... down to only allowing 214 passing yards per game once he was back. None of that includes game-11 against the Patriots when the pass-defense continued its suddenly elite ways (up until injuries finally broke the back of the post-Von defense).
Back to the Turning Point.
First I want to point out that contrary to what we might think we know, the Redskins were actually a good offense back then. They were ranked 4th in yards and 10th in points, and weren't remotely on a downward trend either. Instead, they were coming straight off of a 45 point, 499-yard offensive performance - with 84 rushing yards from RGIII and a passer rating of 105. Now contrast that to what he "achieved" in Denver that very next week with a rather silly 7 rushing yards and a passer rating of 45.4. Coming into that game, the Broncos pass defense was ranked worst in the league and the only legitimate change was that Von Miller was back. The second-half of that game was one of the most dominant displays of pass-rushing prowess you'll ever see in an NFL game.
RGIII was hit one time for every point of offense they scored. Literally. That's 14 hits for 14 points - coming from a defense that was literally allowing twice as many points per game previously (28.1, ranked 27th in the NFL). RGIII was essentially reduced to RGII during the game, looking punch-drunk and having been responsible for three turnovers before he tapped out. The Broncos defense had never previously put on a show like that, not remotely. Not even against all the horrible passers and horrible offenses they had faced so often up until that point. That's what the Denver defense was built to look like. All the major players were healthy (sans Champ), and now even Von Miller was fully back. The pass-rush was just down right dangerous.
The San Diego Chargers were next on the docket. Their 6th ranked offense was held to just 20 points (329 total net yards and 218 passing yards), even though there were no turnovers to slow them down. The undefeated Chiefs and their 6th ranked scoring offense came to town as the next victim and the defense stayed consistently awesome for a third straight week by holding the Chiefs to 17 points - again, without the benefit of winning the turnover battle.
As we all know, the next game was a tale of two halves with the Broncos absolutely dominating Tom Brady's 5th ranked scoring offense up until DRC was lost to injury as the clock expired in the 2nd quarter with the Broncos up 24-0. Von Miller completely took over the game right out of the gate, with a scoop-and-score on New England's first possession, a strip-sack on their next possession - which led to an immediate 2-play, 10 yard scoring drive for the Broncos - and then multiple tackles and pressures as the half wound down, including another sack and at least one tackle-for-loss.
Four of the six offenses the Bronco defense faced while without Von carried a ranking of 25th or worse in terms of scoring offense, and yet the defense still allowed a staggering 26 points per game to those hacks. However in the "post-Von Miller" world, the defense only allowed 19.33 PPG (against much better opponents even), which would actually be good for a 7th place ranking, The defense was allowing a full touchdown per game less while with Von Miller rather than without him. The reason those statistics don't show up in normal pre-Von/post-Von reporting is because they're all grouped together to include the games after New England - games after the day of days - when more than a third of the starting defense fell ill.
There are legitimate reasons to believe the Broncos won't self-destruct as a team and as a defense, and you don't have to believe that losing Von is inconsequential in order to believe that. Denver lost the Don of the defense, but that will not destroy the defense. Hold those two seemingly opposing thoughts in your head and don't forget to breathe while you walk.