If you’ve ever wondered just how Von Miller is able to get to the quarterback as fast as he does, the premiere edge rusher lays it all out for you in The Player’s Tribune this week.
The purpose of his essay is "The five toughest guys I’ve faced," but as he states immediately, "don’t be scrolling down right now. I need to give you guys some perspective before I drop a top five list on you."
That perspective is Miller telling us just how it is he is so good.
"Most of my sacks come from winning that tiny fraction of a second after the ball is snapped," Miller writes. "If I don’t anticipate the snap count and get an explosive first step, I don’t really have a chance."
That’s why an offsides penalty every now and then is nothing to Miller.
"As a pass rusher, a few offsides are just the cost of doing business," he points out. "Five yards? That’s a trade-off I’ll take. If I have the QB worried about executing hard counts, I’ve already got an edge, because now he’s not fully concentrating on his pre-snap reads."
Noting that he rarely gets a one-on-one block anymore, Miller has to be in tune with the quarterback’s cadence to get off before he can get chipped, before the double-team can overpower him, before he can get just a finger on the quarterback.
Because sometimes all Miller needs is a finger.
"Of course, the QB can always give you a hard count to draw you offside, but if you’re really in tune with the game, you can feel the hard count coming," writes Miller. "With young QBs especially, you can sense it."
Miller has been "sensing" it all season, boasting 13.5 sacks so far – second in the NFL right now. And according to Pro Football Focus, Miller is the second-best in league when it comes to quarterback pressures:
"Miller owns the perfect blend of speed, athleticism, strength, and agility, and often proves just too difficult for tackles to contend with on the right side of the line. The best are stretched to the limit to contain him, and the worst might as well just give up and go home."
But the linebacker is about to face on Sunday two of the five toughest guys on his list (and it would be three if Rob Gronkowski were playing).
Both Tom Brady and Bill Belichick have been a tough combination for even the best in the business to break down.
Brady’s ability to read the play and change the coverage has often been overshadowed in the league by Peyton Manning who has been known as the master of it, but Miller sees the same intelligence in No. 12.
"His pre-snap vision is the best I’ve ever seen, bar none," Miller writes. "You can disguise your look all you want, but he’s still able to move guys around and forecast what’s coming."
Combine that with Belichick’s game-planning genius, and that’s a dangerous duo.
"Some of the packages we see from the Patriots, I’ve never seen before on a football field," Miller says, recalling a time Belichick lined Gronk out wide and a running back on Brady’s left, leaving Miller a clean path.
"So in my mind, I’m thinking, Damn, it’s all good. No tight end. No RB chipper in sight. Here we go. Let’s eat. … And then all of a sudden Brady sends Gronk in slow motion back toward me, then the ball is snapped," Miller adds. "So I release and Gronk is coming from the outside to chip me, and I don’t even see him coming. I’ve played a lot of football, but there’s still stuff the Patriots do that surprises me."
No doubt Belichick will be the Patriots biggest weapon on Sunday, especially now that the AFC leaders are a much more complete team with a running game and a defense holding its own.
But Miller still believes in the Broncos’ ability to outsmart the Sith Lord.
"Respect to Belichick, but hey, I think we proved last year that we’ve got some tricks, too. That’s what makes football the best. This game is deeper than it might appear. For every style of football, there’s a counter."
There’s going to need to be a big one on Sunday.