It’s been four decades since the Broncos’ defense was considered the epicenter of the team, a unit deemed as or more important than the quarterback and his offense.
The 1976 Broncos had that prestige.
The 2016 Broncos do too.
Led by linebackers Tom Jackson and Randy Gradishar, along with Barney Chavous, Lyle Alzado and Rubin Carter surging from the line and Louis Wright and Steve Foley leading the secondary, the 1970s "Orange Crush" defense stopped any opponent’s running game in its tracks.
The 2016 version (which got its legs in the 2015 campaign) continues a stronghold over its opponents at the line but with a much stronger secondary to back it up and a couple of edge rushers who are redefining the game.
So it isn’t crazy for edge rusher Von Miller to talk about being as big of a game-changer as quarterbacks have been in today’s pass-happy, high-scoring, offense-dominated NFL.
After all, if the quarterback is bull-dozed, there is no scoring.
I’d call that player a game-changer.
"I feel like if I can get to the quarterback, then I’ll have an effect on the game as a quarterback would on defense," Miller said. "I’m not throwing quarterback passes or touchdown passes or anything like that, but I’m affecting the throws."
And the tell-tale sign that Miller is affecting the game is how teams scheme specifically for No. 58, not only for the defense as a whole.
In the Week 1 rematch last Thursday, Miller rounded the corners on the way to the quarterback with two, sometimes three, linemen holding him back every time but one.
But sometimes it only takes one play to change the game. In Super Bowl, that play came early. Last week, it came late and was just one of a series of defensive blows by the Broncos.
"One of the mistakes that they had in the Super Bowl was letting me get a lot of one-on-ones and I knew they were going to take that away," Miller said. "Immediately, the first pass of the game I had three people on me, so it was as expected."
So Miller just stayed patient. Because even if he’s not getting to the quarterback as a team is sending three guys to cover him, he’s still affecting the game.
In a huge way.
"We have the best secondary in the National Football League so if I can get any type of pressure on the quarterback that’s going to help those guys out," Miller said, adding that if he doesn’t make it, chances are DeMarcus Ware, Derek Wolfe or any number of linebackers will be making their way to the QB.
Miller is used to making those plays – even if it takes all game like it did last week against the Panthers. But it’s likely his mindset – that he’s on offense – that motivates Miller no matter the number of linemen draping off of him.
"My position is more of an offensive position; offensive linemen are trying to stop me from getting to the quarterback," Miller said, noting that despite the triple-teaming from the Panthers, "I was able to keep fighting and get a sack in the end of it."
Andrew Luck and the Colts could be a different story. Despite Miller’s success since he entered the NFL, he has never sacked Luck.
"He’s definitely tough. You know, he’s ‘Andrew Luck.’ I think all of my years going against him, the respect that he should get, I feel like I haven’t given it to him," Miller said Thursday. "I haven’t had a sack on him yet. I got close, but he just has that knack for keeping his eyes downfield, feeling the defense and still making great passes."
But Miller still has a plan for this Sunday’s home game against a team that seems to always have Denver’s number.
"It has to be a team effort," No. 58 said. "Fortunately, for the Denver Broncos defense, we’ve got great rushers all across the board and we’ve got great rushers on the sideline as well and we’ve got a very good secondary and we’ve got great DBs on the sideline. We just got to play our game."
The key word with Luck is containment. The fifth-year quarterback out of Stanford has a few similar qualities to another well-known Stanford QB that Denver defenses should know a thing or two about – great pocket awareness and a big arm.
"We always have to know where he’s going to go and have a guy accountable for wherever he goes," Miller added. "He’s definitely a very, very good quarterback, a great quarterback. One of the best quarterbacks in our league, and you have to give respect when respect is due."
But respect doesn’t mean Miller and his guys won’t be coming hard with everything they’ve got.
In fact, it means they will.
"For us to be successful, we have to get pass rush," Miller said, noting the Broncos defense had no luck with that the last four games. "I can think back to our playoff game here where we lost, we didn’t get any pressure and we lost and it was terrible for us. Playing for a fifth time coming up this week, we definitely have to get pressure to stay in this one, and I feel pretty good about it."
The one thing that could get Miller off his game is a compliment from Luck. Noting that he almost sacked Luck in the Pro Bowl, Miller recalled the Indy quarterback giving him props.
"I tackled him and he’s like, ‘almost, Von, good hit,’ and I think that’s his character," Miller said. "You’re looking for a quarterback like, ’man get off me,’ but he’s nice and ‘good hit, man’ when he just threw a 35-yard pass."
But don’t worry about it having too much of an effect on Miller and his fellow pass rushers.
"It kind of has a reverse effect on you. He’s nice and it just fires the guys up," Miller said.
With so much game planning toward Miller by opposing offenses, the dancing linebacker knows he’s going to have to work harder to get those sacks in. And he’s totally fine with that.
He’s also not going to get bogged down in how often teams are getting chippy with him. That’s just going to come with the territory now.
"I’m going to get my opportunities in the game. I probably rush the pass like 20 times a game and I probably get chipped a half of those. The 10 that I get I have to make those happen," Miller said, admitting he didn’t do a good job with that the last time these teams met and Luck and his Colts manhandled this defense. "Whenever they gave me the single blocks, I was still thinking about the chips and all of that stuff. This year, I’m going to be prepared, I just have to take advantage of my opportunity and for my opportunities to present themselves."
And when they aren’t presenting themselves to Miller, they are likely presenting them to his super hero counterpart on the other side, DeMarcus Ware.
Comparing him and Ware to the Golden State Warriors’ "Splash Brothers," Miller said when the linemen go after "Steph Curry" there’s always "Klay Thompson" ready to pounce.
Ware, who sat out most of the offseason to rehab/rest his back, came in for one-third of the plays last week and still managed 1.5 sacks.
"I thought it was legendary," Miller said of Ware’s game performance in the season opener. "He only had a week of full practice and when he went out there he was 100 percent. That’s what you expect out of a Hall of Fame rusher."
Looking to Sunday’s matchup, Miller has no qualms about the Broncos offense and is focusing only on his job – get to the quarterback.
And he hopes to do it often.
"Honestly, I go into every game thinking that it’s going to be my best game ever," Miller said. "…I go in to the game feeling like I can have an effect on this game no matter what. It’s just the type of monster that I have."
Definitely a game-changer.