Like every professional athlete, Von Miller finds himself in a losing war against Father Time. 2020 marked the first time in Miller’s NFL career that he’s missed an entire season, as the 32-year-old suffered a freak foot injury days before last year’s season opener.
The journey back has been fraught with uncomfortable questions. In January there was the criminal investigation that eventually led to no charges. In March there was George Paton’s reported interest in replacing the future Hall-of-Famer with Leonard Floyd. It wasn’t until Floyd re-signed with the Los Angeles Rams that the first year general manager picked up Miller’s team option, leading to the big question that continues to hang over the Broncos’ 2021 campaign.
Is Von back?
Von Miller had one of the most dominant performances of any player in any game yesterday.— Nate Tice (@Nate_Tice) September 13, 2021
There’s been a near constant murmur that Von Miller had already started to decline in 2019. He finished the season with only eight sacks, which gave box score statisticians something to hang their narratives on. As is generally the case, the narrative falls apart when you consider how Miller more than doubled the pressures any other pass rusher on the roster notched, or how he played three quarters of the season without Bradley Chubb. Or if you simply watch the film, but I digress.
Like the rest of Broncos Country, I hoped Miller could return to his first real NFL action in 623 days and once again dominate the line of scrimmage. Given the dearth of talent along the Giants’ offensive line and Denver’s obvious talent up front with players like Dre’Mont Jones, Shelby Harris, and Malik Reed, I was optimistic Von could look like a very good player if he was even 80% of what he last showed.
From the first drive, he looked better than that.
Miller officially finished his first game back with two sacks, three tackles for a loss, and three QB hits. As is typically the case for Von, those numbers fail to truly capture the impact he had on the game all afternoon. Jason Garett clearly designed his game plan with 58 in mind and constantly tried to throw different looks at the edge rusher in an effort to give Daniel Jones a fighting chance. He failed in spectacular fashion.
Throughout the game, New York tried to use Kyle Rudolph or Kaden Smith as an extra blocker to help Nate Solder. Keep in mind, for all of Miller’s sacks he’s also been an elite run defender for most of his career, and he did a fantastic job stringing runs wide to give help time to rally to the ball.
Facing a 2nd-and-4 on the third drive of the game, New York comes out in 12 personnel. Kyle Rudolph motions across the formation to create a 3X1 with two receivers outside him. As he does this, Miller vacates his coverage responsibility to line up as a wide nine technique outside the tight end. On the snap, the Giants send Solder as well as Smith at Miller as Barkley takes the handoff heading right. Miller fights upfield on Rudolph’s outside shoulder, which effectively sets the edge and forces Barkley to cut it back inside where Josey Jewell and Dre’Mont Jones are waiting.
It’s worth mentioning that the Giants did find a way to score a touchdown on their third drive when Jones found Sterling Shepherd on a deep crosser against Patrick Surtain II, as Miller wasn’t on the field. After seven defensive plays the Broncos rotated Miller and Reed out for rookies Jonathon Cooper and Andre Mintze, who failed to pressure Jones on his drop back. If you’re scoring at home, this is one big reason Bradley Chubb’s health continues to be a reason for concern. Callow edge depth could be a problem against teams like the Kansas City Chiefs and Los Angeles Chargers.
New York didn’t just lean on their tight ends to help the ground game. They also tried to use tight ends to chip Miller on passing plays here and there. While this may have kept him from matching the five sack performance Chandler Jones had against the Tennessee Titans, he still found ways to neuter the Giants’ passing attack when he was on the field.
Something worth mentioning here that tends to go overlooked: take note of the fact New York left the tight end in early to help the tackle.— Joe Rowles (@JoRo_NFL) September 16, 2021
It didn't stop Von from impacting the play, but kept Miller from a full sprint to Jones. pic.twitter.com/LnpNpoDqPu
All told, I thought Miller had a better season opener than I dared to hope for. The way his presence impacted the Giants’ personnel, rushing attack, and pass protection did not go unnoticed. He looked every bit as good defending the run as I remember and should deter upcoming opponents from trying so hard to run off right tackle. He made liberal use of a one-hand-stab and bullrush as he worked over Solder in pass pro. Fangio also mixed in a few games with Miller and Jones, which is something that should give opponents nightmares.
I’d be lying if I said I don’t still have questions about Miller’s game, though. To start, New York has one of the weaker tackle situations in the NFL, and Will Hernandez is hardly a world beating right guard. There will be better matchups ahead. It’s also notable how neither one of Miller’s sacks were the kind of defeats we’ve come to expect from No. 58. The first was a coverage sack with the Broncos’ first team dime personnel smothering the Giants’ receivers. The second came when Miller anticipated the snap count and beat the tackle off the ball. It’s good to get home on plays such as these, but we’re still waiting for the kind of bendy win vintage Von flashed with regularity.
With the Jacksonville Jaguars up next, I expect Miller and the Broncos’ pass rush to have another strong performance against an overmatched offensive line. The Jags look set to start Jawaan Taylor at right tackle and A.J. Cann at right guard this weekend. Taylor had 41 blown pass blocks in 2020 by Sports Info Solutions’ charting while Cann was an unsung part in Trevor Lawrence’s mistakes against the Houston Texans. It may not be two sacks, but Miller should be able to make his presence felt.
Is Von back?
This poll is closed
Of course. Von is always back.
Not quite vintage Von...yet.
Nah. He clearly sucks (and I’m a Raiders/Chiefs/Chargers fan)