ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- It’s all about choices.
And more and more in recent weeks, opposing offenses have decided it might be easier to force Denver Broncos linebacker Von Miller to do something besides rushing the passer than it is to actually block him.
It’s understandable, really, because despite a bevy of double-teams in protection schemes designed to consistently be in his personal space, Miller still has 9.5 sacks, a half-sack off the league lead.
But several teams, such as the Atlanta Falcons and New Orleans Saints, have positioned players on offense -- isolating running backs lined up wide, like wide receivers, to Miller’s side of the formation -- to pull Miller away from the quarterback and put him in coverage. Sometimes the Broncos can adjust to get Miller back into the pass-rush strike zone but sometimes they can’t.
“We get spread out a bunch, if that’s what you’re asking, with people trying to get Von to leave the box and play coverage," Broncos coach Gary Kubiak said. “That’s the nature of some calls defensively. You may end up out there. There’s also ways of getting out of some of those calls, just like you do offensively when you’re getting out of bad plays. That’s something we are always faced with whenever people try to attack us defensively."
The Saints were particularly effective forcing Miller to move outside, and quarterback Drew Brees put up the first 300-yard passing game against the Broncos this season. Brees is notoriously difficult to sack anyway because of the speed of his decision-making and his ability to get the ball out quickly.
With the Saints moving Miller away from Brees at times, the Broncos sacked Brees just once in Denver’s 25-23 victory.
“I feel like sometimes offenses do that," Miller said. “But I always feel like if I have to cover, I’ll cover. But I think I should always make plays no matter where I am."
Miller consistently affects what offenses do, disrupting things in both the passing game and in run defense. And he is squarely in the conversation for the league’s Defensive Player of the Year, given what he has done in relation to how many blockers he sees on any given play. But Miller wants, and expects, more.
“I’ve got to be better, I’ve got to make more big-time, game-changing plays," Miller said. “If I can do that I can put my teammates and my team in a better situation to win."
Miller hasn’t had a multi-sack game since he had three in Week 2 against Indianapolis. He last forced a fumble in that game as well, against Colts quarterback Andrew Luck, a turnover Shane Ray scooped up and returned for a touchdown.
But the bye week, in addition to enabling the Broncos to physically freshen up overall, could also help Miller find a little more room to work with. DeMarcus Ware missed five games with a fractured forearm and has played between 26 and 30 snaps in the three games since he returned to the lineup.
And when Ware’s in the lineup, it is much more difficult for opposing offenses to deal with Miller, because Ware can punish an offense for expending too many resources on that goal. That Kubiak has said Ware could be ready for “50 plays" a game after the bye week is certainly what Miller wants to hear.
“Any time DeMarcus is there, that’s when we’re at our best," Miller said. “But we’re going to have everybody back."
Cornerback Aqib Talib, who missed three games with a back injury, is expected to play Sunday against the Kansas City Chiefs, as is defensive end Derek Wolfe, who missed the Saints game with a fracture near his right elbow.
“[The Saints] found some ways to get [Miller] in coverage, I’ll say that," Kubiak said. "He hasn’t covered many fades or sideline fades like he did [in New Orleans]. ... Getting [Ware] back to full strength should help Von’s play, too."
Said Miller: “Rushing the passer is my job. It’s what I do. And I keep saying I always think I should get the quarterback no matter what offenses do. I have to. I want to make those game-changing plays or free somebody else up to make them. We want to make that push, and I have to make some plays."