NFL Report Von Miller for defensive player of the year
There was nothing particularly special about Sept. 5, 2016. It was seven months after Von Miller ran roughshod over Cam Newton to earn Super Bowl 50 MVP honors. It was less than two months after Miller became the highestpaid defender in football, with a massive $114.5 million contract. And it was only three days before he and the Broncos would drub the Panthers once again, in the 2016 season opener.
Sept. 5, 2016, was ordinary by those measures. But it really wasn’t. That was the day Wade Phillips set the bar for Miller, his star pass rusher who was coming off a season that seemingly could not be exceeded with new jewelry, new money and newfound fame. What more could he possibly get from Von?
“I think Von is better right now than he was at this time last year,” Phillips told a crowd of reporters at the Broncos’ practice facility that day. “He seems to be more comfortable in everything. He’s really focused. I’m really pleased where he is right now. That seemed to be where he was at the end of last year.”
Phillips knows defense. Phillips knows Miller. But among the nods of agreement from those reporters were also nods of disbelief.
“Maybe he’s the defensive player of the year,” Phillips continued. “He was the MVP in the Super Bowl, but I think his next goal is to be the defensive player of the year.”
Fast forward nearly three months, and Phillips’ declaration and goal for Miller hardly seem far-fetched. The Broncos sit at third place in the AFC West with a 7-4 record. Their defense has been good, but not as great, especially late in recent games, failing to protect leads in their past two games. Their offense has been productive in spurts, but inconsistent in many others. Their quarterback has been injured, their special-teams play spotty, and their playoff hopes are on the line in each of their five remaining games.
But Miller’s game hasn’t trailed. He’s expanded it.
In an overtime loss to Kansas City last Sunday he recorded three sacks to put him at 72½ in 83 regular-season games. That’s a per-game average of 0.87 sacks — higher than all-time leaders Bruce Smith (0.72) and Reggie White (0.85) and Kevin Greene (0.70), and higher than two guys Miller has been compared to most recently, Lawrence Taylor (0.72) and Derrick Thomas (0.75).
“In those days when we played a 3-4 (defense), they didn’t treat it as they do these days,” Phillips said Thursday. “A lot of times the outside ’backer was on the back and one-on-one with a back on the pass rush, whereas these days the tackle’s always blocking you. And Lawrence Taylor was a great player, don’t get me wrong …”
Miller sits in a division stacked with elite pass rushers, from Khalil Mack in Oakland, to Joey Bosa in San Diego, to Justin Houston in Kansas City. But Miller has stood out by being everywhere.
With a league-high 12½ sacks through Week 12, he has already exceeded his total of 2015. That’s impressive especially when considering how often opponents are chipping him.
Miller has also consistently shown more of what he put on highlight reels last postseason. Remember when he picked off a pass from Tom Brady in the AFC championship game? Or when he chased down Jerricho Cotchery to deflect a pass in Super Bowl 50? The star pass rusher can also cover the pass.
“I’ve always wanted to cover, but now, that’s what I do,” he said. “I don’t know what happened when I first got here. I couldn’t do it. In college I did it a little bit.”
In 11 games, Miller has three pass deflections, the most since his rookie year, when he had four.
But the third phase might be where Miller gets the least praise.
“He plays the run really well too,” Phillips said. “What, he had 10 tackles last game? … He doesn’t just rush the passer. That’s where you get a defensive player of the year — when you play both run and pass, and he does both tremendously well.” Nicki Jhabvala: email@example.com or @NickiJhabvala