NFL Re­port Von Miller for de­fen­sive player of the year

The Denver Post - - SPORTS - By Nicki Jhab­vala, The Den­ver Post

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: njhab­vala@den­ver­post.com or @Nick­iJhab­vala

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