Bron­cos’ Miller will look to dis­rupt Cow­boys

USA TODAY International Edition - - SPORTS - Michael Mid­dle­hurst Schwartz @MikeMSchwartz USA TO­DAY Sports

Von Miller has gone five games with­out a sack, but there’s lit­tle doubt about the threat the Denver Bron­cos’ star pass rusher still poses.

If any­thing, the drought might serve as a re­minder of the lengths that op­pos­ing teams will en­dure to pre­vent Miller from bend­ing a game to his will.

The dou­ble teams, chips and other tac­tics that Miller is likely to face should come as no sur­prise Sun­day. But his pres­ence still has far-reach­ing ef­fects for a Denver de­fense look­ing to re­assert it­self against Dak Prescott, Ezekiel El­liott and the Dal­las Cow­boys’ for­mi­da­ble at­tack.

“He’s one of those guys who is a real dif­fer­ence-maker,” Cow­boys coach Ja­son Gar­rett said last week. “He’s one of those guys who has af­fected games prob­a­bly since he was grow­ing up here in South Dal­las. He’s an in­cred­i­ble ath­lete.”

Right tackle La’el Collins will have the pri­mary re­spon­si­bil­ity of fend­ing off Miller. Collins han­dled New York Giants de­fen­sive end Ja­son Pierre-Paul in Week 1, but shut­ting down a player with 381⁄2 sacks the past three sea­sons is an en­tirely dif­fer­ent chal­lenge.

Prescott might be forced to make quick de­ci­sions, es­pe­cially with cor­ner­back Aqib Talib set for a matchup with Dez Bryant and Chris Har­ris Jr. hold­ing down the slot. But the sec­ondyear stand­out is dif­fi­cult to rat­tle.

The true test for Miller and Denver’s de­fense, how­ever, might be in how it han­dles El­liott. Op­er­at­ing be­hind a line that Bron­cos coach Vance Joseph called “the best in foot­ball,” the NFL’s lead­ing rusher in 2016 could dic­tate the tone of the game against a de­fense that fin­ished 28th against the run last sea­son.

Other matchups that will de­fine Week 2 in the NFL:

At­lanta Fal­cons RB Devonta Free­man vs. Green Bay Pack­ers DT Mike Daniels

Matt Ryan and the pass­ing at­tack did the heavy lift­ing for At­lanta in each of last sea­son’s wins against Green Bay, but scheme ad­just­ments should yield a greater em­pha­sis on the ground game on Sun­day night.

The Pack­ers’ new go-to “nitro” pack­age — a nickel vari­a­tion that uses just two de­fen­sive line­men and rolls safety Mor­gan Bur­nett to in­side line­backer — yielded im­pres­sive re­sults last week in a 17-9 win against the Seat­tle Sea­hawks. De­signed to put speed­ier play­ers on the field, the de­fense was still for­mi­da­ble against the run. Out­side of two Rus­sell Wil­son runs for 40 yards, the Sea­hawks gained just 50 yards on 16 car­ries.

At­lanta’s shift in Week 1 didn’t go as smoothly, as last year’s top­scor­ing of­fense never fully found its foot­ing in co­or­di­na­tor Steve Sark­isian’s de­but. Free­man and fel­low run­ning back Tevin Cole­man com­bined for just 53 yards on 20 car­ries in a 23-17 win against the Chicago Bears. With the rest of the of­fense yet to click, ex­pect Sark­isian to em­pha­size the ground game early to open up

play-ac­tion op­por­tu­ni­ties.

Daniels is Green Bay’s key to run­ning “nitro” with­out leav­ing the de­fense ex­posed up front. Af­ter rack­ing up seven tack­les, four quar­ter­backs hits and 11⁄2 sacks against the Sea­hawks, he’ll look to gen­er­ate sim­i­lar dis­rup­tion against Free­man and Ryan. New Eng­land Pa­tri­ots WR Brandin Cooks vs. New Or­leans Saints’ sec­ondary

Though Cooks’ re­turn to New Or­leans is a big story line, there are more press­ing is­sues for New Eng­land af­ter a sting­ing 42-27 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs.

With Danny Amen­dola side­lined by a con­cus­sion, the Pa­tri­ots have three healthy re­ceivers avail­able in Cooks, Chris Ho­gan and Phillip Dorsett. Though Rob Gronkowski and the run­ning backs should fig­ure promi­nently into the game plan, this is a chance for Tom Brady to at­tack on the out­side af­ter a 16-for-36 out­ing in the opener. Cooks hauled in a 54-yard re­cep­tion against the Kansas City Chiefs, but he still has to es­tab­lish him­self as a re­li­able tar­get.

New Or­leans saw its de­fense un­done in Week 1 by an over­whelmed sec­ondary. Min­nesota Vik­ings re­ceivers Adam Thie­len and Ste­fon Diggs com­bined for 250 yards and two touch­downs as

they out­ma­neu­vered Saints corner­backs in a 29-17 win.

Drew Brees holds a 3-1 record and 123.3 passer rat­ing against the Pa­tri­ots in his ca­reer. With the de­fense still look­ing vul­ner­a­ble, Cooks and New Eng­land might need to pro­vide a lot of fire­power to make this game com­fort­able. Chiefs RB Ka­reem Hunt vs. Philadel­phia Ea­gles’ front seven

The third-round rookie had a 246-yard de­but against the Pa­tri­ots. Keep­ing up such a pace is likely un­ten­able, but Hunt re­mains a threat as the Chiefs’ fea­tured back.

Known pri­mar­ily as a be­tween-the-tack­les run­ner, Hunt sur­prised many with his 78-yard touch­down catch and 58-yard touch­down run in the opener.

Ea­gles coach Doug Ped­er­son said Hunt was one of the play­ers the team was con­sid­er­ing in the draft. Now it’s up to Ped­er­son and his de­fen­sive front to con­tain Hunt.

De­fen­sive line­men Fletcher Cox and Bran­don Graham will give the Chiefs’ of­fen­sive line plenty to han­dle. But Kansas City thrives on bal­ance, and con­tin­ued suc­cess from Hunt could keep Philadel­phia from un­leash­ing the full wrath of its pass rush.


Bron­cos line­backer Von Miller will look to end a five-game streak with­out a sack.

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