Welcome back, Von Miller. When he went down with a torn ACL in week 16 last season, the Denver Broncos missed his play-making ability on the field. The defense held it's own in the playoffs, but in the Super Bowl, they missed Miller's explosive style on the edge.
Fortunately for the Broncos, Miller worked extremely hard to rehab his knee and get back on the playing field this past off-season. And he has taken his rightful place with the team's new-look defense as their most dominant player.
Some might say, "But he only has 2 sacks!". And that's true. Through 3 games, he's notched 2 sacks. But Miller's influence on the game is much more vast than that. There's no doubt that he has made his name as a pass rusher. But what isn't as appreciated, and valued by some in Broncos Country, is Miller's ability to wreck the opposition's run game.
Take 2013, for example. After being suspended for the first 6 games of the season, Miller returned to the team in week 7. From week 7, until he was injured in week 16, Miller only notched 6 sacks. But in only 9 games and 552 snaps, he was the most dominant linebacker in football.
Per ProFootballFocus.com, Miller graded out at a +42.8 overall, making him the highest rated linebacker, both inside and outside, in the NFL. The next closest was Kansas City's Justin Houston with a +31.9. Miller didn't earn that grade for his pass rushing prowess alone. His efforts in the run game catapulted him to the top, with a +20.2, again the highest grade by a linebacker in football that year.
He has continued that trend in 2014. On the season, he has graded out at +7.0 overall, with a +5.5 grade in run defense, both of which lead the NFL for 4-3 outside linebackers. And he's just getting started.
"I've got to get back in the lab. They started running a lot of hurry-up. To be honest, for me, I just couldn't breathe," Miller said. "I am going to address that and get that fixed in my conditioning. ... I don't like to compare last year, but I believe you are going to see a better Von this season."
The combination of having not played a full 60 minutes since his injury, and playing in the thin Mile High air, left him a bit gassed by the end of the game. He still graded out at +1.3 overall. Although he didn't sack Andrew Luck, he did hurry him 4 times.
It's hard to understand why Miller is so underrated against the run. His ability to knife through blockers and either crash down the line for the stop, or tackle the ball carrier for a loss, is Herculean. If he's called upon to set the edge, he'll do that too and force the ball carrier inside, where he can be consumed by guys like Terrance Knighton and Sylvester Williams.
He's no slouch in coverage either. When called upon to drop back, he has executed his coverage assignments, which gives the opposition one more thing to worry about from Miller. In the next 2 games vs the Kansas City Chiefs and Seattle Seahawks, both teams who happen to sport a mobile quarterback, Miller notched 2 sacks, along with 9 hurries. But in the run game, he's also been responsible for 8 stops. Here's how PFF defines a stop.
The number of solo defensive tackles made, which constitute an offensive failure.
That's what Miller does. And as he continues to get his game legs underneath him and his conditioning where it needs to be, we're going to continue to see him dominate the opposition. John Elway's vision of having Miller and DeMarcus Ware feast on quarterbacks and force turnovers, is coming to fruition. Between them, they have 4.5 sacks.
Miller might not be racking up sacks at a prolific rate, but he has quietly been the best defender on the Broncos defense. The flashy sack plays will come. He already has 2 in 3 games. Is there a more well-rounded, and dominant linebacker in the NFL, than Von Miller? I say to you, no.