Science of the Sack, DeMarcus Ware and Von Miller

Doc Bear turns to science to measure the impact of the Broncos Pro Bowl pass rushing duo, DeMarcus Ware and Von Miller.

I was in research mode the other day and decided to find out just how good the Denver Broncos starting outside linebackers are from a somewhat scientific viewpoint. Every coach in the league knows that Denver has a brutal ‘bookends’ pass rush. DeMarcus Ware and Von Miller are one of the best duos in the league.

I wanted to find out just how fast and powerful they really are. I turned to Sport Science on YouTube, and found they’d tested both DeMarcus Ware and Von Miller, who I’d watched before. Perfect! Now for the findings. (See videos below)

DeMarcus Ware

In 2012, when his session was filmed, DeMarcus had a get-off at the snap of just .23 seconds. For comparison’s sake, Sylvester Williams has rare skills for a lineman. His get-off is just .29 seconds. Sly’s time is about half that of the average player.

Ware had to blast his way through 900 pounds of heavy bags, then take down the QB dummy. He managed it all in 2.3 seconds. That’s about the elite end of the average time for a QB to get his pass off.

According to Sport Science, most sacks occur in 2.3 seconds following the snap. If so, Ware’s right on the money - if he has to blast through 900 pounds of heavy bags. But there are other opinions. From 2009-2010 Football Outsiders timed every pass in every game. Here’s their result:

“The median sack time has hovered between 2.7 and 2.8 seconds throughout the two years of the tracking.”

That time is getting faster. Even so, Ware’s easily up to it.

Although the session was shot in 2012, Ware’s time was the fastest that Dr. Cynthia Bir, had ever seen. Dr. Bir, the resident sports doc for the series, is a Professor in the Department of Emergency Medicine at the Keck School of Medicine, of the University of Southern California. She knows her way around research.

Teams have been working with their QBs on reducing their time from snap to release since then. They know that it’s essential to reduce that time to stave off today’s pass rushers. but according to Pro Football Focus (also from 2012), Ware’s still faster than they are.

When Ware blasted through the 900 pounds of bags and exploded into the dummy, he did so in .13 seconds, with 3292 pounds of force. It was one of the biggest hits Sport Science had ever measured in their lab at the time.

Imagine being an offensive lineman, trying to stop a guy whose get-off is one of the fastest in the league and who can be past you in .13 seconds. It has to be frustrating for the OL.

When they put Ware in his lane, heavy bags obstacle and all, next to a man running in full pads, he was through the bags in just 1.1 seconds - faster than without a target. It suggests that given someone to hit, he speeds up. Ware had placed a marker on the turf about 6 yards beyond the bags and in the runner’s lane. He predicted that was where they’d collide.

It was precisely where he took the man, running for his health if not his life, down to the turf. Ware’s 34-inch arms wrapped him up, as Ware drove with his legs and hammered in with his shoulder. It was a textbook tackle. Ware’s experience allows him to gauge things like that with incredible precision.

Want more? Try DeMarcus Ware’s 1000 frames per second 'Anatomy of a sack'. Find it on YouTube. It’s well worth seeing.

Von Miller

Every offensive coordinator in the league knows that Von Miller is as fast as a striking Rocky Mountain rattlesnake and absurdly athletic. In 2013, Sport Science outfitted Miller with an advanced technology shirt from Under Armour. It measured his heartbeat and respiration. For his session, he was also outfitted in full pads.

From a standing start to a sprint, Miller reached 19.5 mph in just 2.7 seconds. For comparison's sake, that’s as fast as WR Larry Fitzgerald. Miller's speed is remarkable.

But there’s a second aspect to Miller - his amazing conditioning. This testing was done in 2013. Coaches, players and commentators have mentioned that he’s in better condition now than he’s ever been. Even then he was able to hit a heart rate of 141 beats per minute during his sprint. 90 seconds later, it was back down to 70 bpm.

In layman’s terms, that dramatic spike in heartbeat means he’s bringing huge amounts of oxygen to his tissues. To have his kind of recovery rate means that it would be rare for him to need a rest. His body is fully in rest mode by the time the opponents hit the huddle.

Since Miller can and does cover the pass, they set up a test to see how quickly he could accurately distinguish between rush and pass. His accurate reaction took 27/100ths of a second. He reached over 70% of his top speed in just four steps. He finished off the play with a one-handed catch onto a stunt bag.

When Miller read ‘run’, he dashed forward and took out the rushing dummy with a force nearly equal to none other than DeMarcus Ware. Denver’s defensive bookends are fast, powerful, recover quickly and hit like maglev trains. They’re at the very top of how hard player hits have been measured by Sport Science.

Denver has the likes of Shane Ray and Shaquil Barrett as ‘backups,’ players who would start on most NFL teams. Getting behind is the kiss of death for most of the Broncos opponents. It lets Denver pin their ears back and attack from both sides, while Sly Williams and the defensive ends collapse the pocket from the front.

There’s nothing that the Broncos defense likes to do more.

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Doc Bear is a Featured Columnist for MileHighHuddle. You can find him on Twitter @alloverfatman.

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