Von the Creator: Analyzing Von Miller’s Sacks From the 2012 Denver Broncos’ Season

Von Miller is the first to get PSR’s sack analysis.

Series Introduction:

Twenty years from now, we may look back on the 2011 NFL draft and look at it as one of the greatest ever. Every draft has a certain level of talent to boast about and this class is still in the developmental process as a whole, but when it includes special players such as Richard Sherman, Justin Houston, Randall Cobb, Torrey Smith, Kyle Rudolph, Colin Kaepernick, Muhammad Wilkerson, Corey Liuget, Nate Solder, Cameron Jordan and Mike Pouncey it’s difficult to subdue the potential for hyperbole.

None of those players are what makes this class special though. Depth to a class is definitely a prerequisite for a great class, but having upper echelon talent is even more important.

The very top of this class featured names such as Jake Locker, Blaine Gabbert and Christian Ponder, all quarterbacks and all underwhelming at best after two years of their professional careers. Instead of dragging down the reputation of the class, the limitations of the quarterback depth in this class actually highlight the quality of the positional players who were taken within the top 12 selections. Normally after two seasons, we would judge the class by how the quarterbacks had adjusted and performed on Sundays, but those players have been lost in the shadows of Pro Bowlers and All-Pros.

Cam Newton led the way, as a record-setting star at the quarterback position. He has had his issues in the league, but also immediately carried over his record-setting displays from college into the NFL. AJ Green was the second offensive player off the board, going to the Cincinnati Bengals with the fourth overall pick. Although Green has been a superstar receiver, arguably the second best in the league, the Buffalo Bills won’t feel too discouraged about passing up on him for Marcell Dareus. Dareus is a defensive tackle who doesn’t have great statistical representation, but his high quality play is indisputable.

After Green, star cornerback and special teams player Patrick Peterson landed in Arizona with the Cardinals, before Julio Jones helped elevate the Atlanta Falcons’ whole offense as one of the most physically gifted players in the whole league. The San Francisco 49ers were forced to settle for Aldon Smith, a player who came within a few snaps of breaking Michael Strahan’s record for sacks in a single season, before the Dallas Cowboys got a very raw, but very talented Tyron Smith to be their franchise left tackle.

While this class has special penciled into many, many slots of the draft order, there are two players who stand out more so than the rest. One is the Houston Texans’ JJ Watt, a defensive end who potentially had the greatest season a defensive player could have in just his second year, while the second is the Denver Broncos’ Von Miller.

Miller and Watt are two of the most dynamic, versatile and exceptionally talented players in the whole of the NFL, but the reputations of both players are primarily established on their pass-rushing talents. Following on from PSR’s series on defensive backs, this new series is going to examine pass-rushers and more specifically, their sacks. Players such as Watt, Miller and Aldon Smith will be featured on this list, with Miller being the flagship featured in this article.

Layout of the Process

Every sack was considered and examined under this set of criteria:

  • Where and how the defender lined up.
  • Whether the player beat a blocker or not.
  • The quality and position of those blockers was also noted.
  • Whether the player was double-teamed or not.
  • Whether the player was involved in a stunt with a teammate or not and the effects of that stunt.
  • The primary reason for the sack.
  • The game situation ie: time, quarter, score, down and distance.
  • How the player beat attempted blocks.
  • Whether the player attacked the football or settled for the tackle on the quarterback’s body.
  • How long it took the player to get to the quarterback.
  • How many yards each sack pushed the offense back by.
  • Where the player broke into the backfield.
  • Where the player tackled the quarterback.

Miller’s Overall Results

By playing 1,072 snaps in 17 games last year, Von Miller was on the field for more than 90 percent of the Denver Broncos’ defensive plays last year. During that time, he rushed the passer on 498 snaps, opposed to 158 snaps when he dropped into coverage, getting to the quarterback 20 times for 19 official sacks.

For every single one of his sacks, Miller lined up in the stance of a linebacker, but was in line with the defensive line for all but one. Of those 19 sacks that came from the depth of a defensive lineman, only one came lined up on the right side of the field. He was a part of stunts(or plays when two pass-rushers moved together attempting to confuse the offensive line) on just two occasions.

Three of Miller’s sacks came against double teams, while six came when his team was either tied or playing from behind. He had just one sack in the first quarter of games throughout the season, with seven coming in the fourth quarter or overtime and eight in the third quarter. Fifteen times Miller tackled the quarterback while he was in the pocket and twice he sacked the quarterback after abandoning a coverage when the quarterback left the pocket.

Considering where he lined up on the field most often, it’s no surprise that he penetrated the pocket from outside of right tackle most often, 12 times in total, with four more breakthroughs coming on the inside shoulder of the right tackle. He also ran around the back of the quarterback before getting into the pocket on one occasion(against the Patriots) and got through between both A-Gaps once each.

Thirteen of his sacks came on third down, with only three of those plays being further than six yards away from the line of scrimmage. Miller had five sacks on first downs, but three of those came with a double-digit lead late in the fourth quarter and another came with a 32 point lead late in the third quarter.

Method Analysis

This chart represents what moves Miller used to beat what players and how often he used them.

Timestamp

Beaten Offensive Linemen

Speed Rush

Bull Rush

Speed to set up Bull Rush

Other Specific Move

PIT, Q4 01:59

Mike Adams, Doug Legursky

Yes

No

No

Dips Beneath OT to get around edge

PIT, Q4 01:01

Doug Legursky

No

No

No

Hesitates to set up speed rush

ATL, Q4 10:18

No

No

No

Spins

NE, Q3 14:14

Logan Mankins

Yes

No

No

None

NE, Q4 13:28

Sebastien Vollmer

Yes

No

No

Dips

SD, Q4 01:20

Jeromey Clary

No

No

No

Swim move

CIN, Q2 09:41

Kevin Zeitler

No

Yes

No

None

CIN, Q2 01:45

No

Yes

No

None

CIN, Q3 01:54

Andre Smith

No

No

Yes

None

CAR, Q1 12:23

No

No

No

None

SD, Q2 02:03

No

No

No

None

SD, Q3 14:10

Jeromey Clary

No

No

No

Swim move

SD, Q3 07:55

Jeromey Clary

No

No

No

Swim move

KC, Q2 15:00

No

No

No

None

TB, Q4 04:09

Demar Dotson

Yes

No

No

Dips beneath OT to get around edge

OAK, Q3 05:50

Khalif Barnes

Yes

No

No

Dips beneath OT to get around edge

CLE, Q3 11:32

Mitchell Schwartz

Yes

No

No

Uses hands to knock blocker off balance

CLE, Q3 04:27

 No

No

No

None

KC, Q3 00:59

Jeff Allen

 No

Yes

No

None

BAL, OT 11:13

 No

No

No

None

Totals:

15

6

3

1

10

It’s no surprise that Miller uses his speed to beat offensive tackles and guards. He has an incredible first step and a tenacity that allows him to be very aggressive with it. Combining that with his low center of gravity and strength makes it next to impossible for offensive linemen to consistently contain him.

Test

It looks small, but because Miller gets off the line so quickly, he immediately puts the offensive tackle under more pressure. The tackle is trying to get to a specific point so he can set himself up to anchor anything that Miller tries to do. That spot is relative to the quarterback/his assignment and he must get there in order to be able to play the defensive player inside or outside.

However, he must also get there very quickly while keeping his balance and upper body under control. Against a player like Miller, the offensive tackle is already going to be under pressure to get back quickly, but with his speed at the line of scrimmage, Miller is able to put tackles in recovering positions from the snap of the ball. This allows him to create space inside if they overplay their backpedal or if his speed rush isn’t enough.

That combination puts the offensive tackle in an incredibly difficult spot to protect his quarterback alone.

Test 2

This image better shows off Miller’s explosion in relation to his teammates. Both defensive linemen did start the play with their hands in the ground, but even considering that Miller is already significantly further down the field than they are during the same span of time.

Miller’s explosion off the line isn’t a move, but it affects how the blocker assigned to handle him sets up on every single play.

Although he beat 11 offensive linemen on 15 occasions for his 20 sacks, there were very few of the top tackles or guards in the league who he beat.

Name

Snaps

Sacks Allowed

PFF Grade

Mike Adams

292

7

-3.9

Doug Legursky

267

3

-6.1

Logan Mankins

553

2

3.1

Sebastien Vollmer

756

7

15.7

Jeromey Clary

486

9

-.9

Kevin Zeitler

671

4

9.9

Andre Smith

667

7

13.7

Demar Dotson

610

7

7.4

Khalif Barnes

356

4

-.4

Mitchell Schwartz

642

5

14.6

Jeff Allen

425

3

-7.0

Total

5725

58

46.1

Average

520.45

5.23

4.2

*PFF Grade is for pass blocking only
All Statistics courtesy of PFF

That said, there were still only four games during the season that Miller didn’t register a sack, against the Houston Texans, who haven’t had elite right tackle play since Eric Winston was around, the Oakland Raiders, when he came close on at least three occasions, against the New Orleans Saints, who have maybe the best quarterback in the league at avoiding sacks, Drew Brees, and against the Baltimore Ravens on a day when he had eight combined hurries and hits on the quarterback.

Miller can only beat what is put in front of him and for the most part, he did that to an elite level. No pass-rusher is going to beat the offense on every single snap, but Miller is definitely a creator of his own production rather than a benefactor of teammates or offensive futility.

Finding out who was benefiting from their situation and who was truly an outstanding pass-rusher was my motivation for doing this series. It may seem like nothing, but if the majority of your sacks are coming from blown assignments, poor blocking or the offense focusing on your teammates, then your individual value takes a hit.

It is much better to have a pass-rusher who forces sacks instead of just benefiting from weaknesses around him because those weaknesses will be few and far between against the better offenses. The best way to understand this is to find out which sacks did Miller get because he is Von Miller against which sacks Miller got because he was the Denver Broncos’ linebacker. Take Miller out and replace him with an average linebacker in every single situation he faced this past season and what would you get?

This is what I like to call educated speculation. Miller didn’t beat a blocker on seven of his sacks, but two of those sacks were excellent plays when he tracked down the quarterback after initially dropping into coverage. A player with average athleticism would have seen those plays turn into tackles after a scramble rather than a sack. Included in those seven sacks were also blown assignments and coverage sacks, a couple of those plays still required Miller to use his speed and strength even though he didn’t directly beat any blocks.

Therefore, if an average player gets half of what Miller gets outside of the four or five freebies, then you’re likely getting in and around 10-12 sacks. That’s not a bad number, but there is a vast difference between that number and the 20 Miller finished last season with(18.5 official).

Timestamp

Beaten Offensive Linemen

Attacks Football

Time Elapsed

Yards

PIT, Q4 01:59

Mike Adams, Doug Legursky

Yes

2.7

5

PIT, Q4 01:01

Doug Legursky

No

2.6

10

ATL, Q4 10:18

No

3.7

11

NE, Q3 14:14

Logan Mankins

No

4.2

4

NE, Q4 13:28

Sebastien Vollmer

No

3.1

4

SD, Q4 01:20

Jeromey Clary

No

2.5

6

CIN, Q2 09:41

Kevin Zeitler

No

3.4

2

CIN, Q2 01:45

No

3.4

3

CIN, Q3 01:54

Andre Smith

No

2.6

7

CAR, Q1 12:23

No

4.6

6

SD, Q2 02:03

No

2.5

14

SD, Q3 14:10

Jeromey Clary

Yes

2.8

6

SD, Q3 07:55

Jeromey Clary

Yes

3.0

9

KC, Q2 15:00

No

6.2

1

TB, Q4 04:09

Demar Dotson

Yes

3.2

7

OAK, Q3 05:50

Khalif Barnes

Yes

2.8

9

CLE, Q3 11:32

Mitchell Schwartz

No

2.3

7

CLE, Q3 04:27

No

2.2

9

KC, Q3 00:59

Jeff Allen

No

3.1

7

BAL, OT 11:13

No

4.9

7

Totals:

15

5

65.8

134

Averages:

.75

.25

3.29

6.7

The most telling part of the above chart is Miller’s time to sack the quarterback. If you take out the two sacks when he caught the quarterback from a coverage assignment, the 3.29 number drops to 2.75 seconds per sack. That kind of speed from a position lined up next to the defensive line puts a huge amount of pressure on the quarterback to get rid of the football.

Once he gets there, he is more often than not in complete control, opposed to coming in reckless and flailing his limbs around like some rushers do. This allows him to attack the football rather than just tackle the quarterback. A quarterback in the pocket is very vulnerable to fumbles because his focus isn’t on the pass-rush. When Miller looked to knock the ball free, he was very successful, but he didn’t always look to do it.

This should be an aspect of his game that he becomes famous for over his career. If he really works on it, he has the combination of speed, size, control and quickness to force 10 fumbles or more during a season to go along with 17 or more sacks. That kind of production changes can change the face of a season.

Individual Play Analysis

I must give a nod to the Broncos’ coaching staff for Miller’s second sack of the season. Just like an offensive coordinator who sets up a deep ball with a screen play or play-action with a well-timed call, the Broncos set up Doug Legursky late in the fourth quarter.

On first and 10, with 01:58 left in the game, Miller was lined up in his familiar position of a standing defensive end in a three man front. There is a tight end lined up across from him, but he runs straight into his route and leaves Miller alone against right tackle Mike Adams.

Miller

Miller beats Adams at the snap. He is very quickly past him and Adams’ feet aren’t set because he is always trying to catch up. Importantly, Legursky’s head shows that he had a different assignment, but quickly recognized that his tackle needed help. Unfortunately for the offensive guard, he underestimated how fast Miller was and was out of position when his head came back to relocate him after checking his own lane.

Not only does Miller get the sack here, but he also sets up Legursky for his second sack two plays later.

Screen Shot 2013-06-17 at 00.16.42

In almost a carbon copy of the last play, Miller lines up in the same spot while Legursky still has his speed in his head from the last play.

Miller plays this perfectly, while Legursky couldn’t play it any worse. At the snap, instead of bursting past Adams outside, Miller hesitates slightly towards the outside, before quickly gliding inside and running through the massive gap that Legursky gives up. Legursky was obviously worried about the outside speed rush after being beaten by it just two plays previous, but because of that he gave up an easy sack inside.

This is the problem that offensive linemen have with Miller’s incredible physical gifts.

Screen Shot 2013-06-17 at 00.26.34

Those traits transcend through other aspects of Miller’s pass-rushing repertoire. Against the Cincinnati Bengals, he used his speed to set up the inside bull-rush for the sack.