The Denver Broncos defense is the very best in the National Football League.
Now, standing on the precipice of infamy, the Denver "D" finds itself standing in the way of a rampaging phenomenon in Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers offense.
This is the defense that brutalized Tom Brady's New England Patriots in the AFC Championship. An importunate unit, the Broncos defense doesn’t have a fancy nickname but is filled with plenty of fancy names. Primary among them is linebacker Von Miller.
(Photo Credit: USA Today)
His regular season tally of 35 tackles and 11 sacks (third in the league) was paired with the pass rushing expertise of DeMarcus Ware. His 7.5 sacks were good for 11th in the NFL during the regular season. That trend would continue in the playoffs as Ware and Miller would spearhead an attack that sacked Brady four times and intercepted him twice.
Another earmark of the Broncos defense is the fact that Tom Brady was the Patriots' top rusher in the AFC Championship with 13 yards on 3 carries. To be real, the defense of the Denver Broncos is the single catalyst for their arrival in the Super Bowl this season, not Peyton Manning. They know it, we know it, and maybe even Peyton himself knows it too.
Wade Phillip’s vaunted 3-4 defense employs three defensive lineman to occupy the big uglies on the other side of the ball, while allowing the four linebackers to either rush the quarterback or drop back into coverage.
As was illustrated in the AFC Championship game, Von Miller excels when he allowed to react on his instincts.
With speed and agility that are largely uncommon at his position, Miller has excellent closing speed and is very difficult to fool. There is no doubt he will have an impact on this game, but to what extent?
The Broncos have not dealt with anything like Carolina and Cam Newton all season long, but the Panthers have not dealt with as complete and voracious a defense as that fielded by the Denver Broncos. When the ball is snapped on Super Bowl Sunday, Miller and friends will try to make the Panthers have as little to dab about as possible.
There are times in which we don’t really appreciate the abilities of an athlete unless his accolades are spoken aloud. For Miller,those props begin back at Desoto High School in Texas, where was a noted all-around athlete who competed in track & field, excelling in the 110m hurdles, triple jump and the javelin throw. After an outstanding high school career Miller would go on to star as an outside linebacker for Texas A&M, where he won the Butkus Award as the country's best linebacker and was named a consensus All American.
(Photo Credit: USA Today)
But productivity in college doesn’t automatically add up to being given a high rank by NFL scouts.
In 2011, former NFL scout for the Arizona Cardinals Dave Razzano went in depths during an interview with MattMaiocco of CSNBayArea.com to explain why the San Francisco 49ers should not draft Miller, going so far as to compare him to former NY Jets sixth overall pick Vernon Gholston, who did not record a single sack 42 games into his career.
"In looking at Big-12 tape, he does not have a motor.He doesn't chase hard. They run at him, and he doesn't fight off blockers. When he gets sacks, a lot of times he's not getting blocked. He's a one-move guy.”
No motor? Doesn’t chase hard? Doesn’t fight off blockers? One has to wonder whether this scout had some sort of personal vendetta against Miller. Lucky for the Broncos, they didn’t listen to him.
Von Miller jumped out the gate with 11.5 sacks and 50 tackles on his way to being named NFL Rookie of the Year after being selected with the second overall pick in in the 2011 draft. The sophomore slump was nonexistent as he upped the ante to 18.5 sacks, a Denver Broncos record, and 55 tackles the next season.
Although the critics of his game were silenced, the critics of his lifestyle choices multiplied exponentially due to his off the field decisions, including an incident in 2013 in which an unpaid traffic ticket led to his arrest at a gun store for failing to appear in court. One month later, he was cited for speeding and driving a suspended license. A month after that he was two hours later for a court appearance. He was also suspended for six games in 2013 for violating league policy relating to a failed drug test.
But Von Miller has come a long way since being vilified as the latest NFL nitwit.
If the Denver Broncos do win the Big One, Miller just might be the single biggest reason why it will happen. What a difference a few years makes. However, in order for this fairy tale ending to occur, Von Miller has to bring that same fervor that caused the New England Patriots to cower in his wake.