While I wouldn't call Von Miller's 2019 campaign lackluster, it was bereft of the type of high-impact plays that have exemplified his storied career. Miller finished the season with only eight sacks — which was a career-low for the eight-time Pro Bowler (not counting his 2013 campaign wherein he only appeared in nine games) — but when it came to his overall productivity as a pass rusher, only six players were better.
Miller finished with 77 total QB pressures, which combines sacks, hits, and hurries, which ranked him No. 7 in the NFL according to Pro Football Focus. So why do so many in the media have the perception that Miller declined last year?
Two reasons. One, many national media types don't watch the film and make their evaluations based on box-score stats.
Two, and this does point to Miller having a less-than-stellar season, those crunch-time plays that he'd become known for — the type that end up on the highlight reels that networks like ESPN run for an entire week of programming and elevate a player's profile — simply weren't there.
Miller's star has perhaps lost a little bit of its luster if a recent CBS Sports ranking is any indication. CBS' Ryan Wilson released his top-10 edge rushers going into 2020 and wouldn't you know, Miller's name was absent.
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Miller still earned a Pro Bowl nod in 2019, though some fairly wonder how much of that had to do with his reputation more so than his play. The truth is, Miller did affect quarterbacks at a prolific rate, racking up so many pressures.
But if 2019 was anything, it was a case of 'close, but no cigar' for Miller. Often, he'd generate the pressure only to see the QB unload the ball a millisecond or two before Miller could get home.
Why did Miller struggle to actually sack the quarterback? There were multiple factors, and while his age is one that needs to be considered, there were too many other mitigating issues that impacted his play to lay it squarely at the feet of Father Time. That's why guys like DeMarcus Ware remain adamant that Miller hasn't slowed down or begun his decline in earnest.
Take these factors for example. Vic Fangio struggled to implement his defensive vision in his first year in Denver. Fangio's scheme is more complex than the preceding system the Broncos ran and puts a lot more pressure on players mentally.
It takes time for Fangio's scheme to really sink in and for players to fully assimilate it to a point where they're not thinking out on the field. Nowhere was this buffering period, if you will, more apparent than in the fact that the Broncos went almost the entire first quarter of the season without forcing a turnover or registering a single sack.
That dam finally broke in Week 4 vs. the Jacksonville Jaguars and just when fans thought it was safe to exhale and that the Broncos defense had finally hit third gear, Bradley Chubb suffered a torn ACL in that game. Chubb would miss the remaining 12 games on injured reserve.
Without a Shaquil Barrett waiting in the wings to step in for Chubb, suddenly Miller was the only pass-rushing threat opponents had to really worry about. What happened next was entirely predictable.
Opposing offensive coordinators simply fanned protection Miller's way on passing downs, which resulted in double- and triple-team attention. The greats still find a way to produce even when they're garnering all that attention, and that's what Miller did.
The fact that he still managed to post eight sacks and 77 pressures in the face of such enormous obstacles is a credit to his wherewithal and talent. But it also helps explain why those big-time plays in the clutch where so few and far between in 2019.
The good news? Chubb is going to be back in 2020, helping to take that attention off of Miller. Miller has always had a blue-chip complement playing opposite of him, whether it was Elvis Dumervil, Ware, or Chubb.
For that reason, and the fact that Miller is getting disrespected in the national media, the NFL ought to bear down and brace for impact. Miller and Chubb are coming to wreck shop in 2020, which also happens to be Year 2 of the Fangio scheme.
The Broncos finally clicked defensively under Fangio not long after Chubb went down, thanks to a shuffling in the front seven that saw Alexander Johnson take over for Josey Jewell at inside linebacker and Mike Purcell take over for Shelby Harris at nose tackle, which allowed Harris to kick out to his natural position at defensive end.
Getting Chubb and cornerback Bryce Callahan back, combined with the offseason acquisitions of DL Jurrell Casey and CB A.J. Bouye, I expect to see Fangio's defense take a quantum leap forward in 2020. Miller will undoubtedly lead the way.
While at 31 years old, we have to remain open to the increasing likelihood that Father Time will begin to sap Miller's explosive talent, there were too many coinciding factors to purely attribute his 2019 campaign to age. Now, if the struggles to get home and make game-changing plays persist in 2020, then we can point to his age and inevitable decline having arrived.
In that event, arbitrary lists like this one from CBS Sports will actually have merit. Right now, I can't say with a straight face that guys like Barrett, Za'Darius Smith, Danielle Hunter, and Nick Bosa, among others on this list, are better than Miller. Can you?