|Eric Bakke/Associated Press|
"Around the League Film Room" is a new weekly series that uses Game Rewind and All-22 tape to dig deeper into the play of the NFL's heroes and goats. We open the series with a look at Von Miller.
Von Miller has played the most intriguing football of his young career over the past two weeks. The Denver Broncos' outside linebacker was without equal on the field during Sunday's 36-14 win over the Carolina Panthers.
Carolina's offense, with its heavy dose of option concepts, was no match for Denver's defense, which piled up seven sacks on the day. Miller and his Broncos teammates saw plenty of option offense in Denver last season, but it wasn't the strategic advantage you might think. The Panthers employ the read-option in a different way than the Broncos did behind Tim Tebow.
Jeff Legwold of The Denver Post crunched the numbers to point out the Broncos' 2011 option attack ran the ball into the belly of the defense almost 50 percent of the time. The Panthers -- and this has everything to do with Cam Newton -- like to test the outside. Carolina is targeting the perimeter close to 33 percent of the time this season, almost double last year's figure for the Broncos. The Panthers average roughly 7 yards per carry on those outside rushes.
Bottom line: Miller's primary challenge against Carolina boiled down to containing Ace Boogie on the edges.
Miller's performance against the Panthers is an example of his growth in Year 2. He was the NFL's defensive rookie of the year in 2011, but teams were able to trick Miller into poor positioning on occasion. We're not seeing much of that in 2012.
Let's take a look at two plays below:
Miller struck with a vengeance on Carolina's opening drive. After converting a first down, the Panthers found themselves in a third-and-4 situation at their 44-yard line. Newton lined up in the shotgun with Mike Tolbert to his left and Greg Olsen to his right. The formation placed three receivers inside the numbers: Brandon LaFell on the left with Steve Smith and Louis Murphy on the right side -- a tighter three-receiver formation than some teams like to run.
The Broncos matched this with three down linemen, three linebackers and a nickel package in the secondary.
Post-snap, Newton faces a rapidly collapsing pocket to his right, thanks to Elvis Dumervil, who dominates Panthers right tackle Byron Bell. With nowhere to go to his right, Newton darts left seeing nothing downfield.
Miller barely moves with the snap. He's watching Newton's eyes, because he's responsible for preventing one of those big Cam dance routines down the sideline. Miller must make a decision. He chooses to pursue Newton.
Miller can't afford to be a second late, and he isn't. Newton's on the move -- eyeing the field -- but Miller trusts his own ability enough to shoot forward and face Cam one-on-one. Newton sees him too late. Miller's speed takes over, then his strength, as he wrestles Newton to the ground for a 6-yard, drive-killing sack (followed by the heavily publicized Superman routine). Most NFL linebackers can't be trusted to make this play against an athlete like Newton.
The pick six
The Broncos show three down linemen with Miller hugged up at the line of scrimmage off Bell's outside shoulder. This time, Bell barrels inside to hunt down Broncos defensive tackle Kevin Vickerson. Miller is left alone, until LaFell comes in motion from the right and pops Von before releasing into his route through the belly of the defense.
That leaves only backup tight end Ben Hartsock -- lined up in the backfield -- to shut down Miller. Good luck with that.
Hartsock is lucky he wasn't flagged while trying to contain Miller, who hunts down Newton and dives at the quarterback's feet. It's an insane move, and disruptive enough to throw Newton off balance as he releases the ball -- right into the hands of cornerback Tony Carter, who takes it 40 yards to the house for the 24-7 lead.
Watch multiple Broncos games this season, and you'll see Miller line up all over the place in Jack Del Rio's defense. That versatility is one reason Miller has piled up 10 sacks. His surge against the Panthers came one week after he sacked Andy Dalton three times. Another number: Miller has 30 quarterback hurries. No other 4-3 outside linebacker has hit double digits in 2012, according to Pro Football Focus.
Follow Marc Sessler on Twitter @MarcSesslerNFL.