With Week 3 of the NFL season upon us, NFL Media's network of reporters gets you up to speed with the hottest news and notes from across the league, including:
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DENVER -- It's easy to be awed by the dominance recently produced by Denver Broncos outside linebacker Von Miller. It's more critical that people understand the mindset that has been driving him to such new levels of excellence with each passing week. This isn't merely a freakish athlete taking advantage of the best years of his life. This is also an elite competitor who's finally latched on to the key to elevating his game.
Anybody who follows the Broncos -- or the NFL, for that matter -- should know what Miller has been doing this calendar year. Going back to Denver's win over New England in the AFC title game last January, he's amassed nine sacks, 10 quarterback hits, four tackles for loss, three forced fumbles and an interception -- in a stretch of just four games. Those numbers had Broncos defensive coordinator Wade Phillips saying Miller might end up being the league's Most Valuable Player at this pace. It's not an outlandish notion, given that Miller is playing a lot like the last defensive player to win that award: Hall of Famer Lawrence Taylor (in 1986).
The important thing to note in all this is that Miller -- who was made the highest-paid non-quarterback in NFL history by the Broncos this summer -- couldn't care less about awards, adulation or hype as he continues his sixth season. He's been laser-focused since the Broncos went on a run that led to a Super Bowl 50 win over Carolina, and he'd like to stay in that place.
"When we got the opportunity to be the first seed in the playoffs, that's when everything changed for me," said Miller, who has four sacks this season. "We had another chance to go to the playoffs, so it was time for me to get my mind right. I got off Facebook and Instagram and Snapchat. I really just wanted to be all in to the moment I was in. When I did that, I thought, This is easy. It was the same stuff I'd been doing, but I was putting more time into my craft. That's made me the player I am now."
Miller is coming off a week where he once again changed the game for Denver with his penchant for harassing signal callers. Included in his three sacks last Sunday was a fourth-quarter takedown of Indianapolis' Andrew Luck that led to a fumble, which Broncos outside linebacker Shane Ray returned for the final touchdown in Denver's 34-20 victory. Miller came into last season with the belief that he had to grow from a perennial Pro Bowler into the type of presence that is practically uncontrollable. Games like those -- and his MVP performance in Super Bowl 50 -- are indications that he might even have more ideas about how to dominate in the near future.
Miller acknowledged on Thursday that people would be surprised if they actually heard the goals he designs for himself.
"He's playing at a higher level than anyone else right now," Phillips said. "I told him earlier that I thought he really started out well. But [opponents] are going to try to double- and triple-team him. It's tough when you're marked. Those other guys have to come through."
That assessment is even more true considering Miller's partner in crime, Pro Bowl outside linebacker DeMarcus Ware, will be sidelined for the next four to five weeks with a fractured right forearm. It's a huge loss for an elite defense that thrives on pressuring quarterbacks, but Miller wisely isn't seeing it as a reason to ask even more of himself.
"When you lose a guy, you don't want to come in and say, 'I have to play for myself and DeMarcus,' " Miller said. "If I came in with that mindset, I would never get anything done. I have to be the best Von Miller I can be. If I do that, I make [Derek] Wolfe better. I make Shane better. I make the linebackers better. Whoever is out there, I'm going to make them better."
That is a big sign of how far Miller has come over the last few years. It was only three seasons ago that he was dealing with controversy (he was suspended six games for violating the league's substance-abuse policy in 2013) and physical setbacks (a torn ACL ended his 2013 campaign prematurely). That was before Ware arrived as a free agent in 2014 after nine years in Dallas, becoming a valued friend and mentor. It also was before Miller had his own awakening with regard to the footprint he wants to leave on the National Football League.
Miller even admitted that he gained something from participating in "Dancing with the Stars" this past spring. The work he had to put into learning routines for the reality TV dance competition made him appreciate the value of grinding every day for something you love. Miller said he'd never spent six hours a day working on anything in his life, especially not something he didn't know how to do, until he did so for the show. The end result was a deeper understanding of the value of consistency and what it takes to create that. Miller tries to teach these lessons to his younger teammates.
"When I am with the young guys, I try to be focused and I try to listen," Miller said. "You have to listen to what they're saying to get their point of view, and then you can help them out. I want to be in the moment while I have this moment. I want to take full advantage of it."
It says plenty that Miller now approaches mentoring in the same way Ware first approached him. It's also worth noting that Miller believes so much in the importance of not looking back that it took him several months to even watch his Super Bowl win. In his eyes, there's not much value in the past except to see what he can improve fundamentally. Besides, with the way Miller has been playing, it's far more fun to think about what he's about to do next.
And now, the rest of this week's notes from NFL Media's reporters:
DENVER BRONCOS: The Denver defender opponents key on isn't who you think it is. The Broncos have the best pass rusher on the planet and a future Hall of Famer as their complementary edge rusher (once he returns from injury, this is). They also have a secondary as talented as any in football, and it's headlined by Aqib Talib, who on Sunday returned yet another interception for a touchdown, the ninth of his career.
But the Colts didn't have No. 58 (Von Miller), No. 94 (DeMarcus Ware) or No. 21 (Talib) literally circled on a white board leading into last Sunday's game in Denver. The number they did have circled: No. 43, which belongs to T.J. Ward. The focus on stopping Ward was so obvious, the Broncos safety could actually tell the Colts were keying on him while the game was being played.
Aside from Ward being one of the best run-stopping safeties in football, he has coverage skills. The two-time Pro Bowler also has a knack for getting into the backfield. Since 2013, only two defensive backs have more tackles for loss than Ward's 19: the Rams' T.J. McDonald (21) and the Cardinals' Tyrann Mathieu (20). Of course, Colts quarterback Andrew Luck was already aware of Ward's ability to alter games heading into Sunday. The two have played against each other regularly dating back to their college days, when Luck was at Stanford and Ward -- who entered the NFL in 2010, two years before Luck -- was at Oregon.
"They've done it a little different now with the dime defense and using T.J. Ward up there in some situations. That's the adjustment they've made," Lewis said.
Adding to Ward's talents, his run-stuffing ability allows the Broncos to play him closer to the line of scrimmage; Phillips can use him to crowd the line as a hard-hitting linebacker-type defensive back who is athletic enough to easily drop into coverage. With a defense that has so much talent, Phillips, in his 25th season as a defensive coordinator, must be having the time of his life.
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DETROIT LIONS & GREEN BAY PACKERS: NFC North rivalry bout looms large after 2015. Detroit. Green Bay. Two 1-1 teams who went 1-1 against each other a season ago, and two tales that must be revisited, at least briefly. Both games, decided by four points or less, and one, riddled with late game heroics and controversy.
Jim Caldwell's Lions took Week 10 (18-16) at a venue they hadn't won in since 1991 -- Lambeau Field. Mike McCarthy's Packers virtually stole Week 13 at Ford Field (27-23), on a Hail Mary 61-yard launch from Aaron Rodgers to Richard Rodgers -- the quarterback and tight end connecting, after a still-talked-about facemask penalty on Lions defensive end Devin Taylor. To put it in perspective, it marked the longest offensive game-winning TD on the final play of regulation in the Super Bowl era.
So what does this all mean, now? Players are talking, with last season's split record fueling both squads.
Said Lions wideout Golden Tate to me, "You know, we're expecting not many people to give us a chance outside of this locker room -- that's totally fine. One of my biggest things: Don't leave it up to anyone but us. I think coming off a win there last year, definitely gives us confidence. Before last year, we hadn't won in Lambeau since '91, so we broke that trend and we're trying to make that trend go in our favor this year and the years to come."
Tate's teammate, safety Glover Quin, piggybacked on those sentiments, alluding to the importance of winning in Green Bay last season: "Obviously, we went up there and won last year. So the myth that we can't win in Green Bay is out of the way."
Quin added: "You look at both games we played them, we pretty much beat them in both games ... We know we can play with these guys."
As for the Packers, Aaron Rodgers and company are still seeking rhythm, failing to gain 300 yards of total offense in either of their first two games. But they are the Packers, and it is Aaron Rodgers. He's still great, and they are in Wisconsin. As Quin reminded me, "I respect the game and greatness way too much to say that Aaron Rodgers is struggling. He's a great player, great quarterback -- a smart, smart quarterback."
Side notes: The Lions lead the NFL with 25 penalties for 208 yards. They also have gained 375-plus total yards of offense in each of their first two games (at Indianapolis, vs. Tennessee). Meanwhile, the Packers kick off a four-game homestand with Detroit on Sunday -- and won't see their next road game until Week 8 (in Atlanta).
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MIAMI DOLPHINS: Time-of-possession problems gall Gase. The two near-miss losses by the Miami Dolphins had a common thread: lopsided time of possession. Against Seattle, the Dolphins had the ball for 25:28; against the Patriots, they had it for 23:14, running just six offensive plays in the first quarter. That was a chief source of frustration following the loss to the Patriots last Sunday.
After falling behind 31-3, the Dolphins roared back and had a chance for a game-tying drive late in the fourth quarter before the Patriots -- despite missing Jimmy Garoppolo, who left in the second quarter with a shoulder injury -- went on a time-chewing drive that, though it resulted in no points, drained five minutes off the clock. Coach Adam Gase is blaming his offense, which had six drives of four plays or fewer in the first half against the Patriots.
"It's not the defense," Gase said. "Offensively, we cannot go three-and-out. We've done it so many times already that it's ridiculous. The defense has no chance in the fourth quarter of having any opportunity to be somewhat fresh if we're three-and-out the entire first half. And then we get back into the game and we're like, 'C'mon defense, stop them now.' Well, on play 75, you're a little fatigued."
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NEW ORLEANS SAINTS: Williams facing long road back. The reason Saints cornerback P.J. Williamslanded on injured reserve after taking a hit to the headin Sunday's loss to the Giants and suffering a concussion is that the recommended rest period -- from the doctors who examined him -- put Williams' return close to the end of the season. At this point, doctors and the Saints plan to be more cautious with Williams because, as coach Sean Payton put it on Thursday, Williams suffered "one of the more severe concussions that I've seen."
Williams already has collected several medical opinions on his concussion and will gather a few more in the coming days and weeks, according to someone informed of Williams' treatment and diagnoses. The good news for Williams, that person said, is none of the doctors who have examined his case has recommended he retire, and all of them so far believe he will be able to return to the field next season.
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On Wednesday, Beckham sounded ready to take his quarterback's advice ahead of Sunday's matchup with Washington.
"I think from a mental standpoint, he's in a completely different place than he was a year ago," Cruz said. "I hope it's been ended already. It's just you guys that continue to write about it and keep it alive. I just want to go out there and win. I want Odell to have a gazillion receiving yards and a gazillion touchdowns, and we'll see what happens after that."
"We played a very good rushing team [in Dallas] with a good offensive line in Week 1, and we limited them," he said. "We played a very good, explosive outside passing offense -- vertical, checkdowns, chunk and dunk, a Hall of Fame quarterback, a screen game on point -- and we held them to 13 points. Continue to do that every week, I think we're going to like where we're going to be at the end of the season."
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NEW YORK JETS: How will Revis counter slide?The early-season struggles of Jets cornerback Darrelle Revis to cover opponents' receivers have not gone unnoticed around the league. A personnel executive from one NFL team wondered if the 31-year-old Revis will now compensate for his decline in speed with other techniques.
While much of the conversation about Revis, who underwent wrist surgery in March, has centered on how much he was able to train this offseason and how that may be impacting his slow start -- Revis said Wednesday he thought that speculation was being spread by his former agents -- the biggest eyebrow-raiser for the executive was Revis apparently not knowing that the Bills' Marquise Goodwin, who got behind Revis for an 84-yard touchdown pass from Tyrod Taylor last week, was a member of the United States' 2012 Olympic track and field team in the long jump.
After the Jets beat the Bills, Revis said: "I don't know if he's a track star, but he's just a fast receiver." When asked if he would be surprised to learn Goodwin -- who also attempted to qualify for the 2016 Olympics -- was an Olympian, Revis said he would not. That Revis did not know about Goodwin before he lined up against him suggests a lapse in preparation that is just as unexpected from Revis as getting repeatedly beaten by opponents.