Analysis Notebook: Week 11
As I was searching through the games this week looking for an Analysis Notebook topic I stumbled upon the unusually quiet game from Von Miller. Against the Chiefs this week he collected a -1.5 grade, his first negative game since his return this season and only the sixth game graded in the red he has has in his NFL career.
When I looked back at those games, three of the six bad games came against the Chiefs, with another just about average, way below his career baseline. He has played the Chiefs five times now, and after killing them to the tune of a +7.1 grade the first time he played them, he has been virtually shut down since. The majority of that grade back in 2011 came against RT Barry Richardson, at the time suffering through a truly disastrous stretch of play, so perhaps the Chiefs have gone a little overboard since in ensuring Miller won’t have an impact, but the fact remains that they have limited him in a way no other team has been able to consistently achieve since.
So how did they do it this time?
The thing that stood out the most when watching the tape is that they didn’t do a whole lot actually. It wasn’t like they were limiting Alex Smith to nothing but quick passes in order to negate the rush from Miller, limiting the time he had to get to the quarterback. While his average time to throw this season is 2.6 seconds, in this game Smith took an average time of 2.81 seconds to get the ball out of his hands, with 58% of his attempts coming after 2.5 seconds. That’s plenty of time for a guy like Miller to get to the quarterback over the course of the game, yet he managed just three hurries from 38 pass rushes.
There were certainly plays where the Chiefs took a bit of extra notice of Miller. He was chipped on occasions and saw the odd double team, but it was far from a dedicated assault. Early in the first quarter they showed one of the simplest ways of negating a great pass-rusher when they ran a play-action pass and bootlegged away from Miller
Though there is a TE to his side of the formation, he is actually going to release into the pattern and the entire line slide to the left as the Chiefs fake the run to Jamaal Charles. Miller’s rush is slowed initially by reading run, and by the time he does see its a pass there is just a wall of bodies from the line blocking him off from any kind of pursuit of Alex Smith as he rolls to the right. Without needing to dedicate extra resources to him, the Chiefs were able to take Miller out of this play entirely, something the Rams also did a lot of to neutralize J.J. Watt when they handed him his only sub-dominant game of the season.
Much of the credit has to go to right tackle Eric Fisher, who is frankly not someone I would have expected to have been able to contain Miller at all on his own. He got some help throughout the game, but there were a lot of plays where he was left on his own and did his job. Take this play at 8:25 in the second quarter. Fisher is left one on one with Miller who tries to use his speed to the outside. From the point this is first frozen I would have expected Miller had already won, and it was just a matter of time before he was getting through to the quarterback.
Instead, Fisher is able to stay on the block and drive him past the quarterback, put him to the floor and give Alex Smith a clean pocket to throw from. This is what the Chiefs saw when they drafted Eric Fisher and is the potential he has even though this rookie season has been a major struggle for him.
Fisher though was far from perfect. He did a good job most of the time on Miller, and earned his -4.0 grade on the day largely from being beaten by different Denver defenders, but there were occasions where Miller beat him but got little credit for it because the pass was already gone.
This is why sacks are a terrible judge of how a pass-rusher has played, and why even raw pressure numbers can’t tell the whole story. There is never any substitution for watching the tape and seeing how often a rusher is actually beating his man, and whether he has just been unlucky about the timing of those plays in relation to the speed of the ball being thrown.
On this play Miller breaks out his inside move, usually the most effective and devastating move of any speed rusher. Usually he does this without any kind of spin involved, but this time he adds the spin to it. Fisher tries to mirror his initial burst to the outside and opens up a yawning lane of space to his inside for Miller to break back into.
The spin is timed to perfection and sends Fisher flailing off balance to the outside as Miller now has a clean path to the quarterback, but Smith sees his TE open over the middle and hits a simple crossing route before Miller can get anywhere near pressuring him. This is a dominant play from Miller against the right tackle but it has no effect on the outcome of the play. Over time those tend to even out, and a player beating his man consistently will eventually reap the rewards of that, but over the course of a game it can sometimes prove fruitless success.
Ultimately the Chiefs are now 4-for-4 in dealing with Von Miller after he destroyed them the first time he saw them, but this game was a combination of factors that led to him remaining pretty anonymous. It will be interesting to see if they can continue the trend on Thanksgiving Weekend when they square off again.
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