How Panthers can avoid another Von Miller disaster
While Thursday night’s game between the Carolina Panthers and Denver Broncos will be billed as a Super Bowl 50 rematch, neither side is exactly the same as it was a year ago. A full offseason has seen additions and subtractions to each roster, and they roll into the 2016 season with a blank slate. The single-biggest individual matchup of that Super Bowl, however, is intact—RT Mike Remmers versus OLB Von Miller—and that should be a huge concern for the Panthers.
In the Super Bowl, Von Miller was a one-man wrecking crew. He notched three sacks, five hurries, two forced fumbles, and beat Remmers for all of them. Miller only rushed the passer 28 times in that game and had eight unique plays of pressure (28.6 percent of his rushes). That in and of itself is a ridiculous rate, but when you consider that nine of those snaps came against other players along the Carolina line, the true scope of the dominance in this matchup becomes clear.
In fact, over the 19 snaps that the two met in pass-block/rush situations, Remmers held up entirely on just three occasions. That’s roughly 15 percent of the snaps. Think about that for a second: When left alone with the assignment of blocking Von Miller, there was only a 15 percent chance that Remmers was going to get the job done. There were five other snaps in which either Miller was reading Cam Newton on the rush and playing contain, there was a legit double-team, or the ball came out too fast for any kind of winner or loser to be determined. Even if we fold all of those into the “win” column for Remmers, he escaped unbeaten on only 42.1 percent of his snaps against Miller.
The important point to note is that Remmers wasn’t a bad player last season. Pass blocking was his weaker area, but using the same criteria as against Miller in the Super Bowl, he held up on 91.5 percent of his passing plays heading into that game. He surrendered a sack, hit, or hurry on 7.3 percent of his pass-blocking snaps heading into the Super Bowl (the remaining plays being beaten blocks that didn’t become pressure), but on a ridiculous 41.2 percent of the snaps against Miller.
Remmers was our 39th-highest graded tackle last season, with a mark of 72.3 overall (including his Super Bowl disaster), but was almost five points higher, at 77.0, heading into that game, a grade that tied Branden Albert for 31st league-wide.
Put simply, Remmers can do a job against most players in the NFL, but he was spectacularly unable to block Von Miller in the Super Bowl.
Miller wasn’t just beating him with one single move that the tackle had no counter for; he was beating him with every club in his bag. Outside speed-rush, inside spin, power bullrush—whatever Miller dialed up—Remmers found himself clinging on for dear life, and even on the plays he held up on, he was on the ragged edge, inches from disaster.
Maybe an entire offseason with that game eating at him has resulted in Remmers working out the riddle that is Von Miller, but a more-likely scenario is that he just isn’t up to that particular task, and the Panthers will need to adapt the game plan that saw them set him up so badly for failure just months ago.
Over the course of the Super Bowl, Remmers saw double-team help just once, and ironically, he had that block relatively under control at the time, anyway. He had the aid of a chip block from a back or TE another four times. That needs to be ramped up significantly in this re-match. It is possible to neutralize a single pass-rusher in today’s NFL, but you need to work at it with a combination of chips, double-teams, and quick passes, not to mention roll-outs away from the pressure.
The problem the Denver Broncos present is that they have other threats to contend with. Even if you take Miller’s pressures out of the equation, the Broncos’ defense racked up 33 total pressures in the last meeting, with five different players amassing four or more individually. If you eliminate Miller entirely from the pressure column with a combination of strategies, you still need to find a way to block DeMarcus Ware, Shaquil Barrett, Derek Wolfe, Shane Ray, and the rest of the defense.
In this instance, the Panthers need to choose the lesser of two evils. They won’t be able to shut down the Denver pass-rush, but they can at least improve on the odds they had when they expected Remmers to contain Miller one-on-one.
- Chip blocks were effective when the Panthers used them in the Super Bowl. The chip itself wasn’t necessarily successful, with two of them missing contact entirely—so good is Miller at avoiding the block—but the extra distance it makes him travel to do so, and the circuitous route to the QB, buys the offense more time and knocks Miller off his rush. Carolina doesn’t like to disrupt TE Greg Olsen’s release off the line, given how important he is to the passing game, but this is just a negative they need to swallow, because the alternative is far worse.
- Legitimate double-teams on the line are harder to achieve than they sound, especially with the Broncos able to deploy so many pass-rushers, but the Panthers should be sliding their line right more in pass protection, fanning naturally to Miller’s side and giving them the best chance of RG Trai Turner being able to help Remmers out.
- Run the ball. This is an offense built on the run game, but they went away from it too quickly in the Super Bowl when things went south, electing to chase the game and really play into Denver’s hands. Jonathan Stewart and Cam Newton in that game combined for just 18 carries, but those carries gained 4.1 yards per attempt, put a touchdown on the board, and didn’t feature some of the more creative run concepts the Panthers can break out that put stress on the defense.
- Use the option more. 13 of the 27 run plays the Panthers employed in the Super Bowl involved option mechanics, but only one that involved the threat of an additional pitch man, and that run gained 15 yards. Those plays string out a defense and make them play assignment football, causing rushers like Von Miller to think rather than attack. Carolina needs to use them far more heavily in this game to slow down the Broncos’ attack.
- Throw it up. Even in the Super Bowl, Newton completed three passes that traveled 20 or more yards in the air. He was three for five on those plays for 86 yards. Denver’s tallest corner is Aqib Talib at 6-foot-1, but the next three on the depth chart are all under 6-feet in height. The Panthers have Kelvin Benjamin (6-foot-5), Devin Funchess (6-foot-4), Greg Olsen (6-foot-5), and Ted Ginn (who caught seven deep passes last season, scoring four times on those plays). The Denver CBs are all very good man-coverage players, but the Panthers have the physical edge on those deep balls. Give them a chance.
Stat of the matchup
The Panthers O-line alone gave up 31 pressures in the Super Bowl, and on plays in which Newton was pressured, he completed just 35.3 percent of his passes for a passer rating of 53.6.