CARSON, CA-There is not a quarterback in the National Football League that hasn’t felt the visceral impact that Von Miller brings with him every time he lines up and sets his eyes on the opponent’s backfield. For eight seasons, Philip Rivers and the Los Angeles Chargers, like the rest of the league, have had to find ways to eliminate or greatly reduce the ferocious defensive powers of Miller.
For the most part Sunday afternoon at StubHub Center, the Chargers were pretty successful in keeping Miller in check and away from the right throwing hand of Rivers. But it was one play in particular that Miller came up with late in the third quarter that changed the trajectory and the outcome of the Chargers-Denver Broncos’ AFC West divisional battle.
Sensing a screen pass coming his way, Miller dropped back into pass defense mode instead of going full throttle into the backfield. Miller’s instincts were correct. Rivers tried to float a softball over Miller’s head, but Denver’s pass rushing specialist picked the ball off and dashed towards the endzone.
Miller was eventually caught from behind by Travis Benjamin. At that time, the Broncos were down 19-7 and looking like they would fall in defeat for the seventh time this season. Miller’s pick changed that tune. Royce Freeman’s three-yard touchdown run erased the Chargers’ double-digit lead as a result of Miller’s turnover.
“That was huge,” Denver coach Vance Joseph said. “I can name a couple plays. The fake punt was huge. Obviously, the pick with Von, they’re going to go get three again. The pick was huge with Von. Defensively, we didn’t have our best day on third downs, but I think we had three sacks and two interceptions so that helped us play better on defense. The third downs were not good enough.”
Miller’s pick gave the Denver a reprieve. With the Charger’s lead cut to 19-14, what appeared to be a potential blowout suddenly became a new ballgame. The Broncos outscored the Chargers 9-3 the rest of the way, including McManus’ game-winning kick with no time left on the clock to disrupt the Chargers’ win streak. Rivers said he was hoping to get the ball around Miller, but obviously, that didn’t happen.
“He felt it. He felt the screen,” Rivers said. “If I would have found a way to make a better throw and get it around there [to RB Melvin Gordon III] somehow, it’s probably a touchdown. [Denver] had a pressure [defensive play] called – [DE Von Miller] was a part of the pressure that was coming. So, it was really the perfect call [against us]. He felt it and I was trying to find a way to get [the pass] around [Miller], and obviously didn’t do that. He made a heck of a play. I think I’ve said that now, for however many years he’s been in [the NFL] since 2011. Once you figure out the player he is – he’s the guy that can change the entire game. He did that today, I thought. Not by his pass rush – but his smarts. Obviously, his instincts, [as well as] ability. Not from sack-fumbles that we’ve seen [from Miller in the past]. Moreso, just the savviness and showing the type of football player that he is. I think that’s what takes guys to new levels – when they’re physically gifted as anyone, work at it, and are smart. That takes someone to a whole new level.”
Miller’s play, while not the deciding factor in the fourth quarter, gave Denver a spark that the team needed and did not have. That’s atypical of the play the Broncos have gotten from Miller since he came into the NFL in 2011. Somehow, some way, Miller seems to always find a way to get you. Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton can attest to this, be it unwittingly.
As he did against Newton and the Panthers in Super Bowl 50, Miller has proven to be a thorn in the side of quarterbacks and offensive coordinators across the league. Before the 2018 season, Miller had six years where he recorded double-digit totals in sacks. You can make that seven now after his singular sack of Rivers in the Broncos’ win, the 100th of his career.
“That was a huge momentum swing,” said Denver running back Phillip Lindsay. “Congratulations to the success that Von has had, I think it was his 100th sack. It was a big momentum swing for us. It got us going. With someone like that to see in a person is amazing.”
Miller is just one of three players (Reggie White and DeMarcus Ware) to record 10 or more sacks in seven of their first eights seasons in the NFL. That’s an impressive company that Miller is keeping with. In his rookie campaign, Miller registered 11 and a half sacks.
He went rogue the following season and recorded 18 and a half sacks. Though his numbers have steadily declined since big 2012 season, Miller hasn’t slowed in the creating chaos department, securing 14 sacks in 2014, piling up 11 sacks in 2015, reaching 13 and a half sacks in 2016, and totaling 10 sacks last year.
Miller is currently the NFL’s No.5 sack leader (10 sacks) but being a defensive playmaker can come in many forms. Forcing or creating a turnover would be another way to be a difference-maker.
“I was just trying to win,” Miller said about his interception being a momentum-builder for the Broncos. “That’s our motto: Somebody make a play. It doesn’t matter who it is. I read the right thing and he threw it straight to me. We’ve been in games like this all year long.”
“There was one game where we weren’t in it, the Jets game,” Miller continued. “We just got totally killed in that game, but all the other games we were in it. We had opportunities to win, we just fell short. This week, it had the same type of feeling as all the other games. We were able to make a play or two to come out with the win. I’ve said it for a long time we have a great team. Some games we fall short but today we’re on point and it feels good.”