Thursday night overreaction: Should Broncos have pursued a Von Miller reunion?
Sep 8, 2022, 11:39 PM | Updated: Sep 9, 2022, 12:00 pm
Ain’t no overreactions like Week 1 overreactions, ’cause Week 1 overreactions don’t stop.
So, why wait until Sunday to start?
OVERREACTION NO. 1:
Von Miller wore blue and yellow in February. Thursday night, he exchanged yellow for red. And he might have been the most impactful player on the field as the Buffalo Bills trampled the Los Angeles Rams 31-10 … and left some in Broncos Country muttering, “What if?”
What if … the Broncos had not traded him last year?
Clearly, Miller has something left in the tank. If that wasn’t obvious in January and February, it certainly was Thursday. Not only did Miller have two sacks, but he helped unleash his teammates, who collected five more sacks and another seven separate hits of Rams QB Matthew Stafford.
But Miller wasn’t traded last October because he didn’t still have punch to his game. His trade was a tacit acknowledgment that the 2021 season was lost, and future draft capital mattered.
And yes, that capital helped in the following offseason. Having the Rams’ second- and third-round picks made the trade for Russell Wilson meant that the Broncos weren’t completely wiped out of early-round choices — even though neither of them went to the Seattle Seahawks in the deal.
George Paton values his draft picks. Getting two from the Rams for Miller was the spoonful of sugar that helped the medicine of sending five picks to Seattle go down.
OK, THEN, WISEGUY … What if … they had brought him back in free agency?
Now, it’s a bit more complicated when you fast-forward to March. Miller’s social-media posts came across as the sentiments of someone clearly interested in a return to Denver, as Pro Football Focus observed in a screen capture of his Instagram story …
Von Miller responds to Russell Wilson’s trade to the Broncos 👀 pic.twitter.com/RsQmQzgNXS
— PFF (@PFF) March 9, 2022
… although he also made it clear that he was thinking about the Rams:
Von Miller to me on the phone while on vacation regarding his football future: "I want to figure it out with the Rams first & foremost because they've been real good to me. On the slim chance that can’t happen, then I’ll explore all my options."
— JosinaAnderson (@JosinaAnderson) March 9, 2022
Neither came to pass.
And the Broncos targeted not Miller, but Randy Gregory, who has never had more than 6 sacks in a season.
Miller, meanwhile, has 6 sacks in his last five games — including last winter’s postseason — and 11 sacks in his last nine games. Gregory has 10.5 sacks in his last 29 games, including playoffs.
Gregory’s average salary-cap figure is considerably less than Miller’s. His guarantee is also $23.4 million below Miller’s figure of approximately $51.4 million.
But Gregory carries considerably more risk — even when not factoring in his prior issues with substance abuse, which led to multiple league suspensions. Injuries are part and parcel of Gregory’s resume, too. Even this week, he remains limited in practice as he completes his recovery from rotator-cuff surgery.
Denver’s hopes are pinned on what Gregory could be.
Buffalo spent on what Miller has been — and clearly still is, despite the fact that his production in the Vic Fangio years didn’t come close to where it was under other coaches:
Sacks per game (including playoffs):
- 2011-18, Denver: 0.88
- 2019-21, Denver (Fangio years): 0.57
- 2021-22, Los Angeles and Buffalo: 0.85
(By the way … yeah, it’s fair for Broncos Country to remain frustrated with Fangio.)
Between the change in coaches and the Broncos likely playing from ahead far more often with Wilson at the helm, it’s fair to assume that if the Broncos had brought back Miller, the player who flourished Thursday at SoFi Stadium is the one they would have gotten, not the 1-sack-every-2.4-games edge rusher he was from 2019-21.
Now, it’s up to Gregory — and also the returning Bradley Chubb — to prove that together, they can become what Miller has long been.
Otherwise, the Broncos might end up lamenting what the future Hall of Famer could have brought them in a redux — and absorbing such a lesson the hard way, perhaps on a frigid mid-winter’s night in western New York during the AFC playoffs.
OVERREACTION NO. 2:
As per usual under Sean McVay, the Rams rested their starters in preseason. The Broncos followed that philosophy under Nathaniel Hackett, who worked three years under ex-McVay lieutenant Matt LaFleur in Green Bay.
Meanwhile, Buffalo played most of its starters for chunks of the preseason. You saw what that yielded in a 42-15 thrashing the Bills dealt Denver on Aug. 20.
And then came Thursday, when the Bills appeared to be the more physically dominant team. They controlled the line of scrimmage. Los Angeles missed a slew of tackles.
But it wasn’t as clear as it might have seemed.
First of all, the “prepared” Bills dealt with miscues of their own — in the form of four giveaways via two fumbles and a pair of interceptions — including one that ricocheted out of Isaiah McKenzie’s grap.
Buffalo was gaffe-prone for long stretches. The fact that they won convincingly could be due as much to their own talent as the Rams’ shortcomings.
And, it was the afore-mentioned Miller who provided an individual argument in favor of resting key players. In the first half, Miller was — by some distance — the most dominant player, with a sack of Stafford on the Rams’ first possession and a tackle for loss of WR Cooper Kupp on the penultimate snap before halftime.
Another Bills defender who sat out the preseason, Jordan Poyer, had a solid game, punctuating his night with a fourth-quarter interception.
I’ve said on multiple shows on The Fan that many will likely over-attribute early-season success or failure to how much preseason work players received.
Furthermore, the Rams’ lack of crispness, the Bills’ near-self-immolation with turnovers and Miller’s havoc-wreaking work shows that on balance, preseason work — or a lack thereof — giveth as much as taketh.
And remember, McVay’s teams are now 5-1 in regular-season openers — although one of the wins, a 20-17 win over Dallas in 2020, came when no one had preseason. Three of the five Week 1 McVay-led wins came by 20 or more points.
Buffalo pulverized the Rams this time around, but the difference in preseason prep was not the reason why.
As for the Broncos … Nathaniel Hackett noted during preseason that it wouldn’t be until the end of the year that observers would truly understand why resting the starters was the better course of action.
It can be tough to play the long game when human nature demands results NOW. But that’s what you might have to do regarding the Broncos and judgment of their preseason philosophy.