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Handing a 33-year-old pass-rusher who is entering his 11th NFL season a six-year, $120 million contract in free agency isn’t normally the way NFL teams operate. Neither the well-compensated linebacker, Von Miller, nor his new team, the Buffalo Bills, are “normal.”
“This is a six-year deal, so I’m looking forward to playing the whole thing,” Miller said, via The Buffalo News. “I’m trying to play the whole thing out. Tom Brady’s done it, Bruce Smith has done it. All the guys that I look up to when it comes to longevity in careers. So I just take it one day at a time, and I’m just gonna take whatever God gives me. My intention is to play the whole thing out. I’m a real sicko when you get to know me. My mindset is different.”
The Bills enter 2022 differently than in years past, as the prohibitive Super Bowl favorite, with their +600 odds to win it all via Caesars Sportsbook the shortest in the entire league. That’s thanks to quarterback Josh Allen, who has taken dual-threat production to new heights, becoming the first player in NFL history with over 4,000 passing yards (4,407), and 750 rushing yards (763) in a single season (2021), as well as the first with more than 100 passing touchdowns (103), and more than 30 rushing touchdowns (31) in the first four seasons of an NFL career. Oh, and they already had the league’s best overall regular season defense in 2021 without Miller.
Total Yards/Game Allowed
3rd Down Conversion Pct Allowed
A deeper dive into Buffalo’s defense reveals a need for a proven commodity, like Miller, to provide pressure off the edge in the front seven. The Bills’ team pressure percentage (which measures how often the defense gets pressure on an opposing quarterback’s dropbacks) of 35% last season ranked as second-best in the NFL behind only the Miami Dolphins. However, on third down, aka the NFL’s “money down,” Buffalo’s team pressure percentage ranking dropped to seventh at 41.5%. Pretty good, but pretty good hasn’t been enough to overtake Patrick Mahomes and his Kansas City Chiefs in each of the last two postseasons. This is especially true when a sack or two could’ve derailed Mahomes’ last-gasp drive to get Kansas City an overtime-forcing field goal with only 13 seconds on the clock in the 2021 AFC divisional round. On third down in last season’s playoff game, Mahomes was unbothered on the “money down” against the Bills: going 7-for-8 (87.5%) with 42 pass yards, one pass TD a 128.1 passer rating and no sacks taken.
Miller checks both boxes in terms of a career resume that demands respect in its entirety as well as what he’s done lately as a postseason performer. The eight-time Pro Bowler, three-time first-team All-Pro and member of the 2010’s All-Decade team played a starring role in both of his Super Bowl championship runs in 2015 and 2021. In 2015, Miller was the Denver Broncos‘ driving force, winning the Super Bowl 50 Most Valuable Player Award as his defense dragged Peyton Manning’s worn-out arm over the finish line.
Last season, Miller was dominant once he was traded to the Los Angeles Rams at the trade deadline, showcasing he still possesses the ability to be an impactful difference maker on defense. Since playing his first game with the Rams in Week 10 and through the conclusion of the postseason, Miller led the NFL with 18 tackles for loss, while recording 52 pressures (third in the NFL) and nine sacks (tied for sixth). Only Aaron Donald (23) had more pressures than Miller’s 22 last postseason with San Francisco 49ers defensive lineman Nick Bosa’s 13 pressures a distant third.
Tackles For Loss
The Bills have not had a player with double-digit sacks in a season since 2016, when linebacker Lorenzo Alexander had 12.5. With nine sacks across the final eight games of the 2021 season including the playoffs, it’s quite plausible he could record what would be his eighth season with over 10 sacks in the context of the Bills’ already stingy defense. His 115.5 sacks since entering the NFL in 2011 as the Broncos’ No. 2 overall draft pick are the most in that span.
As far as third down is concerned, Miller remained one of the best at flustering quarterbacks last season, ranking in the top 10 of the NFL in third-down pressures with 25, tied for sixth with Green Bay Packers linebacker Rashan Gary, San Francisco 49ers defensive lineman Nick Bosa, Los Angeles Chargers linebacker Joey Bosa and new Indianapolis Colts defensive end Yannick Ngakoue.
Outside of Miller, the Bills’ three other primary edge rushers have a combined four seasons of NFL experience with defensive ends Gregory Rousseau (entering his second season, selected 30th overall in 2021 NFL Draft), Boogie Basham (entering his second season, selected 61st overall in 2021 NFL Draft), and A.J. Epenesa (entering his third season, selected 54th overall in 2020 NFL Draft).
When asked specifically how he’s helping 22-year-old Rousseau, the 2021 first-round pick, grow after a four-sack rookie season, Miller said his help comes in the form of targeting the mental aspect and mindset of what it takes to win from September-February.
“It’s like polishing a diamond,” Miller said in June. “You really don’t have to change much. … To me, I really don’t try to change guys, I just try to really see what they’re thinking, really see their approaches, see their mindset. Cause we’re all different players, but one thing we can really bounce off each other is our mindset. I give him my mindset, I give him my view of things and hopefully he can learn from that. That’s all the pass rush summit is. It’s not a place where we can go change guys, it’s just we can bounce off each other, kind of sharpen the knife, that’s what I do with G [Rousseau]. He’s big, tall, rangy. I could never play that game, but when it comes to mindset and the things I can control, those are the ideas that we bounce off each other.”
Eleven years Miller’s junior, Rousseau is having a blast alongside a veteran who has seen it all when it comes to life in the NFL.
“It’s fun for sure,” Rousseau said when asked about practicing with Miller in training camp. “A player the caliber of Von [Miller], the numbers he’s put up over the years, a two-time Super Bowl champion, y’all know his resume. It’s great. He’s really helping us out already. His first day out with us in OTAs I already learned some good nuggets from him.”
The 6-foot-6 Rousseau said he added “five to seven pounds” to his frame this offseason in anticipation of greater opportunity with Miller taking up much of opposing offensive lines’ attention.
“It’s exciting, you have to be ready for the opportunities when the protection slides toward Von [Miller], so you have to have your best stuff playing and be ready to make a play,” Rousseau said.
Besides being attentive to taking care of his body in his second season, the University of Miami alum’s biggest goal in terms of self-improvement this offseason was layering his pass-rush moves, an area of Miller’s expertise.
“Mainly counter moves, secondary pass-rush moves,” Rousseau said while discussing where he can make a big jump this season. “I feel like I have a good mindset with the effort, it’s just about more moves to rely on and work toward in order to set stuff up early in the game and then be able to come back to it in crunch time, third and fourth quarters.”
Hello from Von Miller’s pass rush summit! Von and A.J. Epenesa going over some moves. Fellow Bills Greg Rousseau and Boogie Basham also here. pic.twitter.com/HEOyQDxrQS
Fortunately for Rousseau and the rest of the Bills’ defensive line, Miller’s advice has been delivered on a two-way street as he has been both the initiator and sounding board for these conversations.
“I would say it’s both, I’ve already asked him a few questions out there, but also, he’ll come to us whether it’s me, Boogie [Basham], A.J. or whoever and tell them what he sees as well,” Rousseau said of Miller as a mentor. “It’s natural, he’s one of our brothers, he’s one of us now and he’s fitting in great.”
Financially, the time is now for the Bills to make a run at their first Lombardi Trophy in franchise history with Miller’s deal structured in a backloaded fashion, averaging $17.5 million over the first four years before jumping to $20 million in year five and then another increase to $30 million in the sixth and final season. A Super Bowl win in Miller’s tenure with the team would break new ground for both the team and the linebacker. The Bills would have football’s ultimate prize for the first time while Miller would become the first player in NFL history to win it all with three different teams. The opportunity of building another championship foundation with the Bills has led him to make a move many Americans would not, packing his bags and leaving the sun-soaked beaches of Los Angeles for the blustery winters of Western New York.
“I could have just stayed in L.A., rode off into the sunset and just rushed with Aaron Donald and piled up sacks but I wasn’t content,” Miller said upon signing with the Bills in March. “I wasn’t content with where I was at. I still wanted more. I just want to be part of something special. This is a special team. They’re right on the edge, and I just wanted to be that last drop to overflow these guys.”
Between Miller elevating what was already the NFL’s top defense alongside Josh Allen’s explosive, aerial attack with receivers Stefon Diggs and Gabriel Davis, the 2022 iteration of the Bills is well-equipped to potentially go down as the best in Buffalo’s 63-season history.
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