When the Buffalo Bills signed veteran running back Von Miller to a six-year, $120 million contract with a $45 million contract this offseason, the organization saw him as perhaps the final piece of the puzzle in getting the Bills to their first superbowl. since the 1993 season, and perhaps their first league title since 1965, when their league was the American Football League. Miller had already helped the Denver Broncos win Super Bowl 50 with an MVP performance, and he helped the Los Angeles Rams win Super Bowl LVI with an MVP-worthy game.
But if the Bills want to win their first Super Bowl, they’ll have to do it with Miller on the bench. On Wednesday, the team announced that Miller will miss the remainder of the season with a torn ACL, discovered during exploratory surgery to try to fix issues the team hoped would not lead to this result.
“Obviously a very unfortunate situation for Von and for our team,” head coach Sean McDermott said. “Obviously we care about him, as we would any player. We know how much this means to him in terms of playing and being with the team. So we hope to have him back, obviously off the field for the rest of the season and his leadership. And we’re certainly thinking of him as he recovers here.”
In his inaugural season with the Bills, Miller was upfield for 390 snaps and out for 292. On passes, he was downfield for 278 snaps and out for 184. Miller’s snaps came equally on first through third down. . , so it wasn’t like his new team was reserving him for what are usually seen as obvious passing situations, although, when the Bills offense is buzzing, every attempt could be an obvious pass to an opponent.
In any case, the on-and-off splits don’t indicate this defense will collapse without Miller. There’s always more to these divisions than the presence or absence of the player in question, but with Miller on the field, the Bills have allowed an overall offensive EPA of 0.02. Without him? -0.22. His EPA allowable approval with Miller is 0.06 and -0.19 without him. His allowed ground EPA is -0.06 with him and -0.26 without him. And they are still the 4th best defense overall by DVOAwith or without him.
The pass-rush splits are also interesting. The Bills have rushed opposing quarterbacks on 33.6% of their passbacks with Miller in the field and 33.7% without him. His sack rate is 7.3% with him and 6.0% without him, and the opponent’s total block takedown rate was 15.6% with him and 15.4% without him.
This isn’t to say that Miller wasn’t a great addition to this defense when healthy. He ends his season leading the team in sacks (eight) and total pressures (45). But this isn’t the kind of thing that should take the Bills out of the Super Bowl equation.
As McDermott also said, “We care about Von on this case and he will be missed. But as I said last week when I was out, it’s a time and an opportunity for other guys to step up.”
Fortunately for the Bills, that escalation scenario seems a lot more likely than one might imagine. When you look at this defense without Miller on the field, that becomes very clear.
The Bills don’t carry much with McDermott and defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier. That may come as a surprise to those who know McDermott’s history under legendary Philadelphia defensive coordinator Jim Johnson. McDermott moved from quality control to linebackers coach with Johnson from 2002 to 2008, replacing Johnson as DC in 2009 following Johnson’s death from melanoma. Johnson was one of the most creative blitz designers in NFL history, but the Bills’ build leans more to Frazier’s history with the Colts, Vikings and Buccaneers: You rely on your point four, get your linebackers involved, and mark some DB blitz
Until week 13, the Bills have blitzed 19.4% of their snaps, 10th-lowest in the league, and have rushed opposing quarterbacks on 23.% of their snaps, 10th-best in the league. Where the Bills have had success without Miller this season, and they may want to improve now, is with the use of stunts on the line. The Bills have used pressure-building stunts on 19 defensive snaps without Miller on the field this season, and seven of those stunts came against the Patriots in Week 13, when the Bills knew they wouldn’t have Miller at all.
None of those rushing stunts ended in sacks, but when Frazier called for stunts against Mac Jones, Jones completed two of six passes for 13 yards and a five-yard quarterback scramble.
One of the reasons this works is that Frazier’s defense is fundamentally solid front to back. On this incompletion pass from Jones to tight end Hunter Henry with 4:22 remaining in the first half, watch linebacker Matt Milano come up front for a lightning look. Milano was actually covering running back Rhamondre Stevenson in Buffalo’s Cover-6 game, and the stunt saw running back Greg Rousseau duck defensive tackle Ed Oliver. Both center David Andrews and right guard Michael Onwenu had their eye on Milano, who broke into coverage late and allowed Rousseau to come in unimpeded. Henry was in the backfield and ran a late route after chipping, but cornerback Dane Jackson turned receiver Jakobi Meyers over to safety Jordan Poyer and pushed Henry to the limit.
Here’s another fun stunt that led to another Jones flop. The Bills had seven in the box before the snap, and Jones had to figure out who was running and who was falling. He could have anticipated there wouldn’t be a blitz given Buffalo’s tendencies, and he would have been correct, but when Milano, Johnson and linebacker Tremaine Edmunds all went into coverage, Jones had to deal with Rousseau (lined up in a one-tech). shadow space) and Oliver (lined up in a 4i look to the tackle’s inside shoulder) crossing to the middle. Johnson had Meyers on the edge this time, and Jones had no chance.
When we say the Bills haven’t pitched much this season, we’re not kidding. Not that Miller’s absence affects this at all. With Miller gone from the field in 2022, Buffalo’s defense had blitzed … a total of 10 times. Two of those rushes came against the Patriots last week, and Jones completed both of his rush attempts for 19 yards.
Aaron Rodgers also attacked the Bills for a 26-yard completion to receiver Romeo Doubs in Week 8. On this play, Edmunds bombarded from deep linebacker and didn’t get home fast enough to affect Rodgers’ throw. That left Johnson pinning a single to Doubs on Cover-1, and while Johnson is a very good player, this was a less than optimal result.
The Steelers and rookie quarterback Kenny Pickett also hung up a couple of reasonably big plays in Buffalo’s Week 5 blitz. Here, linebacker Terrel Bernard blitzed up the middle, while Rousseau and linebacker Baylon Spector went down in a short coverage in Buffalo’s Cover-4. But Pickett still had time to hit Miles Boykin for an 11-yard gain on first and 10 to the right boundary.
This is a blanket statement, but the tape tells the story: The Bills have players who are better at spacing than creating pressure from multiple levels. Therefore, charging more without Miller is not a strategy they should, or will, employ.
Rousseau and fellow running back AJ Epenesa have been the most impactful pass disrupters on the team with Miller off the field this season. Lawson has 13 total pressures to Epenesa’s 12, but Epenesa is someone to watch with his four sacks with Miller on the sidelines. Carlos “Boogie” Basham has also been an impact guy with 11 total pressures and two sacks.
So there’s depth and production on edge to mitigate Miller’s loss. Oliver, who has six total pressures and two sacks with Miller off the field, showed his power with this Detroit Lions quarterback safety Jared Goff in Week 12. This was a four-man run with no games, only Oliver transporting left guard Dan. Skipper right on his own quarterback.
And in this Dane Jackson interception of a pass from Kirk Cousins to Justin Jefferson in Week 10, it was Lawson’s pressure that forced a miss. Lawson demolished tight end TJ Hockenson to get in Cousins’ face, and again, this was a four-man run with no tricks, and no Miller on the field.
Thus, the Bills have the depth and breadth along the line to hold things without their most famous quarterback antagonist. Losing a player of Miller’s excellence and experience is far from ideal, but McDermott and Frazier, along with general manager Brandon Beane, have built this defensive line to transcend the loss of a player, no matter who it is.