DENVER – The Denver Broncos throttle back Von Miller every summer because if they don’t, in the words of coach Vance Joseph, “he’ll wreck practice.”
So, Miller saved his wrecking ball for Russell Wilson and the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday.
Miller collected four quarterback hits, three sacks, three tackles for loss, two forced fumbles and a fumble recovery in leading the Broncos to a 27-24 win in Case Keenum’s Denver debut.
Miller was in the Seahawks’ backfield seemingly as much as Seattle running back Chris Carson, who was pick-pocketed in the second half as Miller simply snatched the ball out of his hands in one of the best plays of opening weekend.
“Technically, that’s not a good move,” Miller said with a chuckle, noting he should have set the edge instead of tossing aside fullback Tre Madden.
“You want to be stout, shock and scare. But I ‘ole’ed’ outside, so I knew I needed to get back down to be able to make the tackle. I just saw the ball and I just grabbed it.”
Miller said in the lead-up to the opener that he hates playing Wilson, whom he considers the best QB in the game. Yes, ahead of Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees, the only three who were ranked higher in The Associated Press quarterback rankings that came out Friday.
“I still don’t like playing against Russell,” Miller said. “Running around out there, 20 yards, getting everybody tired. Luckily, we were able to get him before he could get started. That was in our scheme this week, we wanted to keep him in the pocket and (make) him beat us with his arm, which he’s capable of doing.
“But we’d rather pick that poison and that strategy worked.”
Wilson threw for 298 yards and three TDs, but was picked off twice and sacked six times and ran just twice for 5 yards.
“He got out of the pocket a couple of times, but that’s Russ,” Miller said. “He’s a great player. He’s going to get out of the pocket, but we kept some of the great plays to a minimum.”
Miller didn’t get to face Wilson in Super Bowl 48 because he’d blown out a knee toward the end of the 2013 season, the only one in his first seven years in the NFL when he didn’t reach double digits in sacks.
Miller was back in the Super Bowl two years later and won the game’s MVP honors after harassing Cam Newton, whom he strip sacked twice, leading to 15 points in Denver’s 24-10 win over the Panthers.
The Broncos haven’t been back to the playoffs since, going 14-18 over the past two years.
Although Miller collected 23 1/2 sacks in that time, too many deficiencies on the roster and deficits on the scoreboard kept him from being the difference maker he was Sunday.
That doesn’t mean he saw his performance as anything more than a good start.
“You know me, I never move faster than I have to. I never move slower than I need to,” Miller said. “I just stay in the moment. We’ve got a great team. We got a great win today. We played great defense. This is how you want to start a season.”
His three sacks moved him into 50th on the NFL’s all-time sack list with 86 1/2.
“It’s great, to be 29 and in the top 50, the league has been around for close to 100 years now,” Miller said. “It’s great, man. It’s a true blessing.”
At one point Sunday, the giant scoreboard showed Miller inhaling oxygen on the sideline after one of his big plays and the crowd roared.
“I wasn’t even paying attention and I look up and Case is telling everybody to be quiet,” Miller recounted. “I kind of felt bad for a second.”
It wasn’t the only time Miller interrupted Keenum’s focus, either.
Keenum normally spends his time between series on the bench studying pictures of formations and talking with to his coaches, “but it’s hard not to notice when the crowd’s going crazy and Von’s out there crawling or whatever he’s doing, whatever his sack dance is. That’s impressive to watch.
“I’m glad I’m on the sidelines when he’s on the field, that’s for sure.”
Wilson wasn’t so lucky.
“I think that when it’s third-and-3 or 4, I’ve spun out and make a lot of plays,” Wilson said. “I would probably say most of the time it works.
“With a guy like Von, sometimes it doesn’t.”