Joe Mahoney/Associated Press file photo (2011)
Joe Mahoney/Associated Press file photo (2011)
The Denver Broncos lead the NFL with 48 sacks, and all those crumpled quarterbacks in their wake can blame not only Elvis Dumervil and Von Miller but also Jack Del Rio and Peyton Manning.
Dumervil and Miller have 28½ sacks, earning the league’s most prolific pass-rushing tandem return trips to the Pro Bowl – although they’re determined to spend all-star weekend preparing for the Super Bowl in New Orleans rather than enjoying the sand, surf and sun.
Miller’s outlandish athletic ability and Dumervil’s freakishly long arms that give him built-in leverage on every tackle he faces are two of the biggest reasons for the Broncos’ league-best 10-game winning streak.
In their eyes, though, the credit for all these sacks goes to the team’s two biggest offseason additions: Del Rio and Manning, both of whom embarked on comebacks in Colorado after messy exits from their former teams.
When Manning arrived from Indianapolis in March, Miller envisioned the four-time MVP leading those famous clock-chewing drives that would allow the Broncos to turn loose their “Orange Rush” answer to Indy’s Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis come the fourth quarter.
“We wanted to be the best together, me and Elvis, and when we picked up Peyton Manning, we knew we had a chance to get it done,” Miller said. “If we could get up a little bit, that allows us to do what we do best.”
When Del Rio became Denver’s seventh defensive coordinator in seven seasons following his firing as Jacksonville’s head coach, Dumervil imagined the former linebacker’s reputed run-stuffing defenses enabling the Broncos to get after quarterbacks long before the fourth quarter rolled around.
“Peyton coming here, it was big, but if you stop the run like Jack’s teams did in Jacksonville, you get a chance to rush the passer,” Dumervil said.
Turns out both were right.
Teams no longer run roughshod over the Broncos, who rank third in the league against the run a year after ranking 22nd. They get after the quarterback better than anyone, and they rank sixth against the pass after finishing 18th last year. So, it’s no surprise they’re rolling toward the playoffs as the Super Bowl oddsmakers’ latest sweetheart.
“Von is a special talent,” cornerback Champ Bailey said. “You always have to know where he is. And when you find out where he is, here comes the other guy.”
Miller is just the second player since the league started tracking forced fumbles in 1994 to have a season in which he racked up at least 15 sacks, 25 tackles for loss and forced five fumbles. The only other player to do it was Dallas’ DeMarcus Ware in 2008.
Dumervil leads the league with six strip-sacks, and Miller has four.
“We definitely want to rake the ball,” Del Rio said. “Those can be game-changing plays.”
Dumervil was the first to hug Miller, who has 17½ sacks, last week when he broke his single-season franchise record of 17.
“He’s a special guy,” Dumervil said. “If there’s anybody I’d be happy and proud of for breaking the record, it would definitely be Von.”
Left tackle Ryan Clady said facing Dumervil and Miller in training camp was the best preparation he could have hoped for as he prepared to protect Manning’s blind side.
“No question, going against Elvis and Von, they’re great players, Pro Bowl players, and it elevates my game,” Clady said.
“Doom & Gloom,” as they are known, provided a taste of what was in store with 21 combined sacks last season despite playing one-armed for much of the time.
Dumervil was dogged by an injured left shoulder last year before collecting all 9½ of his sacks in the final eight games. Miller, last year’s Defensive Rookie of the Year, did most of his damage before playing the last two months with a cumbersome cast that covered his broken right thumb and prevented him from grabbing and shedding offensive linemen.
Miller and Dumervil were teasing each other Thursday in the locker room about selfishly stealing the other’s sacks, but in truth, each appreciates having the other on the field.
And they love having Manning and Del Rio on their side, too.
“I think the biggest thing, a lot of people don’t realize, is when you stop the run, it gives you a second-and-8 or a third-and-long. In previous years, it was second-and-3, third-and-3, the ball comes out quicker, your chances of rushing is not the same,” Dumervil said. “So, having Peyton definitely gives you the lead more toward the end of the game, but the early first three quarters sacks come from stopping the run.”
Dumervil and Miller both have rounded out their games under Del Rio’s tutelage, combining with the likes of Justin Bannan, Mitch Unrein and Kevin Vickerson to stuff ball carriers as much as they chase down QBs.
“Coach Del Rio is like a wizard,” Miller said of the man who’s moved him up and down the line, sometimes lining him up alongside Dumervil in what has to be an offensive lineman’s biggest nightmare.
Others also have benefited from Del Rio’s schemes. Linebacker Wesley Woodyard (5½) and cornerback Chris Harris (2½) have career highs in sacks, while Vickerson (2) and safety Mike Adams (1) tied their career bests, and rookie tackle Derek Wolfe has five.
Dumervil and Miller, though, have done the heavy lifting for the Broncos, whose 48 sacks are the team’s most since 1999.
“I’m always patting them on the back, because without them, we’d be nothing back there,” Bailey said of Denver’s star-studded secondary. “Those guys, they make it easier for us. It’d be a lot of work for us if they weren’t getting pressure. I think that’s what really makes a good secondary – is your pass rush.”
The ingredients for that superb pass rush are Dumervil, Miller, Del Rio and Manning.
Joe Mahoney/Associated Press