When Von Miller sacked Cam Newton on the opening drive of Sunday’s game between the Panthers and Broncos, the Denver linebacker celebrated the moment by taking the Carolina quarterback’s signature move – gesturing with both hands in front of his chest as though he were revealing the Superman logo that was hidden behind his jersey – and making it his own.
The celebration might not have been universally embraced by the fans (many panned the move and subsequent dance on Twitter, demonstrating a get-off-my-lawn level of being a curmudgeon that was off the charts), but it made a statement that went beyond one play or one game. It was an announcement to the entire football world that a new player had emerged as the most-dominant defender in the NFL.
Right now, when he steps onto a field, Von Miller really is the football version of Superman.
All of the best things that can be said about a defensive player currently apply to Miller. At times, he’s virtually impossible to block. He changes games with his play. And opposing offenses have to game plan against him. In other words, he’s dominant, despite not having the football in his hands.
On Sunday, all of these attributes were on display. From the opening drive to the final gun, Miller was the best player on the field – for either team, on either side of the ball.
For proof, first check the box score. Against the Panthers, Miller posted monster numbers. By day’s end, he had recorded six solo tackles (four for a loss), a sack and a forced fumble.
But numbers only tell part of the story. The seven plays that showed up on the stat sheet were a mere fraction of Miller’s impact on the game.
Throughout the day, he was in the Panthers’ backfield. Miller constantly harassed Cam Newton, making the quarterback more and more uncomfortable as the game went on, and he helped string out running plays, playing a big role in Denver’s defense holding Carolina to only 52 yards rushing on 21 carries.
And on the game’s key play, it was Miller who made things happen. He chased Newton out of the pocket and was tripping him up when the quarterback heaved a pass toward the sideline, an errant throw that Broncos cornerback Tony Carter intercepted and returned for a touchdown. The pick six put Denver ahead 24-7, making the game a laugher from that moment on.
But that wasn’t his only QB pressure that helped a teammate make a big play. Early in the fourth quarter, it was Miller who put the initial heat on Newton in the end zone, forcing him into the arms of Broncos safety Mike Adams for a sack that turned into a safety.
That’s two plays that turned into scores for Denver, putting nine points on the board that were directly caused by Miller. Yes, his teammates had to be alert enough to take advantage of the opportunity he created for them, but it was his efforts that created the positive play.
And this happened throughout the game. Time after time, it was Miller who was causing havoc and disrupting the Panthers offense.
“I don’t know what got into him today, but he was all over the place,” Broncos cornerback Champ Bailey said about Miller after the game. “The guy is a tremendous talent and he really did set the tone.”
Speaking of which, the much-maligned celebration played a role in the game, too. As funny as it sounds, Miller’s promise to mock Newton’s gesture became a rallying cry for the Broncos defense.
When Carter scored on his pick six, he did the Superman pose. When Adams corralled Newton in the end zone, he busted out the move. Throughout the game, Denver defenders were doing their impression of the celebration.
The Broncos were on the same page. They were in sync. And the fact that to a man they were celebrating in the same way, following the lead of their superstar, was evidence of that fact.
In every way shape and form, Miller is quickly establishing himself as one of the game’s best defensive players. He puts up gaudy numbers. He’s constantly making things happen. And he’s rallying his teammates to play at his level.
So while others may be lauding praise on Houston’s J.J. Watt, Green Bay’s Clay Matthews or Dallas’ DeMarcus Ware as the leading candidates for the league’s Defensive Player of the Year award, No. 58 in a Broncos’ uniform should be at the top of the list.
Because as he showed on Sunday, in more ways than one, Von Miller has turned into Superman.