But a month into the season, the Broncos sit at 0-4 with an injury-riddled defense that has lost linebacker Bradley Chubb for the rest of the year and has not seen a snap from cornerback Bryce Callahan. Miller, a member of the league’s pass-rush royalty with seven Pro Bowl selections and three first-team All-Pro nods, has two sacks.
It’s not going to get easier without Chubb, who Fangio said will be replaced in the lineup “by committee,” which means rookies Malik Reed and Justin Hollins will be part of the mix. But Miller can’t go into stealth mode, Fangio said, so offenses are going to locate him.
“There are limited things you can do, especially on early downs,” Fangio said. “We can move him around a little bit on third down and obvious passes, but they know his number. Unless we can change his number between every series, they’ll find him. He’s just got to keep trudging along, the one-on-ones will come eventually and they did last week some.”
Both of Miller’s sacks came this past Sunday against the Jacksonville Jaguars, but leading up to that game the Broncos’ no-sack, no-turnover streak of three games had raised questions. Is Miller a bad match for Fangio’s scheme? Is he playing too many snaps?
“No and no,” Miller said in recent weeks. “I’ve said these are some of the best coaches I’ve ever had, I mean that. That’s just truth. My job is to get sacks, I’m going to do whatever I have to do to do my job. I’ve had runs like this before, they come.”
The last time Miller had two sacks over the season’s first four games was 2015. Most casual observers would say he fit coordinator Wade Phillips’ defense perfectly that season, and he went on to finish as the Super Bowl 50 MVP.
“Everybody knows what kind of player Von is,” linebacker Todd Davis said. “He’s done it year after year and he’s doing it again, people just don’t see all of what guys are doing right now because of our record. But he’s going to keep going.”
When asked if Miller has struggled to fit his defensive scheme — which has been kind to pass-rushers like Khalil Mack, Aldon Smith, Terrell Suggs, Hall of Famer Kevin Greene and Hall of Famer Rickey Jackson — Fangio said simply: “I don’t think that’s correct because really he’s playing basically the same way he’s played in his whole career.”
Fangio has also been asked if Miller, who has sporadically dropped into coverage this season, had expressed any frustration with his role: “No, he’s not frustrated with his role. He’s frustrated with where we’re at.”
Fangio does keep Miller on the field more than most of the Broncos’ previous defensive signal-callers. The Broncos coach has unapologetically said the team’s “good players are going to play more, pretty basic approach.”
Miller has played 92.7% of the defense’s snaps over the first four games, a pace ahead of last season (78.4% of the snaps), 2017 (85.6%), 2016 (81.2%) and 2015 (76.2%). His playing time to this point is more in line with 2012 — the season before he suffered a torn ACL — when then-defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio used him on 90% of the snaps.
Of course, Miller was 23 years old then and in his second season as opposed to 30 years old and in his ninth season. But Miller says his offseason preparation is “off the charts better” now than it was then.
“I want to be out there with my guys,” Miller said. “I can play as much as they want me to, I do the work in the offseason, I always feel like I can’t help us on the sideline. We have great players, great coaches, we can get out of this if we keep pushing. There’s where I’m at, I just keep pushing, the rest will take care of itself.”