ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Broncos linebacker Von Miller has a team-leading four sacks in four games. Projected over 16 games, it would be the second-highest single-season total of his career, only behind the 18.5 he had in 2012.
But Miller thinks his sacks pace will only increase as he and the Broncos continue to adjust to the unwavering attention he has received from opposing offenses in the first month of the season.
“I’m my biggest critic," Miller said this week. “I feel like there is some stuff -- if I’m not leading in sacks, I’ve got to do better."
As expected for a perennial Defensive Player of the Year candidate, Miller has faced a steady diet of double-teams, chips, scrapes and even a smattering of triple-teams during the Broncos’ first four games.
The Los Angeles Chargers, who held Miller without a sack in the opener, had several snaps with a running back waiting behind a double team already blocking Miller, just in case Miller broke through. But the Broncos knew all this was coming, as did Miller, and they continue to adapt and try to overcome the attention.
Asked earlier this season how many snaps Miller affects every game, Broncos defensive coordinator Joe Woods said, “All of them, whether he gets a sack or not."
Still, Miller wants to see more tangible evidence.
“I need to figure out ways to get to the quarterback," Miller said. “I need to figure out ways to beat the double-teams and beat the chip block. That’s just my individual goals. I’m going to always be hard on myself. Defensively, I feel like we’re playing really good football in the run and in the pass. ... I feel like as a defense, we’ve been playing pretty well."
There is that. After four games the Broncos are currently the league’s No. 1 defense overall, No. 1 against the run, tied for sixth in scoring defense and 10th against the pass.
There is also the matter of Shane Ray, who was second on the team in sacks last season with eight and has yet to play because of wrist surgery he had in training camp. Shaquil Barrett has started in Ray’s outside linebacker spot and has forced the issue at times against opposing blockers, as have Derek Wolfe and Shelby Harris in pass-rush situations.
Ray is expected to be back in the lineup Oct. 30 against the Kansas City Chiefs, and his presence should ratchet things up a little more. Ray has consistently said he's "counting the days" until he returns.
In the meantime, the Broncos will continue to entertain the idea of moving Miller around the formation from time to time. Miller says he’s more focused on the big picture of wins, losses and keeping the bar high for a defense with a long list of goals. A team captain, Miller is still smarting over an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty against him in the loss to the Buffalo Bills -- both he and Bills quarterback Tyrod Taylor were laughing as Miller offered a hand after hitting Taylor on the pocket, and then Miller pulled his hand away -- that he said “killed the game for us."
Miller was almost subdued after a sack in the Broncos’ victory over the Oakland Raiders.
“If you get sacks on second down, you dance and bust out a move, then they get the first down on the next play, you look like an idiot," Miller said. “You’ve got to really pick and choose the time. If it’s third down and they are driving the ball, and you get a huge sack -- sack, forced fumble -- that’s when you can really put it out there. I’m always conscious of the momentum."
There is a chance for some momentum in the coming weeks. After this week's bye, the Broncos will face three of the eight most-sacked quarterbacks to this point over their next five games. The Patriots’ Tom Brady, the Chiefs’ Alex Smith and the Eagles’ Carson Wentz have all been sacked at least 12 times this season.
But those are matters for another day.
“I just want to have all-around impact," Miller said. “Every play, every way. ... Sacks are what I do -- that’s my job -- so I’m always going to think I need to get more, and I think I need to get more. But we’re looking at it like there’s a lot of our season left. All of our goals are still in front of us."