GREEN BAY, Wis. • Maybe there’s another way out of this hole. Maybe this is the one, single, only time that following the money is not how you explain the NFL. Maybe Von Miller’s the outlier.
Maybe, but probably not. For the Broncos to escape an 0-2 start and keep this season interesting, it must be on the back of Von. The star of the show must be engaged, because right now he’s not. The new coaching staff must illuminate his strengths, because right now it’s not. Is it coincidence Miller is without a sack, and the Broncos are without a win? Course not.
“We’re just playing for a breakthrough,” Miller said last week in another gloomy, doomy news conference at UCHealth Training Center.
This isn’t the end of the Von Miller era on Sunday against the Packers, but you can see the end from the top row of historic Lambeau Field. It’s the kind of marquee matchup where Miller traditionally has shined. He felled Tom Brady the same as he dumped Cam Newton. No matter if the other guys had Luck, Big Ben or Brees, you always kinda liked the Broncos’ chances to win. The Broncos had Von, the other guys didn’t.
This guy wearing No. 58 in losses to the Raiders and the Bears? Not the same guy. It can’t be.
This year for Halloween, Miller’s going as a ghost.
The next few weeks are Miller’s last stand. If the Broncos don’t flip their season in short order, the remaining figures from the Super Bowl 50 roster will have one foot out the door.
Chris Harris Jr. in Chiefs red? Say it ain’t so. Derek Wolfe, a Raider? The mean streak fits the mold. Still, ouch. Philip Rivers to Emmanuel Sanders? OK, that’s enough for now.
Denver’s lost six straight, and Miller is sack-less in the past four. And if the Broncos continue down a losing path, they will be forced to do what they should’ve done a long time ago: break up the band. Harris will enter free agency after this season. Same for Wolfe and Sanders. And the Broncos have a potential out in Miller’s contract when this season is over.
The collateral damage of losing is a heavy price to pay.
Right now there are philosophical differences separating Miller from coach Vic Fangio, who has required Miller does a little bit of everything — stuff the run game, cover leaking pass-catchers, sack the passer. Fangio had Miller on the field for 96 percent of the snaps against the Raiders, 95 percent against the Bears — more than he played in all 16 games last season, more than he played in all but 13 of his previous 105 games, more than he obviously wants to play.
Listen close, and Miller subtly reminds the football world why he’s being paid a cool $17.5 million this season, second only to Joe Flacco on the Broncos’ payroll: “I just want to play and do what we do. I just want to rush the passer, get clean looks and all that stuff that makes (them) great.”
Can coach and star find common ground?
Somehow, some way, they must. In the post-Peyton Manning era, the Broncos are 5-13 when Miller doesn’t record a full sack, or half a sack. There is a direct correlation between his sack-less start and Denver’s winless start.
It’s a short list, but teams that beat Rodgers at Lambeau Field shared a blueprint. They smacked the flame-throwing, soul-crushing quarterback to the turf. The last 15 times Rodgers lost a regular-season home game, the opponent averaged three sacks. As the Bears’ defensive coordinator, Fangio went 1-3 at Lambeau. The Bears had two sacks in each trip.
“One of the definitions of a great quarterback is there’s really no one way to play them, so you just have to mix it up on them,” Fangio said.
There’s a new contest with the Broncos. The lucky winner scores Von Miller as a chaperone for their high school’s Homecoming dance.
“Nobody likes to dance like Von likes to dance,” he said.
Get your submissions in now. If their losing ways continue, there probably won’t be a later.
(Contact Gazette sports columnist Paul Klee at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @bypaulklee.)