ENGLEWOOD, Colo. – In his first game after thumb surgery, Von Miller wore a club cast on his right hand — and finished with a sack of Bears quarterback Caleb Hanie, extending his streak of games with at least a half-sack to six.
Since then, Miller has gone sackless in consecutive games for the first time as a pro and has just one tackle and an assist. He also changed the style of cast he wears, ditching the club for a cast that leaves four fingers on his right hand free.
Nevertheless, he wasn’t the same player with the club cast that he was before the injury, and isn’t close to his previous form now. Before the injury, he’d averaged 7.8 total tackles and 1.25 sacks per game in November. In December, this averages are 2.3 tackles and 0.3 sacks.
“It’s that big cast on his thumb. It’s hard to play this game with two hands, let alone one,” Broncos coach John Fox said. “It’s definitely a factor.”
Changing the cast won’t have an impact, Fox said, “because we still have to immobilize the thumb.
“We’ll make do. He’ll get better, and so will we.”
BUT IT’S NOT JUST THE THUMB that’s affecting the Broncos’ pass rush. The quick timing passes of the Patriots and Bills — and Buffalo’s predilection for quick draws that take edge rushers Miller and Elvis Dumervil out of the play — have also contributed to the Broncos’ failure to maintain their previous sack rate.
Injuries at safety haven’t helped; by the second half Saturday, the Broncos were without both starting safeties, with Brian Dawkins and Quinton Carter out with neck and hamstring injuries, respectively.
Tackling issues have exacerbated the problem, with the Broncos unable to force the Bills and Patriots into many traditional drop-back passes because their receivers have racked up yardage after the catch thanks to missed tackles. There was little reason for either of the last two Broncos opponents to do anything else; as a result, the Bills and Patriots’ offenses have mounted 11 scoring drives in the last two weeks.
“It boiled down to tackling. We missed so many tackles,” Champ Bailey said Saturday.
With new regulations regarding full-pad practices in place this year per the collective bargaining agreement, the Broncos haven’t been able to do much in practice to immediately fix the problem. Teams are permitted only 14 full-pad practices throughout the regular season — and only three in the final six weeks of the year.
“You can simulate it the best you can, but at the end of the day, we definitely need to improve it,” Fox said.
Denver has one full-pad session left. Fox plans to use it Wednesday. It’s doubtful that one session can remedy the Broncos’ ills, but it couldn’t hurt.
“That’s all we’ve got to do: shore up our tackling, mental mistakes, stuff like that, and we’ll be fine,” Bailey said.