SANTA CLARA, Calif. – Von Miller decimated the Carolina Panthers in every way an outside linebacker can. He harassed and flustered Cam Newton, at once stripping away the ball and his confidence at the outset. He tortured right tackle Mike Remmers. He stifled tight end Greg Olsen. Miller influenced the game on almost every snap he played. His pass-rushing dominance made him the easy choice for Most Valuable Player in real time. Upon a second viewing, he was even better.
Miller didn’t only impact the Denver Broncos’ 24-10 Super Bowl victory with his 2 ½ sacks and two forced fumbles. He forced the Panthers to commit extra blockers to account for him, which opened space for blitzes and the rest of Denver’s marauding defensive line. He hurried Newton into four incompletions on plays when he couldn’t knock him down. When asked, he covered wide receivers in man-to-man. He was everywhere and did everything.
The most devastating play Miller made, of course, came on the sixth play of the game. He lined up on the left side of the Carolina’s line, in front of Newton’s face. The Panthers lined up running back Mike Tolbert behind Remmers, hoping to elongate Miller’s path to the quarterback. At the snap, Tolbert released on a pattern, and Miller blasted past Remmers, who could only lunge at Miller.
Miller tore around the edge, straight at Newton’s face. Newton should have seen Miller coming, but may not have been prepared for Miller’s suddenness – it took Miller only 2.8 seconds to maneuver around Tolbert and dispatch Remmers. Rather than simply sacking Newton, Miller tore the ball from Newton’s hands. Teammate Malik Jackson pounced on the ball in the end zone.
The Broncos led, 10-0, and Newton would not look comfortable for the entire game. Coming into Super Bowl 50, it was supposed to be the Broncos who had never encountered a player like Newton. That may have been true, but from the sixth snap of the game, Miller made it clear: The Panthers had never had to deal with a player like him.
Just as Miller initiated the Broncos’ victory, he sealed it. Late in the fourth quarter, the Panthers trailed, 16-7, and desperately needed a drive. Newton dropped back from his own 30. Remmers tried to block Miller one-on-one, an unfair fight the entire game. Miller shoved Remmers in the chest, stepped around him and swatted the ball from Newton’s hand as he cocked to the throw.
When the Broncos recovered, the faint hope Carolina held had evaporated. Newton may have held the ball too long – the rush took 3.25 seconds. But again, he may have not anticipated Miller being able to reach him that quickly on a deep drop.
In between Miller’s bookend sacks came perhaps his most dazzling rush of the night. Late in the third quarter, he helped set up a third-and-long by stopping a running play with defensive tackle Derek Wolfe and then beating Remmers one-on-one to force a scramble and incompletion. On that third down, Tolbert lined up to Remmers’ left, giving Miller a longer path to Newton.
Miller sprinted around Tolbert, darted inside, spun around Remmers – the only spin move he used all night – and dove to grab Newton’s legs. An offensive line coach grading the film would have a difficult time telling Remmers what he could have done differently. Miller was too freakishly fast to stop. Miller hadn’t just unleashed a move he’d kept holstered all night. In a rush that last three seconds flat, Miller took 13 steps, his feet pumping like twin jackhammers.
Miller wrecked the Panthers’ attack beyond his pass rushing. Miller was primarily responsible for eliminating Olsen, Newton’s most important offensive weapon. Olsen finished with four catches, only two of which came with Miller in the game, for a total of 14 yards and no first downs. The Broncos lined up Miller over Olsen constantly, and Miller limited him in three ways. On some pass plays, Olsen stayed in to help block Miller, his presence alone removing Olsen from the pattern. On others, Miller bumped Olsen at the line to disrupt his timing. Twice, Miller covered Olsen on a pattern. He blanketed him both times, once with a safety helping behind.
At times, it appeared the former Texas A&M star was showing off. On the Panthers’ first drive of the second half, they marched into Denver territory. Wide receiver Jericho Cotchery lined up in the right slot, and Miller drifted out to cover him. With no safety help, Miller clung to Cotchery as he ran an out-and-up down the sideline. Newton threaded a pass to Cotchery’s hands, but Miller knocked it away as Cotchery neared the goal line.
The Broncos prevailed for reasons beyond Miller. Newton seemed overly amped early, and he missed several open throws high. No quarterbacks thrive under pressure, but Newton’s accuracy and poise suffered dramatically in the face of Denver’s rush. The most overlooked quality of Denver’s defense may have been the tackling ability of its secondary and the scarcity of Carolina yards after catch. Left tackle Michael Oher had an atrocious game – one of his two false start penalties came on one of the rare occasions Miller lined up over him.
All night long, though, the best player on the field was Miller. There was no other possible for choice for MVP, a fact that only became more clear the more you watched.