In a column posted yesterday at Pro Football Focus, Ben Stockwell suggests that, outside of favorable matchups against the Chargers, Elvis Dumervil hasn’t done a very good job of rushing the passer this season.
It even discusses the idea that potential opponents might just try and shut down Miller (good luck there) and let the rest of the line try and beat them. I think that in this case, even PFF’s own stats show this to be a weak argument. So does the film.
In this explanation, I used some numbers that I took out of PFF's own website - an article from earlier in the week on pass rushing productivity on third and fourth downs. According to PFF, Miller is second in the league in total late down pressures, which isn’t surprising. Who’s tied for tenth? Elvis Dumervil, the player who supposedly isn’t performing well. This ignores, incidentally, the fact that Von and Elvis have each forced six fumbles - which only serves to expand the impact of their pressures.
What I think it really shows is that with Von third in overall sacks, leading the NFL in sacks on third or fourth down, and second in the NFL in late down pressures, the number of times that Doom (or any other lineman or LB) has an opportunity to score them has dropped accordingly. That’s not rocket science. Let's face it, Von Miller may be the fastest outside linebacker around the corner in the NFL today, so beating him to the QB is quite an accomplishment. Doom’s impact remains high - he’s just not at the supra-elite level that Miller is. Few players are. But he’s still a top DE.
I got a laugh out of Derek Wolfe's recent explanation to a reporter’s query of why he hasn't had more sacks this year. Wolfe said he's not only trying to get to the quarterback before he can get the pass off, but he's also trying to get there before Von or Doom does. He noted that it’s not so easy to do, and he’s right. Derek’s also taking up multiple blockers on a lot of plays, which creates more opportunities for Miller and Doom. That’s just good football. Line play isn’t always a one-on-one issue - it’s a group effort, and Miller (or Doom) will be among the first to say so.
To me, this a good example of where a limited analysis, without a comprehensive and realistic perspective of the team, scheme, and roster can give a twisted view of the player’s value. It’s also taking a single game and suggesting that it’s a trend. During the Broncos' eight-game win streak, though, Doom’s had five sacks, four QB hits,13 hurries, and four forced fumbles.
Let’s look again at the article that specifically refers to third and fourth downs - key plays in anyone’s perspective. Miller's league-leading figure is 11 sacks, compared to Aldon Smith’s six. Miller also has 28 total pressures on third or fourth down. For perspective, Texans defensive monster J.J. Watt has 19 late-down pressures, while Smith doesn’t crack the top 13. FWIW, Doom is tied with Watt at 19 total pressures on third and fourth down, and tied for tenth in the league.
Remember - Doom and Von also each have six fumbles forced; quite often, they will score either a sack or a forced fumble, but not always both, although either can be a game-changer. If you add the number of forced fumbles into the production of both players, you quickly see that they're having an even bigger impact on the game. As PFF's article showed, that's particularly true on the essential third and fourth downs.
If Miller did not have 16 sacks, it’s reasonable (and in watching film, inevitable) that we'd be seeing a greater level of production out of Dumervil - and Wolfe, for that matter. There are only so many opportunities for sacks.
I imagine that it would be easy to put this down to me being a homer on the issue, but I’ll beg to disagree. To me, it's almost bizarre to have a person who has achieved eight sacks, six forced fumbles, and 49 total pressures over the season so far, the same player who’s in the league’s top ten in late-down pressures, being dunned as an ineffective player.
I understand that Ben Stockwell’s article focuses on Doom’s more recent performance and it mostly deals with a single game against a tackle who’s coming into his own as a top player. He’s not completely off base there, but it’s just one game. Jared Veldheer had an excellent performance against Elvis and that’s going to happen at times. It’s still true that Doom remains a serious danger who prevents teams from doing what Stockwell suggests - trying to load the line against Miller.
Even Stockwell admits that this would be dangerous, and he’s right. He seems to contradict himself by stating that no one but Miller is a danger, yet that focusing on Miller would be a potential problem. You really can’t have it both ways. If a team adapts to Denver’s strengths, Jack Del Rio has shown a lot of ways to overcome their adjustments. That’s why Denver’s defense has been so strong - you can’t just stop one guy. Wesley Woodyard, Wolfe, Doom, Chris Harris, and Mike Adams have all brought pressure into the backfield. Football is a team game, and Doom is a considerable weapon.
Every player has hot and cold streaks - overfocus on one game doesn’t really show anything substantial. And again - this matches what I see on game film. No, he hasn’t gotten to the QB quite as often recently, but he’s far from ineffective. Ask any DC if he’d like to have Dumervil. You won’t hear anyone say no.
I’m not uncomfortable criticizing Doom when he doesn’t do well. I’ve done so regarding his run stopping in the past, and if he wasn’t producing this time I’d be fine with criticizing his play again. That’s just not in line with what I’m seeing, nor the numbers that he’s put up over the course of the season. Veldheer had a great game, and I give him credit. You can go overboard with that fact, and I think Stockwell has.
Players don’t work in a vacuum. Every player on the Broncos defensive line (and front seven) has a specific role and is also in two races. The first is to get to the quarterback and/or the ballcarrier (or to blanket the receivers, giving the line more time). The second is to get there before Von Miller. You also need your other players to take up blockers and free up Von and Doom. That’s a role that makes football sense, and players like Wolfe, Mitch Unrein, and Kevin Vickerson bring pressure, stop the run, and are a danger to the QB if left alone to concentrate on Miller. They, too, make the scheme work more effectively.
Miller is a unique force of nature. He changes games consistently, and it’s unreasonable to try and compare another player with him - he’s a once-a-decade talent. You will rarely see a player of his caliber and even more rarely one with his speed around the corner. With that said, when you start considering Dumervil’s eight sacks, six fumbles, and 49 total QB pressures to be a weak performance, you might be going a little bit too far down the rabbit hole for me.
It's just my opinion. but I’m sticking to it.