Why Von Miller has stayed in the lineup despite startling lack of production


Staff member

The Buffalo Bills under Sean McDermott have always followed a simple philosophy regarding playing time.
That is, it is earned.

With that being true, it raises a thorny question right now: What, exactly, is edge rusher Von Miller doing to earn that playing time?
“I understand where you’re coming from on that,” McDermott said this week when presented with that question. “With Von, he’ll flash here, he’ll flash there. He’s dealing with a lot, right? I commend him from just what he’s been working through (with) the knee.
“Playing time is earned, and he knows that, so he continues to work hard at getting himself just right to continue to improve.”

Don’t be surprised if the Buffalo Bills’ offense has some sputtering, disjointed moments in Sunday’s game against the New England Patriots. New England often takes the “pretty” out of the opponent’s offensive flow.

Miller has been in the lineup for 11 games since coming off the physically unable to perform list following knee surgery to repair a torn ACL suffered on Thanksgiving during the 2022 season. He has played 243 defensive snaps, and has totaled three tackles and three quarterback hits – a hard-to-wrap-your-head-around lack of production.

“My knee is still progressing. It’s apparent that it’s not where I want it to be right now, but you’ve just got to keep pushing and just, really, enjoy the moment,” Miller said Thursday. “You’ve just got to enjoy all the small things. Live in the moment. We’ve got a great team. It’s not all about me and my sacks and me making plays. Of course, I want to do that. Of course, I want to contribute to my team, but you know, the cards that have been dealt to me right now, I’ve just got to play them.”

Miller denied having any particular setback in his recovery. He said he is not thinking about his knee when he is on the field.

“But when you watch the film, it’s obvious I’m not all the way back to where I can be,” he conceded. “So, you just got to keep pushing. If this was younger in my career, this would be more of a drag on me. But, right now, it’s just so many things that I have to be happy about. We are in contention of winning the division, we’re back winning games again. Playing great defense, playing great offense. It’s bigger than just me. I would love to say ‘Man, I need to get sacks.’ But it’s bigger than just me, and the main focus is winning games. As long as we’re doing that, I’m good.”

Miller’s teammates, naturally, have his back as he tries to get back.

Buffalo Bills defensive end Von Miller acknowledged that he and his girlfriend "have problems just like any other couple does," but denied the accusations that led to his arrest last month on a charge of assaulting a pregnant woman, a third degree felony.

“I’ve seen him attack the day the same way, as if he was getting the sack and the numbers that the people have been wanting him to get,” said fellow defensive end Leonard Floyd, who also previously played with Miller with the Los Angeles Rams. “He’s still coming in, being a pro, doing all the extra work, all the extra studying, all the extra lifting. He’s just maintaining his professionalism throughout the hardships he’s going through, as far as getting back from his knee.”
Floyd went through a knee injury of his own at the end of the 2017 season that forced him to miss six games and required surgery, so he can relate.

“I know what he’s going through, as far as not being able to make the plays that you were making before, but it’ll come back,” he said. “It always comes back. You’ve just got to have faith in him and believe in him.”

Miller, 34, is in his 13th NFL season. At this point, any meaningful contributions he makes will be like found money for the Bills’ defense.

“I still feel confident in my ability to play in this league,” he said. “Just a tough patch, on and off the football field.”

It has been more than two months since the Buffalo Bills fell to the Patriots in New England. The two teams now gear up for the Week 17 rematch, with each team looking different late in the season.

Miller spoke publicly for the first time Thursday since his arrest Nov. 30 on charges of felony domestic violence in his home state of Texas. He denied any wrongdoing and said the accusations were “100% false.”

As far as his on-field recovery from knee surgery, he said the Bills have provided a “peak environment” for him to become the player he once was, and doing so falls on his shoulders. He added that he doesn’t feel as though he came back too soon, but the transition to putting pads on again after an extended absence has been “different.”

Miller’s playing time would be easier to understand if the Bills were shorthanded at his position, but that is not the case. Including him, the Bills have six defensive ends on the roster, with Floyd, Greg Rousseau, A.J. Epenesa, Shaq Lawson and Kingsley Jonathan. Epenesa has missed the past couple of games with a rib injury, but when all six are healthy, the team could easily sit Miller and not be low on numbers.

“Von has earned a lot of respect. He’s earned a lot of leeway,” defensive line coach Eric Washington said Thursday. “His situation is one that I’m not sure everybody is privy to, with respect to him working back through the injury, a tough injury, and just getting himself back into a position where he can really affect the quarterback in the way we’re used to seeing. He’s working his tail off. I’m satisfied with that, and we’ll just continue to move forward with that.”
According to analytics website Pro Football Focus, Miller ranks 117th out of 123 edge rushers who have played at least 200 defensive snaps this season. His grade of 44.4 is, by far, the worst of his career – the previous low was 79.3 in 2019 with Denver. His total of 12 pressures this season is tied for 110th out of those 123 edge rushers.

If the Bills win their next two games and earn the No. 2 seed in the AFC, then yes, he will deserve the MVP vote. But not yet, writes Mark Gaughan.

“There are things that are obvious, and there are things, sometimes, that are just obvious to us,” Washington said. “As far as stats, Von has affected the game for the benefit of others, as it pertains to our rush. There have been some areas where we’ve been able to get the quarterback down, and he’s been an integral part of that, but he didn’t necessarily get credit for that, but we know what he did to affect the outcome of that play as a rusher.”

Washington pointed to a play Saturday against the Los Angeles Chargers that resulted in Poona Ford getting a sack. Miller didn’t exactly win his rep against Chargers right tackle Trey Pipkins III, but he at least held his ground, preventing quarterback Easton Stick from being able to use an escape lane. That is a fairly low bar to clear, but it is where things are with Miller at the moment.
“It’s not necessarily the standout, splash, statistical things that we’re used to seeing, but it definitely gives us a chance to have positive outcomes,” Washington said.

Still, whether looking at advanced stats or raw numbers, Miller hasn’t come close to justifying the $15 million in salary he has collected from the Bills this year.
“There are times, in the process of working your way back to an elite level, to a consistently productive level, (where) there are going to be ebbs and flows,” Washington said. “There are definitely some consistency areas that we want to try and make sure that we get to, and Von’s working hard at that.”

The Bills have two huge games remaining in the regular season and what they hope will be an extended playoff run, so the question of what Miller’s future with team looks like will be delayed until after that. It’s a big one to answer for the team, though. He’s scheduled to count $23.874 million against the cap next year, which is a huge jump from the $7.939 million he counts this season.
“I firmly believe my best is yet to come,” Miller said.
The Bills can only hope that is the case, and it starts to show itself soon.
With how bad Martin has been, I can't believe Bills have not called The Punt God. Maybe he wont sign back with Bills?