ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Of the Bronco defense's most alarming statistics last Sunday -- 512 yards allowed, 323 on the ground, 8.5 yards per carry -- one stood out: zero.
Von Miller posted his third consecutive game without a sack. In related news, the Broncos have not won any of these games. Miller faulted himself after the Jets debacle, saying, "I haven't been worth a thing the last three weeks. Right now, I am not doing enough for us to win. I've got to be better, and I've got to bring some guys with me."
Miller suffered the longest in season sack drought of his career over the final four games of the 2016 season. More pressing, Miller lacks a sack in six of his last eight regular-season games under defensive coordinator Joe Woods. His longest overall slump is five games, bridging the 2016 and 2017 seasons.
"It's something where I point the finger at myself. I have to get sacks," Miller said. "You have to go out there and be successful for 60 minutes and that's something I haven't done. I can fix it. That's the world I live in."
The Broncos drafted Bradley Chubb and kept Shane Ray to avoid this indignity. Their presence, along with Shaquil Barrett, was supposed to create cleaner paths to the quarterback. The Broncos are on pace for 35 sacks, two better than last year's disappointing 33. Coach Vance Joseph offered the standard explanation: Von gets chipped more than windshields on I-25.
"Von's been, obviously, being chipped, being bumped the entire football game," Joseph said. "He's obviously frustrated; when there's double chip, there's not much we can do to help Von, other than play coverage and win the down and make them pay for doing that. You have to make them pay by winning coverage."
This explanation makes sense but hides a more sobering truth. It's the equivalent of the Rockies tipping their caps to the Brewers great pitching last week. Yes, there are days the opponent is better. But if it happens regularly, it's not the opponent. It's the man in the mirror, a notion Miller repeated over and over Thursday.
The idea of freeing Von through plaster coverage strains credulity. The Broncos secondary is no longer living up to the No Fly Zone billing, save for charter member Chris Harris Jr. Bradley Roby has been wildly consistent, and played the worst game of his career last week. Adam Jones and Tramaine Brock have dealt with leg injuries -- Brock could play some outside this week with Roby as the nickelback -- and rookie Isaac Yiadom needs seasoning.
So what is the answer?
Miller is right. He has to play better, and fight frustration by yielding to blockers and going for pass deflections. When one-on-ones present themselves, he must claim his share. He compared his situation to that of a 3-point shooter. Defenses will guard the line an take away the deep ball, but the player still gets a few chances. Von admitted, he's not making his shots when they show up, regardless if they are contested or not.
And Woods or Joseph -- whomever is calling signals on Sunday, and I believe Joseph will be more involved -- has to free up Miller through scheme. The Jets adjusted last week, showing how twists and stunts up front can help outside rushers. The Broncos have to win at the point of attack. Part of the reason the Jets contained Miller is by pushing the Broncos linemen back off the line. A good pass rush works in concert with coverage and inside push.
The Broncos are not doing anything well consistently on defense. Miller must be a dominant player for the Broncos to reach their potential.
Miller knows he's not blameless. His sackless stretch speaks to a macro issue. There are no easy fixes. It's why the Broncos defenders held a players only meeting on Monday to stress the importance of staying positive, executing their assignments and tackling better.
"Guys are pissed off and rightfully so. It's OK to be pissed off," safety Justin Simmons told Denver7. "But it's over with and we've gotta move on to L.A."
With the Rams trotting out the league's most potent offense Sunday, all eyes will be on Miller. Von must be on. If his streak continues, so too will a Broncos' losing skid that threatens to submarine the season.
"I know it sounds simple, but we have to win, and I have to get sacks," Miller said. "That's what it's about. I have to get it going."
Joe Ellis weighs in
Broncos CEO Joe Ellis spoke at a community event Thursday morning. The football talk centered on the Broncos' three-game losing streak. This team has not had back-to-back losing seasons since 1972. The latest skid has called into question Joseph's security, and the team's ability to execute a U-turn.
"There was a lot of frustration that came out of last week. Hopefully we can channel that into some positive energy on Sunday," Ellis told reporters and a pool photographer. "They know the deal. They experienced this last year. They know what needs to be done to fix it -- move forward, try and improve and get better and play some good football for the remaining 11 games."
The right guard position is an open competition this week between Max Garcia and Connor McGovern. McGovern has struggled in pass protection the past two weeks. ... The plan remains to start slumping left tackle Garett Bolles. However, the Broncos could scheme things to help him, including using a tight end for protection. ... Offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave blamed himself for the unbalanced attack against the Jets, particularly in abandoning the run. "I wasn't wild about any of the play calls. I felt we threw at times when we should have run. And we ran at times when we should have thrown. We are looking for a good bounceback performance after last Sunday's performance." ... Safety Darian Stewart (foot) returned to practice. Right tackle Jared Veldheer (knee) and cornerback Adam Jones (quad) did not practice. ... Nose tackle Domata Peko was given a vet day. ... Rams quarterback Jared Goff leads the NFL with 1,727 yards passing. He has won four straight games against AFC teams, posting 12 touchdowns with one interception.