Von Miller delivered one of the best performances any team could ask for on the NFL's biggest stage, the Super Bowl. He led the team with two and half sacks on the day, a key pass defense in the red zone, as well as a forced fumble when he stripped the ball from the NFL MVP, Cam Newton, that would result in a touchdown.
Miller was rightfully awarded Super Bowl MVP at the conclusion of the Denver Broncos' victory as he led the charge of one of the better defensive performances ever seen from a defense in the Super Bowl. Compound this with how great he played in the AFC Championship game when he intercepted Tom Brady and sacked him another two and a half times, you have got one of the best playoff performances over a span of two games. He literally averaged 2.5 sacks and a turnover going against two of the best quarterbacks from the 2015-2016 NFL season.
While his team was victorious in the divisional round of the playoffs, Miller did not contribute nearly as much as he did in the next two games. He was limited to no turnovers and no sacks. Similarly, the Broncos last loss of the NFL season came at the hands of the same team they would defeat in the divisional round of the playoffs, the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Miller was at Heinz Field when the Broncos would give up a season high 34-points to Pittsburgh, but you would not know that from the box score. He was completely shut out from any statistic by the Steelers, failing to record a single turnover, sack or tackle.
It was a team effort along the Steelers' offensive line, that was missing its leader in Maurkice Pouncey and its left tackle in Kelvin Beachum, but a lot of credit must go to the team's right tackle, Marcus Gilbert. Gilbert is the second round draft pick from Pittsburgh's 2011 draft, and at the age of 27, has become one of the team's many unsung heroes.
He went up against Miller for two games and kept him away from Ben Roethlisberger on both occasions. While some plays Miller was tricked into being blocked by other players, Gilbert saw him more than anyone else in week 15 and in the playoffs. We take a look at how good Gilbert was in stopping Miller.
Week 15, Second Quarter, 3rd & 20:
The situation here was very difficult for Pittsburgh as it faced a long way to go against a tough Broncos defense. The linebackers are in the perfect position to pin their ears back and rush Roethlisberger without much concern for any draw play or screen that could do too much damage to them. Miller lines up on the left side of your screen here and tries to get around Gilbert at first.
Notice how Gilbert's feet on this play; as soon as the ball is snapped he is moving with short and choppy steps to solidify his position in the spot Miller wants to be in, but while keeping the perfect defensive stance to keep Miller from going anywhere. Gilbert also gets his hands on the inside of Miller just as they engage so that he can control the pass rusher. As soon as Miller realizes he cannot gain any useful outside leverage, tries to use his hands to get inside of Gilbert, but because of Gilbert's hands which are already in position, there is nothing which Miller can do to win here. The Steelers ultimately convert the third and long thanks to Darrius Heyward-Bey drawing pass interference from Aqib Talib.
Technique is the top asset outside of size when it comes to being a lineman. Gilbert's a very strong player that has the perfect frame for an offensive tackle at 6' 6" with 330 lbs. as his official stat line. Combine that with great technique and he becomes the perfect protector for Roethlisberger. While we highlighted technique when Miller tries a series of moves above, let's take a look at later in this game when Gilbert's strength can be seen.
Week 15, Third Quarter, 3rd and 5:
While the Steelers would not convert this third down opportunity, this was a great example of Gilbert's strength against Miller. Miller's power comes from how explosive he is off the ball and his quick acceleration in tight spaces. Give him more space to work with and he is usually even more dangerous. But here we see him with a good distance of a few yards to accelerate into Gilbert who has to be stationary to maintain Roethlisberger's pocket. Gilbert absorbs Miller's bull rush and stones his momentum, ultimately forcing the Bronco to throw his hands in the air as a last ditch effort to disrupt Roethlisberger.
Again, watch Gilbert's feet. He keeps them chopping the whole play and never allows himself to break the wide stance necessary from this position. His position is perfect and his strength and size make it impossible for Miller's bull rush to get to Roethlisberger on this play.
Playoffs, First Quarter, Third Down:
Part of what makes Miller so great is that he has multiple moves in his arsenal. One move which the Carolina Panthers saw too much of in the Super Bowl was his insanely quick spin move. Miller's spin move is exactly the technique you want from an outside linebacker; make the tackle respect your speed rush on the outside and force him to step to the outside, away from his guard, and open up a lane in the B gap which your spin move can get you into by accelerating past the tackle's face and not giving a square target for his hands to attack and stop your momentum.
Miller used this move on this play and his setup was almost perfect, but Gilbert still stones him on this play. Gilbert keeps his feet moving the entire time and uses his hands to force Miller's spin move right into David DeCastro which stops his momentum and protects Roethlisberger for a clean throw. He even manages to get a hand on another pass rusher who tries to work around Miller's spin move in order to ensure Roethlisberger a clear space to launch the ball.
While we were impressed by the Steelers' offensive line in both games, Miller's performance in the two weeks which followed his matchup with the Steelers in the playoffs makes these performances all the more impressive.
Gilbert would only give up one sack during the regular season, but was left off of the NFL Pro Bowl list as well as the AP All-Pro team. Von Miller's excellent play in the playoffs, outside of when he played Pittsburgh, should draw some attention to Gilbert when analysts begin to look at Pittsburgh's offensive line for next season. Gilbert was able to be dominant in all but so few occasions this season that his big mistakes can literally be counted on one hand. He certainly deserves the nod as the AFC North's best offensive tackle over Andrew Whitworth; a player whom was utterly destroyed by a 38-year old James Harrison on multiple plays this season.
Gilbert's performance topped off an offseason in which he dedicated himself to get in great shape for an offensive lineman that has to weigh over 300 lbs., as he took on yoga and other practices to make sure his body was ready for the 2015 NFL season. The results are there for all of us to watch and enjoy, and for Roethlisberger to breathe a sigh of relief that Gilbert has the right side locked down.
Gilbert has the team's ninth highest cap number at $6,641,000 for the 2016 NFL season. He is signed into contract with Pittsburgh for the next four seasons (until 2019) with the highest cap number he will take up on the roster being $6,651,000 in 2018. By the time his contract ends, Gilbert will be 31 years old and probably be looking for a solid three-to-four year contract, at most, to end his NFL career. His deal is the definition of team friendly to a team such as Pittsburgh, which has younger superstars and rising players such as Le'Veon Bell, David DeCastro, Martavis Bryant, Kelvin Beachum, Ryan Shazier, Stephon Tuitt and even Antonio Brown that are not signed past 2017.
Mike Tomlin and Kevin Colbert got it right when they picked Gilbert, and got it right a second time when they locked him into a six year contract that left the team a lot of cap space to devote to other areas of the team.