This is what you call out of the frying pan and into the fire.
For anybody who thought La’el Collins had it tough facing Jason Pierre-Paul in his first career start at right tackle, look who’s coming next.
Super Bowl 50 MVP, 3-time first team All-Pro, including each of the past two seasons, 73.5 sacks and 19 forced fumbles in just 89 games over six seasons, future Hall of Famer.
That’d be Dallas-native Von Miller, the best player on the Denver Broncos regardless of position, and most likely the best edge rusher in the NFL. Elite edge-rushers normally stay on the weak side of the formation and match up primarily against left tackles, which would be quite a show against Tyron Smith, but the Broncos in their 3-4 love to line Miller up on the opposite side of the formation and let him take advantage of theoretically weaker pass-protecting right tackles. That means Collins, in just his second career start at the position, will have to find some way to contain Miller and his electric speed.
Much has changed since the last time these two teams met in 2013, which gave us an amazing 51-48 shootout between Peyton Manning and Tony Romo, who combined for 10 total touchdowns. The Broncos offense has eroded significantly since then while their defense has grown into one of the best in the league behind Miller and an excellent secondary.
With Trevor Siemian at quarterback and an average at best offensive line the Broncos rely on their defense to control games and put the offense in advantageous positions. Their cornerbacks, which are probably the best in the league, play a huge role in this but everything flows from Miller’s ability to create havoc at the line of scrimmage and force quarterbacks to get rid of the ball early. The extent to which the Broncos rely on Miller is only exacerbated by the fact that they have limited pass-rushing options on the opposite side thanks to the retirement of DeMarcus Ware and an early-season injury to Ware’s replacement, Shane Ray, who was placed on IR/expected to return.
Cowboys fans need no introduction to Ware, but Ray is an ascending third-year player who rang up 12 sacks over his first two seasons, including eight last season, and his presence will be missed. Ray is replaced by Shaquil Barrett, a capable reserve but he doesn’t bring as much juice off the edge as Ray or Ware. With that in mind you’d have to imagine that the Broncos pass-rush, and in effect their hopes to stop the Cowboys offense, will rest heavily on the shoulders of Miller.
So how do they contain him?
For starters, the Broncos defense wasn’t great against the run last year after losing key pieces to their Super Bowl-winning 2015 defense in defensive tackle Malik Jackson and linebacker Danny Trevathan. They gave up 4.3 YPC on the ground, good for just 18th in the league, and they actually ranked 28th in the league in total rushing yards allowed.
Clearly this is an area the Cowboys must look to exploit with Ezekiel Elliott and the offensive line, and they’d be wise to run right at Miller and let Collins use his size and physicality to wear him down. In many ways this Broncos defense is much like that of the Green Bay Packers, they want to get in to their nickel and dime packages where they take defensive linemen off the field and bring on extra linebackers and defensive backs who they can mix and match on blitzes. You will often see them going with formations that have only one or two traditional defensive linemen and in those situations the Cowboys must look to exploit their lack of size on the ground.
But of course there will be times when it’s 3rd and 8 and Jason Witten or Ezekiel Elliott aren’t able to stay in to help with protection, leaving Collins 1-on-1 with Miller, and in those situations Collins will have to rise to the occasion and do whatever he can to slow him down.
It won’t be pretty and Collins may very well get beaten more often than not, but he has to fight and scrap as hard as he did on opening night even if he is initially beaten, in hopes of giving Dak Prescott an extra half-second to avoid the rush or get the ball out. The Broncos defense, their crowd, and their generally-average offense feed off the pressure Miller brings, especially if he can get a strip sack or two, and once he starts rolling and the crowd is behind him it can be very difficult to stop with the crowd noise that allows him to get off the ball that much faster. The Cowboys are well-equipped to handle Miller and this Broncos defense, and you can bet the house that Collins heard about 58 all day, every day from the coaching staff this week leading up to the game, but transcendent players like Miller can sometimes wreck the best laid plans.
It will certainly be a momentous test for the new right tackle that has many Cowboys fans conjuring up memories of Erik Williams, probably the toughest individual matchup of his year, maybe even of his career, now let’s see what he can do.