ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP) — Forget Tim Tebow for just a moment. It’s Miller Time in Denver.
Broncos linebacker Von Miller, the second overall selection in the draft, has led Denver’s defensive revival along with pass-rushing partner Elvis Dumervil.
The duo has been collecting sacks and crumpling quarterbacks at a prolific pace over the last three weeks, battering Carson Palmer, Matt Cassel and Mark Sanchez in wins over the Raiders, Chiefs and Jets.
They’ve combined for seven sacks over that span and have become the first pair of teammates in more than a decade to share a QB sandwich sack in three straight games.
With Dumervil full speed again after dealing with nagging shoulder and ankle ailments, he and Miller have finally been able to unleash a potent 1-2 punch that Miller has dubbed “Batman and Robin.”
Miller’s best game came last week against the Jets, when he had 10 tackles, nine of them solo, including 1½ sacks and three tackles for loss to go with a forced fumble and a pass breakup.
It also earned him his first AFC Defensive Player of the Week honor.
“I think it means a lot more to my teammates than it does to me,” Miller said. “I feel like it’s a sign of the type of defense that we’ve been playing. … I feel like they had to give it to somebody, so they just gave it to me, but we’ve been playing such good defense, anybody on the defense could have gotten it.”
Indeed, Denver’s defense is the under-told story in the Broncos’ return to respectability. At 5-5, they’re a game behind Oakland in the AFC West race heading into Sunday’s showdown at San Diego.
If not for the Broncos’ stingy defense that’s finally jelling under Dennis Allen, the team’s sixth defensive coordinator in as many seasons, all those fourth-quarter comebacks engineered by Tebow wouldn’t have been possible.
“One thing about that quarterback: he’s going to keep grinding, and as a defense, we’ve just got to keep the team in the game, because in the fourth quarter, you never know what you’re going to get,” cornerback Champ Bailey said. “We’re never out of it. It’s a good feeling, because I know if we’re close, we’ve got a chance.”
Without any offseason because of the lockout, Allen’s scheme took some time to take hold, and it’s congealing just as Dumervil, Bailey, D.J. Williams and Marcus Thomas have hit stride after dealing with injuries during the first half of the season.
Allen is starting to throw more at his players, who are creating more and more mayhem for quarterbacks.
“We’ve been able to add more things the last couple weeks,” safety Brian Dawkins said. “I think early on we were making too many mental mistakes and giving up too many big plays down the field. Obviously as a D-coordinator, you’re not going to be amped to call things if you think mistakes are going to be made. I think that him seeing we’ve picked up the things we needed to pick up and communicating on a better level now, and understanding what he wants in the basic scheme of things, he’s able to add more.
“And adding those things is adding more pressure on the offenses, because we’re able to do more things and send more attacks at them. I’m liking where we’re headed.”
With fewer mistakes and technical hiccups has come more production.
“It’s just the gelling effect on the team,” Miller said, “and the outside world is starting to notice.”
Allen has started to line up Miller at times over the center, where it’s easier for him to slice through guards than tackles, who are generally more athletic and agile.
Miller’s 9½ sacks are two shy of the Broncos rookie record set by Rulon Jones in 1980 and five shy of Jevon Kearse’s NFL rookie record set in 1999.
“When I go out there, I don’t worry about any of that stuff. I worry about getting a win,” Miller said. “That’s what motivates me; that’s what pushes me: to get the win. I feel like if you don’t get the win, all the other stuff is really irrelevant.”
It’s not just Denver’s dynamic bookends who are making big plays.
The Broncos looked like they were going to have a big doughnut hole in their defensive line after tackles Ty Warren and Kevin Vickerson suffered season-ending injuries, but Thomas and Brodrick Bunkley, along with backups Ryan McBean and rookie Mitch Unrein have stuffed the middle and pushed the pocket, helping the defensive ends get to the quarterback.
“I’ve seen it since Day 1. We have great talent around here,” Bunkley said. “If you look at our D-line, we’ve got a lot of hard-nosed guys ready to work, ready to do whatever it takes to go out there and win.
“We have a great coach in Wayne Nunnely and guys are dedicated to work around here. Elvis does his best to keep guys going and guys focus at practice. We know we’re a big part of the game and in order for a team to be successful your D-line has to be somewhat dominant and that’s what we strive for every day.”
The D-line’s dominance has had a trickle-down effect, keeping the Broncos in games while the offense has struggled to get going until crunch time.
“It’s been very critical,” linebacker Joe Mays said. “Those guys have been playing really well the past few games and it kinds of makes it easier on us as linebackers, because we’re able to flow free. Not only are we able to take on blocks, but they’re actually getting through the line and making plays. That’s huge for the defense.”
Notes: The Broncos practiced in shorts on Thanksgiving Day with unseasonable temperatures in the 70s. … With QB Kyle Orton’s departure, RB Willis McGahee has been named one of the team’s captains. Orton had retained his captainship after his demotion and continued calling heads or tails during the pregame coin tosses. His departure saved the team $2.6 million but Orton’s new team, the Chiefs, visit Denver on New Year’s Day and a playoff berth might be on the line.
By ARNIE STAPLETON, AP Pro Football Writer
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