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Buffalo Bills: Can Von Miller make the ultimate difference?

Von Miller's former defensive coordinator and former Bills coach Wade Phillips weighs in on the question.

LOS ANGELES — At time time, it was something you would expect an NFL GM to say ahead of free agency.

“We don’t expect to make a big splash.”

The words of Brandon Beane before the opening of the signing period.

He’ll tell you it wasn’t a smoke screen at the time.

Things changed when Von Miller’s agent called expressing interest in having him sign with Buffalo. At first, Beane says he was leery of being leveraged so that Miller could get a better deal elsewhere. 

He wasn’t sure Miller wanted to make the splash in Buffalo.

Miller would later admit he wasn’t so sure in the moments before signing the contract.

Beane was ultimately willing to complete enough of Miller’s financial checklist to get the deal done, and so he begins this season of great expectations as a Buffalo Bill on the very field he ended the last one as a Super Bowl Champion with the Rams.

“I love those guys for that.  We won Super Bowl 56 and that will always be there. Those will always be my teammates.  But at the same time, I’m on the Buffalo Bills now and I want to create some of those same memories with my new teammates now.”

Music to the ears of Bills Mafia.

Credit: AP
Buffalo Bills linebacker Von Miller (40) runs a drill during practice at the NFL football team's training camp in Pittsford, N.Y., Sunday July 24, 2022. (AP Photo/ Jeffrey T. Barnes)

Before the Miller signing, a cloud hung over those hopes given the way last season ended. The infamous “13 seconds” in the divisional playoff loss at Kansas City. Without re-living the details, it was a defense that the Bills had worked to upgrade, the pass rush in particular, that had ultimately failed them.

The Miller signing did a great deal to change those perceptions across the NFL.

But as the Bills get ready to open the season Thursday night at Sofi Stadium against the Rams, there is the question to what extent that perception will become reality?

Miller is the NFL’s sack leader among active players (115.5) and has still shown signs of his trademark athleticism, technique, and explosiveness in training camp. He finished last season with 9.5 sacks and four more in the post season. Still at 33 years old, it’s legit to wonder how long that effectiveness will last.

Miller’s response is one you’d expect.

“If it says get the quarterback from a six technique or off the ball or playing middle linebacker you know I’ll do it. Whatever you guys need me to do I’ll be able to get it done. The main goal here is to win a Super Bowl.”

That’s something that Miller has now done twice. The other being as the MVP of Super Bowl 50 with the Broncos in their win over the Carolina Panthers.

His defensive coordinator that year was former Bills coach Wade Phillips.

Credit: AP
FILE - In this Feb. 7, 2016, file photo, Wade Phillips, defensive coordinator for the the Denver Broncos, arrives before the NFL Super Bowl 50 football game against the Carolina Panthers, in Santa Clara, Calif. The Los Angeles Rams have confirmed Wade Phillips is their new defensive coordinator. The Rams made the announcement Thursday, Jan. 19, 2017. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum, File)

“He’s going to make a big play. I mean obviously the Super Bowl that was his.  He made so many great plays in that game I mean to be a defensive player MVP… there’s only been a couple of them.”

There have been a total of nine with Miller being the most recent. Phillps says there’s everything to suggest that he can do it again.

“Tom Brady is still playing. The rest of the players are able to play longer if they stay fit and if they work at their craft as far as keeping their body ready to play. He’s really outstanding in that area. He’s a worker. The great players, like him, remain great longer because they work at it.”

Phillips knows a thing or two about coaching great defensive players.  The includes the NFL’s all-time sack leader in Bills Hall of Famer Bruce Smith. Phillips says that Miller and Smith share some of the abilities that have separated them from others.

“He’s one you just let It go and say hey you rush the passer and don’t worry about containing the quarterback because he’ll make the right decision and get to the quarterback if he goes inside. That’s really the key with a great pass rusher.”

There are other factors in terms of the Bills defensive approach that suggest Miller will be a success. Buffalo relies on a heavy rotation up front.  Miller won’t have to play the number of snaps some teams might expect from a player of his caliber. The Bills goal, at least at the start, will be to keep Miller fresh so he can make his greatest impact late in games when it matters most.

If that holds true, it won’t be necessarily fair to judge Miller on numbers alone.  He’s still a force that offensive coordinators have to account for.  How his presence boosts the production of others on a defensive line that includes former first round pick Ed Oliver, and returnees Shaq Lawson and Jordan Phillips among others has to factor into the equation.

Through all of the hype, speculation, and questions, Miller isn’t shy when talking about what this season should ultimately be measured by.

“I just want to be a part of something special. This is a special team. They’re right on the edge.  I just want it to be that last drop to overflow these guys. Bills Mafia has been waiting for it. Buffalo has been waiting for it. It will be crazy if we can go out there and get it done.”

Oh what a splash it would be.

It all speaks to the Bills investment.    

We begin to see if there’s a payoff Thursday.

(WGRZ Bills/NFL Insider Vic Carucci contributed to this report.)

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