Roy Miller doesn’t lead the Buccaneers’ defense in any statistical category, but the Buccaneers’ defense leads the NFL in yards allowed per rush, and Miller is a huge reason why.
Filling a somewhat new role in the defense imported by Greg Schiano and Bill Sheridan – a “tilt-nose” position that lines him up at an angle across from one shoulder of the center – Miller has been able to use his substantial strength to tie up the middle of the line of scrimmage. On Tuesday, fellow DT Gerald McCoy, who plays the more penetrating three-technique position, lauded Miller for basically “strangling” opposing centers this season. McCoy means that Miller has kept blockers from getting off the line and into the second level of the Bucs’ defense, which has freed up linebackers like Mason Foster and Lavonte David to frequently make tackles at or behind the line.
Those results are a big part of the reason Tampa Bay’s run defense is the most improved unit in the entire NFL. The Bucs were dead last in stopping the run in 2011, giving up 156.1 yards per game and 5.0 yards per carry. This season, they have vacillated between first and third in the rankings and are currently allowing 76.0 yards per game and 3.1 yards per tote. Tampa Bay also leads the league in “stuffs,” making 32 tackles behind the line of scrimmage on running plays.
Miller’s emergence as a prominent figure in the Bucs’ defense in 2012 is a considerable amount of validation for a player who has continued plugging through a significant amount of upheaval, and who has quietly gone about his job for three-and-a-half seasons. It has also begun to draw attention to the fact that the former University of Texas standout has been a hidden gem of the 2009 draft class.
There were 20 defensive tackles drafted in 2009 and Miller, who was picked midway through the third round, was the ninth. That includes three first-round selections: B.J. Raji of the Packers, Peria Jerry of the Falcons and Ziggy Hood of the Steelers. It’s fair to say that the Bucs have gotten as much out of Miller than any of the other teams that selected DTs in 2009, and considerably more than most of them.
Four of those 20 DT draftees in 2009 never played a game in the NFL and another, San Diego’s Tyronne Green, now plays on the offensive line. Of the remaining 15, essentially six of them have developed into regular or semi-regular starters: Raji, Hood, Indy’s Fili Moala, Jacksonville’s Terrance Knighton, San Diego’s Vaughn Martin and Miller.
Of all the members of that 2009 DT draft class, Miller has the most tackles through three seasons and the first seven weeks of 2012. He has 88 stops, while Knighton has 85 and Raji has 64. Only Hood, with 54, has played in more games than Miller, and Miller will make his 54th appearance Thursday night in Minnesota on prime-time TV.
Miller is not the sack leader of that class, though his three QB takedowns is tied for seventh on the list, and he hasn’t often been employed in a way that is expected to lead to sacks. Raji (10.5), Knighton (7.5) and Hood (6.5) lead the way in that group with sacks, but none of the 20 has really emerged as a premier pass rusher.
The Buccaneers used their first-round pick in 2009 on quarterback Josh Freeman, now fully entrenched as the starter and currently on a statistical tear. They had no second-round pick, so Miller was the first defensive player in that Buccaneer draft class. He may have done so quietly but, like Freeman on offense, Miller has turned into an important part of the Bucs’ defensive foundation.