ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — For those accustomed to Von Miller screaming off the edge, beating a tackle and taking down a quarterback, here's the truth of the matter.
Edge rushers remain important in today's NFL. Miller and his counterparts are game-wreckers; they fundamentally alter the way offenses game plan.
But as we've seen over the last several seasons — see: Aaron Donald — interior pressure is equally as disruptive.
As teams have dedicated resources to the tackle position, defenses are finding an edge between the tackles.
After the Broncos finalized a trade for Titans defensive lineman Jurrell Casey on Thursday, they may have added that type of game-changing force to their defensive line.
Denver sent the Titans a 2020 seventh-round pick (No. 237 overall) in exchange for Casey.
"Jurrell Casey is a top-flight defensive lineman who has been among the most productive players in the NFL at his position," President of Football Operations/General Manager John Elway said Thursday. "What stands out with Jurrell is how hard he plays, providing a consistent interior pass rush and coupling that with a strong presence against the run. In addition to being a perennial Pro Bowler, Jurrell is a respected locker room and community presence who brings strong leadership qualities to the Broncos."
The 6-foot-1, 305-pound player is one of just 10 active players to record seven consecutive seasons with at least five sacks. And while he'll enter the 2020 season at age 30, a review of the 2019 season suggests he has plenty left.
In the Titans' dominant divisional round playoff win over the Ravens, Casey recorded a pair of sacks, four tackles, a tackle for loss, two quarterback hits and a forced fumble.
On his first sack, which came late in the first half with the Ravens trailing 21-3, Casey lined up head up over the center. The Ravens tried to double team him with the left guard, but Casey went to his left and bull-rushed the center into the backfield. Midway through his rush, Casey unleashed a spin move that led him right to Baltimore quarterback Lamar Jackson. Casey took him down and ensured the Ravens would settle for a field goal rather than a touchdown.
Later in the game, on another first-and-10, Casey lined up on the outside shoulder of the Ravens' left tackle. Just before the snap, running back Mark Ingram motioned up to the line of scrimmage. Ingram chipped Casey, but the defensive lineman fought to the inside shoulder of the left tackle. From there, Casey had a free path at Jackson. He missed the initial sack, as Jackson evaded him, but he stayed with the play and knocked the ball away from Jackson as he stepped up in the pocket.
A week later, Casey recorded another half-sack as he fought off a double-team from the Chiefs' left guard and center and brought down Patrick Mahomes.
Casey wasn't the quickest player off the line of scrimmage, but offensive linemen struggled to get their hands on him. Once in the backfield, Casey showed he was more than capable of getting to the quarterback.
Perhaps most valuable to the Broncos, Casey showed positional versatility during his 7.5 sacks from 2019 (including postseason). While the majority of his sacks came with him lined up on the interior of the defensive line (in either a 1 or 3 technique), he also showed the ability to make an impact from outside the tackle in a 5 technique.
That should allow the Broncos to get both Casey and Mike Purcell on the field, even in the team's 3-4 scheme. Purcell, who graded out as the league’s best run-stopper among interior linemen in 2019, held down the nose tackle spot for the Broncos in 2019.
Casey's film reveals one more important, albeit unsurprising, factor. Most of Casey's sacks came when he faced just one blocker or was able to attack away from the double team. With Von Miller on one edge and Bradley Chubb on the other, offenses aren't able to double each of those players. In reality, a team may have to choose one of those three players on each play on whom to focus its attention.
There won't be many good options for those offenses. Miller joins Casey as one of those 10 players with at least five sacks in each of the last seven seasons, and he's recorded at least 10 sacks in seven of his nine seasons. Chubb, meanwhile, posted 12 sacks in his only full season in the NFL.
If offenses choose to focus on Miller and Chubb, Casey should be free to focus on just one player. And that spells success for the Broncos' interior pass rush.
During Casey's nine-year NFL career, he's tallied eight forced fumbles, five fumble recoveries, 51 sacks, 493 tackles, 84 tackles for loss and 115 quarterback hits.
With his pass-rush ability — and the help he'll receive from Miller and Chubb — Casey could add to those numbers in a substantial way.