By Henry McKenna
FOX Sports AFC East Writer
Imagine losing track of Von Miller.
Imagine, as a professional left tackle, allowing Miller to pull off a magic trick on national television.
Now you see him, now you don’t.
It happens to the best of them. The Buffalo Bills‘ outside linebacker is one of the most elusive rushers in the history of the game, and his “ghost move” is one of the many reasons he’s so dangerous.
The ghost move is aptly named. It’s like abruptly sliding out of someone’s DMs; Miller dips away from the offensive lineman on his way to the quarterback. The result isn’t always a sack. But when the move clicks, it’s knife-through-butter smooth.
“It’s just a game within the game to keep them playing you true,” Miller told FOX Sports.
To pull off the ghost move, Miller fakes the pass rusher’s equivalent of a stiff-arm, which edge players call “the long arm.” Miller often baits the offensive lineman to punch his hands at the arm in an effort to keep Miller from pushing the tackle into the quarterback. Or the offensive lineman begins to anchor himself in preparation for the impact of the long arm. Either way, in a split second, Miller can see the offensive lineman’s weight is in the wrong place.
So he pulls away his arm. With that sleight of hand, the magic trick begins.
There’s no time for the lineman to correct. Miller has already dipped underneath the tackle’s outside armpit, bending through a violent game of limbo. If he can stay standing, Miller should have a chance at sacking and stripping the quarterback.
“When the timing is perfect, and [the tackle] shoots his hand, and you dip right underneath it, you’re clean,” Miller said. “And the hardest part really is just staying up. Because you got to imagine I’m running full speed. And I just dip, and I don’t have anything to lean against. The hardest part of that move is really just standing up and keeping your balance all the way to the quarterback.”
It’s a move that will hurt the pride of an offensive lineman.
“If you do it right, I think you can really make the offensive tackle look silly, because if you do it right, do it effectively, he gets his hands on nothing,” said NFL sacks leader Alex Highsmith. The Steelers‘ defensive end learned the ghost move from watching Miller.
But the degree of difficulty makes the move extremely risky. You see it time and time again with even the best pass-rushers in the NFL: They simply fall over when they try to pull off the ghost move. They flop to the ground at the feet of the tackle or, worse, get tossed into the turf to eat a mouthful of rubber pellets. The edge rusher also sometimes collapses before he can make it to the quarterback.
As smooth as the 6-foot-3, 250-pound Miller makes the ghost move look, the typical outcome is that the defensive end — not the tackle — looks stupid.
“You have to have flexibility to bend, ankle flexion not to fall on your face and the fast twitch to get you to the upfield shoulder,” said Chris Long, former Pro Bowl defensive end and current host of the podcast “Green Lights.” “It’s a move I’d probably tell most rushers not to try at home. I could never land the ghost move. Not talented enough. Only a few are.”
The dirty little secret about the ghost move is that it’s as mental as it is physical. Miller spends the game setting up his moment to use it, often pulling it off on gotta-have-it third- or fourth-down passing plays. Because the ghost move is a counter move based off the long arm, Miller will really only use it in a game in which he has been using that long arm with regularity.
As the game goes on, Miller is patiently setting up the move for “a rare occasion.” The moment and the matchup have to be just right.
“It’s not a primary move. It’s not your A-rush move, it’s not your B-rush move. It’s not even your C,” Miller said. “Sometimes offensive linemen, they get complacent, and they just wait for you to run into them. Or they wait for you to play long arm. And it’s just the knuckleball.”
Miller’s favorite pass-rush move is the “speed stutter double swipe.” But throw your hands too hard at him, and he’ll ghost you. Wait too patiently for his long arm in hopes of setting a better anchor, and he’ll give you the ghost.
MIller isn’t the only one who can pull it off. Some of the league’s other elite speed-rushers can swing it: Micah Parsons, T.J. Watt, Khalil Mack and Highsmith. What’s crazy is that some of the league’s elite power rushers have mastered it, too. Myles Garrett has it down.
It’s just that Miller’s brand of the ghost move is a little sneakier than everyone else’s. Watt, for example, adds a rip move, meaning that he’ll make a violent swimming motion with his inside arm to free himself from the offensive tackle’s grasp.
Miller’s move is all about bend, flexibility and strength. Few pass-rushers have that combination. And few have been working on it as long as he has. He first started in college at Texas A&M when he weighed 210 pounds. He was an undersized pass-rusher and needed a way to get past the much bigger tackles. Eventually, this move started clicking for him, in large part because he’s one of the most athletic people on the planet.
“Von Miller is an alien,” Long said. “I said don’t try this at home, because if I tried that right now without warming up, I’m going to urgent care. … My back would go.”
The ghost move has a long history in the league. The late Derrick Thomas, a Hall of Famer who played for the Chiefs, called it “falling off the corner” when he embarrassed tackles with it in the 1990s. Then Colts defensive end Robert Mathis brought it back in the 2000s — and his effortless-looking dip-and-duck style looked a lot like what Miller does now.
The brand-new Bill, now in his 12th NFL season, is updating it for the next generation of pass-rushers, like Highsmith, who actually said he wants to “be the ghost.”
“I’ve watched directly from [Miller]. I haven’t met him before. But I’ve watched a lot of his film to see the way he does it. And I’ve tried to kind of mimic it in my game,” Highsmith said.
The beauty of the ghost is that it looks easy. It doesn’t look like a move at all. Miller simply springs and ducks around the tackle. But there’s nuance to this unique speed rush. There are years of training. There’s even a sense of impossibility for some who can’t pull it off.
For Miller, it’s not even his favorite move. It’s just another way for him to haunt offensive tackles.
Prior to joining FOX Sports as the AFC East reporter, Henry McKenna spent seven years covering the Patriots for USA TODAY Sports Media Group and Boston Globe Media. Follow him on Twitter at @McKennAnalysis.
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Source: FOX Sports