RSP Writer’s Q&A: Matt Miller, Bleacher Report

Matt Miller’s offense might be young and unproven in many respects, but Arian Foster and the offensive line should provide stability through any growing pains. Photo by AJ Guel.

Bleacher Report’s NFL Draft Lead Writer, Matt Miller is the founder of the NFL draft site New Era Scouting. Matt’s work has been featured in Madden 13, on ESPN radio, SiriusXM,,, and USA Today. NFL, CFL and AFL teams have utilized his services. Matt was the secondary and special teams coordinator for the three-time league champion Joplin Crusaders of the Central Football League.

Miller went big and bad on defense and young and unproven on offense. I know that the edges of my offensive line will be severely tested if facing Miller’s team. In fact, if my team were fortunate enough to come away with a victory, even a 14-6 win might feel like a three-point loss.

However, it’s not fair at all  to characterize Miller’s offense as one that can only score six points. There’s some quality talent on this offense that could grow up fast. If they all transition at the same fast rate, this squad could have the positives of the Houston Texans offense and San Francisco 49ers defense.

Describe your offensive system (Personnel formations, blocking schemes, bread and butter plays, pivotal players in the scheme, and coaching staff):

The Andrew Luck-fest doesn’t surprise me, but the Coby Fleener love is not what I expected from this crew of writers. Photo by Michael Li.

Our offense will be built around a three-wide and two-tight end system, with a single running back that will be expected to run, block, and catch with equal ability.  Our offense will run on a zone blocking scheme, much like what the Houston Texans used during the 2011 season. Some of our bread and butter plays will be  the sretch zone run (think Arian Foster) and play action off the stretch zone run with the tight end given an option route and outside receivers running deep routes if in zero coverage with post-corners if in zone coverage.

The offense is centered around the ability of Andrew Luck to read and diagnose plays post-snap. Luck’s ability to move in the pocket makes the stretch run and play-action a key to our offense. With speed at receiver in Mike Wallace, and then the size of Alshon Jeffery, we believe the offense can stretch coverage deep, which allows athletic tight ends Coby Fleener and Evan Rodriguez to get open underneath on option routes. I have followup questions sent to Miller and answers are coming soon.

The coordinators and coach that you’d likely pick to run it

Matt Miller’s Q&A is more economic than many, but one detail he provided that his peers haven’t thus far is position coaches. Josh McDaniels is one of them. Photo by Jeffery Beall.

Offensive coordinator – Rick Dennison (Houston)
Quarterbacks coach – Josh McDaniels (New England)
Running Backs coach – Wilbert Montgomery (Baltimore)
Wide Receivers coach – Edgar Bennett (Green Bay)
Offensive Line coach – John Benton (Houston)

Describe your defensive system within similar criteria as the offense

The first photo I saw of Pepper Johnson was in the 1980s when he was as big, bad-ass linebacker for Ohio State. Now he’s coaching big, bad-ass thumpers. Photo by PatriotWorld.

Our defense is a 3-4 scheme based on heavy pressure from the outside linebackers and defensive ends, identical to the one ran by the 2011 San Francisco 49ers. Our key play is a stunt between the outside linebacker and defensive end on passing downs, which we believe will free up athletes on the edge to make plays against mismatched blockers. With versatile defenders that can rush the passer, our third-down unit will be unstoppable.

It all starts with Justin Smith up front, where offenses must devote two blockers. This will free Aldon Smith and Von Miller, the two best young pass rushers in the NFL, to make plays. Should anyone sneak through, Patrick Willis’ range gives us flexibility in the middle.

Defensive Coordinator – Vic Fangio (San Francisco)
D-Line Coach – Mike Trgovac (Baltimore)
Linebackers Coach – Pepper Johnson (New England)
Secondary Coach – Ed Donatell (San Francisco)

Where do you believe your offense is vulnerable in terms of system and personnel and what specifically have you done to minimize the impact of those vulnerabilities?

With a very young offense, we’re susceptible to blitzes and robber coverage. With athletic tight ends we hope to minimize robber coverage by exploiting our size advantage match ups. To help with a young quarterback making reads, we’ve drafted a quarterback with a high I.Q. and placed him behind a veteran offensive line that is athletic enough to move the pocket and run play-action. We are also banking on an unproven back in Javon Ringer, someone who has shown great potential, but is largely untested.

Where do you believe your defense is vulnerable in terms of system and personnel and what specifically have you done to minimize the impact of those vulnerabilities?

Our cornerbacks are not world-beaters, but they are solid. If there is a weakness on defense, it’s here. Tramon Williams has to play with more discipline and make better gambles on the ball. If Mike Martin cannot draw double-teams on the defensive line, Justin Smith will have less room to make plays, which has a domino effect on the entire scheme.

Who are your stars and why did you invest so much in them?

Matt Miller agrees with Ben Muth, Eric Weddle is a better safety than you think. Photo by Jeffery Beall.

Andrew Luck is the best quarterback prospect to enter the NFL draft in 25 years. Eric Winston is pound-for-pound the best right tackle in football and the key to our zone blocking scheme. Justin Smith is arguably the most impactful defensive player in all of football. Aldon Smith and Von Miller are young pass rushers who set the NFL on fire with their sack totals. Patrick Willis is a young leader at inside linebacker that will set the tone for our defense. And Eric Weddle is a play-making free safety who is a turnover machine

Name some of your offensive role players that might be role players now, but you believe could develop into much more as a starter or even star in your organization.

Javon Ringer is a great example of this. He’s never been a featured back, but he’s flashed the potential to be an every-down player for us. We’re relying on three rookies here too – Alson Jeffery, Coby Fleener and Evan Rodriguez – to make big plays early on.

Name some of your defensive role players who might be role players now, but you believe could develop into much more as a starter or even star in your organization.

William Middleton may surprise some people, but we feel he’s a top-10 starter at right cornerback. Mark Herzlich fought back to make a great comeback from cancer, and we think he’s a great fit at inside linebacker next to Patrick Willis.

Which of your starters or significant situational contributors on your rosters do you believe would be on the roster bubble in 2013?

I agree with Matt Miller that Chris Polk is a talent with starter or lead back skill, but health and a strong camp will be pivotal in his long-term NFL opportunity. Photo by James Santelli.

Chris Polk has to prove he’s healthy. We’re expecting big things, but he could be a roster cut in the future. Same for Vontaze Burfict, who has to prove he has his head on straight.

What was the most difficult part of the selection process for you?

Building a cohesive offensive and defensive line that can fit within the schemes decided upon was very tough, but there were great value picks to be found with some digging and research.

Based on your roster what type of playing facility would you want as your home stadium (describe the facility as outdoors, indoors, turf, grass, climate)?

With our speed and strength on defense, an outdoor stadium using field turf would be ideal. The climate doesn’t matter when you have this front seven.

Name three risky personnel selections on offense and explain why (talent, off-field, age, injury, fit, etc.).

Javon Ringer is one because we’re banking on an unproven back to be our bell cow.  Asking the big rookie Alshon Jeffery to be a solid No. 2 receiver, and a decent possession option opposite deep-threat Mike Wallace is another.  And for all his ype, there is still a chance that Andrew Luck cannot live up to expectations.

Name three risky personnel selections on defense and explain why (see above).

Paul Kruger is one. Moving the versatile defender to a five technique position will be a new test for him. Trusting rookie Mike Martin to be a two-gap defender in the middle of the defense will be a risk. Since his past injuries are a concern and he’s never played in a 3-4 defense, inside linebacker Mark Herzlich is another player that might not pan out.

Name a few players you really wished to add, but couldn’t find the room due to the restrictions of the salary cap or the fit within your team’s system.

I like Miller’s desire to have Darren Sproles on his squad. Pound-for-pound one of the best players in the NFL. Photo by Scott Gould.

Darren Sproles was the one player who just didn’t fit. Navarro Bowman would have looked great in the defense, too.

Which players on your team would you have added even if they cost more than the listed price?

The core defensive players Justin Smith, Aldon Smith, Patrick Willis, Von Miller and Eric Weddle. I would have made cut to my offensive skill positions to fit them into the cap.

How do you think the makeup of your roster and distribution of your resources illustrates where your philosophy breaks with NFL conventional wisdom?

We’ve gone young on offense in order to field a dominant defense, which fits the old concept of “defense wins championships.” However, the offense is built for a high-performance passing attack with concessions made at running back to fit under the salary cap.

How much of a priority did you place on special teams, considering the restrictions of the salary cap? How would you rate your special teams unit?

Special teams were the last position filled, using whatever money was available after the fact. Almost no special consideration was given to the positions.

Coming Soon: Jene Bramel, Chase Stuart, and a murderer’s row from Draft Hub.

2 responses to “RSP Writer’s Q&A: Matt Miller, Bleacher Report”

  1. Another Coby Fleener-Andrew Luck combo, whats the count at now? 5?

    But I like what I see here for sure, Matt definitely did a good job with this team. i think Mr. Waldman nailed it earlier with what you see with this team is faith in guys that Matt believes in. Alshon Jeffrey, Mike Martin, Javon Ringer, Chris Polk, Nate Solder, Kelechi Osemele, Mark Herzlich and Paul Kruger.are prime examples of guys that fit the description above. Whether or not he’s right on those guys isn’t the point, you gotta like anybody who spends a ton of time studying these players and sticking with what he believes.

    Rick Dennison was a neat hire. I’m not sure it’s one that alot of people would think of but nobody’s done a better job designing naked bootlegs and roll outs and he’s always been able to create a number of relatively defined and easy throws for his QB. Furthermore, the texans have used alot of those roll outs to take there big shot plays with which isn’t something that alot of NFL teams will do and that’s something with real potential with Mike Wallace.

    The offensive line is expensive but interesting. The tackles didn’t come cheap, but he’s got a nice pair there with a good prospect in Solder(the fact he played well last year when he was considered a developmental prospect is a very good sign) and the best right tackle in football in Eric Winston. Kelechi Osemele is the ideal fit for a zone blocking scheme and I like Harvey Dahl alot at that price tag. Solid starter, the biggest thing the falcons point to as the reason they declined last year was the decline of the offensive line and it was missing a big piece in Harvey Dahl. Dahl has the added bonus of being able to play at tackle also. And I’m interested to see how Eric Wood would fit a full time zone blocking scheme. The skill set definitely is there. I’ve mentioned before about how I’m not sure spending big money on an offensive line is necessairly the best way to go about building teams with this given there importance might be declining and their expensive price tag but if you want to implement a zone blocking scheme with a young QB, you really are dependent on your offensive line and for it to play at a high level. I find it interesting the importance this writer placed on getting 2 elite tackles not just 1 particularly.
    I like Mike Wallace alot, at 7 that is a very key cog to an offense there. Nobody stretches the field like him with the consistency he does and he is a very underrated running after the catch( i believe he led receivers in broken tackles last year). If he can improve the consistency with his routes(particularly underneath and over the field in terms of being able to create more separation laterally and precision) somewhat there’s a superstar to be had there. Developmental raw deep threats are usually about the biggest and riskiest form of projects you can have in the NFL. The fact that Wallace is so good so fast is a intruiging sign.
    The front seven is the strength of this team and it’ll carry it to some wins. Really that’s how you have to build a defense and you’ve put yourself in great hands with Vic Fangino. Nobody is blocking a front with Justin Smith, Aldon Smith, Von Miller and the best bltizing ILB in the league Patrick Willis with any consistency. I also like Willis’s ability to cover any TE(including Jimmy Graham with regularity in the playoffs) and that’s something Fangino can put really good use to. In particular that Aldon and Justin Smith stunt will wreck havoc with a terrorizing pass rusher like Von Miller on the other side, who could be the closest thing we’ve seen to Derrick Thomas since he played. I think a nickel package with Paul Krueger and Justin Smith down on the line with Brice McCain in the slot could be a great regular subpackage even on early downs(the 49ers actually played with that alot on early downs with only McDonald and Smith up front). Trammon Williams was a sneaky find. He was hurt last year and didn’t play as horribly as you might think from somebody who gave up 1000 yards and if he can return to his 2010 form that’s the second best CB in football. It’s worth the gamble of 6. Eric Weddle is a steal at 5.5 no question. There might be some issues at corner but if you have someone who can rover the deep half of the field like that and help you with disguising coverages your helping to put a limit on the damage the corners might leave.

    I’ll leave you with a couple things, these aren’t criticisms or complaints just some food for fodder and things to maybe think about.
    1) I do think it is important to find a complement to Mike Wallace. What he provides is fantastic but there are limits to what he can do especially vs consistent bracket coverage and game plan’s more designed towards him(just look at the second half of last yr). You need a good complement to really maximize mike wallace’s impact and have an effective passing game, especially in a Houston type offense that’ll use a fair amount of bootlegs and crossing style patterns. So it’s really important one of your other wrs pans out. Your taking a gamble on Alshon Jeffrey Eddie Royal and Cobie Fleener, hoping really 2 of 3 pan out like you hope. That’s fine, but I don’t agree with the idea that Jeffrey was cheap at 5.5. For a .5 more you could have gotten Demayrius Thomas or for the same price a Marques Colston. If you like Jeffrey alot that’s fine but it is a gamble and your banking a fair amount on him, just realize that.
    2) You spent ALOT on your tackles. I think that’s well and good to a point, like I said for this system with a young QB you really are dependent to an extent on your offensive line, but might that be too much on tackles? Because at the end of the day QB’s still can limit bad left tackle play and a system with a lot of play action, roll outs and that style of play can especially limit LT’s. And I’ll say this about Eric Winston, he’s very good but the Texans were perfectly willing in his prime to cut him when he only got 4 yrs 22 mill on the market and bring back a 31 yr old center in favor him of. There’s a limit on his value. Again, I’m not saying its wrong to spend big on him, it’s just worth considering what his value ultimately is.
    3) I like the idea of spending cheap on RB, but is Javon Ringer really a feature RB? Or are you going to use a a bit of a”timeshare” for lack of a better word with Ringer and Chris Polk? I think it’s fine to go cheap at RB, I actually usually encourage it, but I don’t know if Ringer is great for a zone blocking scheme. Doesn’t strike me as great laterally or with making decisive cuts and making a defense account for multiple gaps(although he’s worked with a counter type run game with the Titans) I by the way don’t buy this idea that zone blocking offensive lines with good coaches can scheme there way to make any RB good.
    4) The thing that struck me with the defense is that Justin Smith is going to be 34. He in many ways is what will make this defense work. Is it the best use of money to spend 11.5 on somebody who probably only has 1-2 good years left? Maybe it is, I thought Smith was the defensive player of the year last year, but it’s worth asking.
    5) I’m a little lukewarm on Mike Martin and Mark Herzlich, especially as starters, but I’m not going to argue about specific player evaluations too much. But here’s what I’m not sure about. I’ll be honest, I don’t see Paul Krueger as 5 tech. When the Ravens go 4-3, he’s always the DE and to be honest is the SAM not a DT when he’s not and in the Ravens 3-4 he’s there OLB. Really wonder how he’ll hold up at the point of attack as a 5 tech, his game strikes me more as a guy who plays outside with athletcism and lateral agility but plays more outside tackle’s shoulders, not inside. Setting the edge can sometimes be an issue with him as an OLB and I can only imagine the issue being more as a 5 tech. He also is a bit underweight even for an end. Now maybe he can work out as a 5 tech, you obviously know him rather well having scouted him, but to me this might be a stretch.
    6) A great pass rush and Eric Weddle will help mitigate this, but the corners are still an issue and any teams that plays you will test them. Brice McCain I like in the slot and I think trammon williams has a chance to get back relatively close to his 2010 form, but it’s a roll of the dice. AT the very least, I don’t think teams will shy away from throwing at him(1000 yards allowed last year). But the second corner spot is definitely an issue and something teams will go after. Middleton is a nickel/dime corner and Darius Butler is well, a bust. Jarrett Bush is someone who’s gotten picked on repeatedly. With Vic in San Fran, the 49ers mostly stayed in zone coverage in there base defense and went man in subpackages. I’m not sure I would go man in subpackages with this group and playing zone concepts in the slot can be tricky. In the grand scheme of things, having a weak second corner isn’t that big of a deal, there alot of good 3-4 defenses that have issues with this, but your going to have to design around it some.

    All in all I like what I see for sure. You spent alot on defense and are going to cause huge problems up front and Patrick Willis can help clean up alot and make scheming alot easier with his versatile abilities. The offense has a good scheme in place that while not necessairily is the design of a record breaking unit, has a very good reliable foundation that can easily be good enough to compete for a title, especially with this defense. I like how you went with your scouting reports and trusted it on alot of unproven players and came up with an offensive scheme I’m not sure I would have really thought of and a defensive coordinator that alot wouldn’t think of at first when talking about best d coordinators in the league. Really nice job overall, thought out well.

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