The Falcons’ game was supposed to be the anomaly. An outlier in which one of the NFL’s highest powered offenses just got the better of an elite defense caught off-guard on a bad day.
Not every team has the weapons Atlanta has, we said.
Denver just needs to play ‘our game’ and be aggressive, we said.
As it turned out, even a team without those offensive weapons (but a couple of red-hot young guys) could pose the same threat because “our game” didn’t show up in time.
“They just made plays,” said cornerback Chris Harris Jr. “We’ve got to do better in the first quarter. In the first quarter we’ve been terrible. We’ve got to come out and get those stops at the beginning.”
The offensive game plan executed by the Falcons last Sunday unraveled the Broncos defense early as quick crossing routes from the tight ends and passes to running backs in the backfield put the Broncos’ defense on its heels and the offense in a deficit right out of the gate.
The Chargers offense - and its coordinator Ken Whisenhunt - were paying attention.
Rookie tight end Hunter Henry caught six passes for 83 yards and a touchdown while helping 13-year veteran quarterback Philip Rivers complete 178 yards passing to catapult him past legendary Chargers quarterback Dan Fouts for the franchise’s all-time passing record with 43,094 yards.
Second-year running back Melvin Gordon sprung a 48-yard run in the third quarter against the Broncos defense, the second time in as many games that a running back has sprinted down half the field before being stopped.
“We had a lot of mistakes. Defensively, we didn’t play up to the type of defense that we know we can play,” said Miller, who had one sack and six tackles.
In fact, all offenses the Broncos have faced this season have had great success on the Broncos defense in their opening drives. Through six games, every team except Tampa Bay has scored on its first drive against Denver (Bucs scores on the second), and of those scores, five were touchdowns:
Carolina (Broncos got ball first, fumbled): 1st drive, 8 plays, 71 yards, 4:24, TD
Indy (Broncos got ball first, missed FG): 1st drive, 7 plays, 26 yards, 3:24, FG
Cincy (Broncos got ball first, punted): 1st drive, 5 plays, 74 yards, 2:50, TD
Tampa Bay (Bucs’ ball, punted first drive): 2nd drive, 13 plays, 75 yards, 8:20, TD
Atlanta (Falcons’ ball)” 1st drive, 9 plays, 75 yards, 3:42, TD
San Diego (Chargers’ ball): 1st drive, 12 plays, 75 yards, 7:00, TD
The fact that the Broncos’ offense was unable to move the chains with any consistency or pose a viable threat downfield whatsoever was disappointing and frustrating - but not all that surprising.
Yet such lackluster intensity by the defense at the beginning of every game this season is surprising - and very disappointing.
And the players know it.
“We’ve just got to find a way to start clicking early,” Harris Jr. said.
Miller - who rarely has no explanation for anything and everything - could only reiterate this sentiment.
“It is always tough when you lose. I wish I had the words to say what is going on,” he said. “We have a great defense; we just have to get it calibrated from the beginning.”
But T.J. Ward has a few ideas about the problem.
“I think it’s more about effort on our part on that first drive,” the safety said. “I think we’re coming off too slow. We’re not being aggressive or firery enough. Teams are taking advantage of that.”
How to fix it is the biggest question.
“I’m trying to,” Ward said. “I can’t figure it out yet, but we’ve got to go see what’s going on in the film. Personally, I think it’s just the lack of intensity starting the game.”
Harris Jr. agrees, and believes the aggressive nature of creating turnovers needs to return because even after the Broncos defense settled down and prevented Rivers from scoring any more touchdowns, the damage had been done and the offense needed more help.
“We just didn’t make enough turnovers. We’ve got to make more turnovers,” Harris Jr. said, giving a shoutout to Rivers and the Chargers coaching staff. “I don’t know what it is, if we’ve got to practice coming out earlier or just make sure at the beginning of practice we start faster. I guess that’s something that we can work on.”
Harris Jr. had another solution that might involve channeling Muhammad Ali.
“We need to get our stinger back,” Harris Jr. said as the team prepares next for the Texans behind Brock Osweiler. “Work hard and get ready for next week.”