One of the prevailing storylines coming out of box score scouting the past two weeks is how the Broncos are the only team in the league with zero sacks two weeks into the regular season. That’s right, zero.
This has been cause for alarm throughout Broncos Country. After all, the team supposedly employs one of the most dangerous pass rushing duos in the league in Bradley Chubb and Von Miller. What gives?
It’s looking like Vic Fangio is the only one who seems to have figured out how to shut down Von Miller...— MileHighReport (@MileHighReport) September 15, 2019
I watched every one of Von’s plays the last two weeks to try and get to the bottom of things. Here’s what I found:
1. Quarterbacks are getting the ball out quickly.
Thirteen of Mitchell Trubisky’s 27 passes against the Broncos on Sunday were out in fewer than 2.0 seconds. Over the course of Weeks 1 and 2, 26 of 53 passes against the Broncos were released in fewer than 2.0 seconds.— Andrew Mason (@MaseDenver) September 16, 2019
This bears out on the tape I watched. Carr mixed in plenty of screens and short throws to prevent Miller from taking over the game as he did in Week 2 of the 2018 season. Gruden also did a masterful job of attacking the Broncos’ coverage issues. It’s something Jeff Essary talked about last week, so if you want more details there it can be found here.
In week two:
Mitchell Trubisky didn't complete a pass further than 10 yards past the line of scrimmage until the final throw to Allen Robinson pic.twitter.com/ROruPKKlvi— Dan Pizzuta (@DanPizzuta) September 16, 2019
If you look at Mitch Trubisky’s statline through 59:30 of last week’s contest, he had completed 57.7 percent of his passes for 95 yards. That’s the price Nagy was willing to pay to keep Von from taking over the game.
Now, there’s a legitimate reason to gripe about multiple aspects of that last completion to Allen Robinson. The first is how Mitch Trubisky was allowed to scramble out of harms way. Earlier this week Derek Wolfe spoke with Mile High Sports’ Eric Goodman and explained how there was a miscommunication between he and Von, which led to them getting in each others’ way.
The other big issue that comes to bite Denver on the last play is the clear coverage bust when Robinson has enough time to find space in the middle of the field.
2. The Broncos edge depth is callow
It’s also a bit of a bummer he isn’t doing that in orange and blue. That said, he was as good as gone when John Elway drafted Bradley Chubb fifth overall last year. Barrett took a one-year $5 million deal with Tampa Bay over interest from the Bengals. He wanted to start and have an opportunity to prove himself worth a real investment in 2020.
After Shaq’s departure, Elway sent a pick to the 49ers to bring Dekoda Watson back into the fold. It was a move that earned him a lot of ire in Broncos Country, which seems validated since Watson didn’t make it out of camp and remains unsigned.
The Broncos also drafted Justin Hollins and made Malik Reed a priority UDFA signing. Both showed flashes of what’s to come in the preseason, but they’ve played a combined total of 12 defensive snaps so far this year.
That lack of faith by the coaching staff has led to Von and Chubb logging close to 95 percent of the defensive snaps. At some point Fangio will need to give the rookies some reps to keep the veterans fresh for the late game.
3. Miller’s sack total was always going to decline after 2018.
Last summer I stumbled upon a really interesting study by Tasteful Profanity. At the time I tucked it away because I thought surely Von could be an exception to the rule, but it’s time I share what he found.
The truth is using sacks to evaluate a player is a bit of a fool’s errand.
As far back as 2009, evidence suggests that sacks may be as dependent on the quarterback as either the offensive or defensive lines.
Instead of sacks, pressures are a far better way to measure a pass rushers’ productivity. According to Pro Football Focus, pressures are more than twice as stable year-to-year as sacks among players who rush the passer on at least 150 snaps per season.
He went on to share a formula he created for “expected sacks” and how players who under-performed or over-performed one year was likely to come back toward the median the next.
Guess who over-performed?
4. The interior needs to improve.
One thing did strike me as concerning when I was looking at Von’s tape against the Bears. When Nagy devoted extra attention or double teams to slowing Miller, the interior rushers weren’t winning their individual battles.
On the play above DeMarcus Walker gets close late in the down, but Trubisky is already getting rid of the ball. Chicago did this a few times, keeping extra players in or using a bunch set on the right side of the line to slow Miller. When opponents do this it leaves Shelby Harris, Derek Wolfe and the other members of the Broncos’ pass rush with one opponent to beat.
They have to do so, but it’s not this simple. As Nick Kendell of Mile High Huddle points out here:
Wolfe had a fantastic game against the Bears, controlling blockers and wrecking gaps, but he isn’t much of a pass rusher anymore. Harris, who has flashed pass-rush ability, seems to be stymied by playing nose in the two-gapping scheme and is miscast as such. He appears to be much better as a sub-package 1-tech or 3-tech, as opposed to the role he is playing now. Gotsis, while flashing ability, is much more of a long, strong run stopper as well. Walker, while playing better this year, has been such a liability to date and a historic ‘cleanup sack artist’ that the initial pressure ability just isn’t something to expect from him.
To help improve the interior pass rush, Kendell proposes more stunts with the line. He goes on to wonder why Fangio hasn’t used it more. My best guess at this is the poor linebacker play at the second level from Corey Nelson and Josey Jewell. If that’s the case, Todd Davis’ return should help here.
5. It’s not time for panic, yet.
The defense looked so good in the limited glimpses we got in the preseason that I bought the hype and underestimated the time it’d take for the Broncos’ players to grow into Fangio’s scheme. It’s hard to preach patience when Denver’s 0-2, but the pass rush will look a lot better when there’s less coverage busts on the back-end.
Another thing that may help the Broncos pass rush get home is its opponents. As tough as the 2019 schedule is, Denver’s going to face off against quarterbacks like Aaron Rodgers, Deshaun Watson, and Marcus Mariota. All three of them are a bit notorious for hanging in the pocket and taking extra hits.
So I wouldn’t panic. Yet.
Your Broncos links
The Denver Broncos held a Wednesday presser with Vic Fangio, Joe Flacco, and Phillip Lindsay. Here were some of the highlights from that.
Joe Rowles of SB Nation’s Denver Broncos blog Mile High Report answers our questions about Vic Fangio.
Joe Rowles of SB Nation’s Denver Broncos blog Mile High Report answers our questions about Vic Fangio.
The Denver Broncos may have had a win stolen from them, but there’s plenty to like and some really glaring issues to talk about after Week 2.
MHR’s Jeffrey Essary joined a Packers podcast to discuss the state of the Broncos’ defense and why fans shouldn’t panic just yet.
Can Denver Broncos OC Rich Scangarello get Royce Freeman and Phillip Lindsay involved against the Green Bay Packers?
The Broncos need to produce TDs in the red zone and shut down the Packers running game to get that first win.
Bob Holtzman joined Broncos Country Tonight, and he thinks Denver has a chance at a win against the Packers.
A look at the Week 2 Snap Counts.
According to SIS charting, the #Broncos have run play action on just 15% of all snaps, which is a bottom 4 mark in the #NFL. On those plays they average 3.5 yards, which is the better than only Pittsburgh.— Joe Rowles (@JoRo_NFL) September 19, 2019
Denver averages 6.9 yards on non PA- 12th in league.
Play DFS? Here is one of the optimum lineups in the NFL for Week 3. It’s all about matching up against the worst teams in football.
Three of the harder quarterbacks to sack play in the AFC West.
That differs from what the league office was saying after the game, when they defended the referee’s decision as a “judgment call.”
This is a lot like a cheating husband telling his wife he screwed up after he gave her herpes. https://t.co/XGjwGB3WDb— Joe Rowles (@JoRo_NFL) September 19, 2019
NFL Draft Links
11. Denver Broncos: Isaiah Simmons School: Clemson Position: LB/S Notes: I love what Simmons can do on the field. He’s an undersized LB but perfect for what today’s NFL is. Has a nose for the ball and makes plays all over the field.
The sheet of paper in Jonathan Taylor ‘s hands technically weighs only four-and-a-half grams.
No matter how good a quarterback’s supporting cast is in college, he’s going to have a better supporting in the NFL. Because an NFL roster all around is better than a college roster. The difference is the speed of the defenders and the precision needed to still operate at a high level. So look for accuracy and timing. If that exists within the construct of the player’s film -- odds are he’s going to be just fine.
Either way, Alabama had just lost a Top-10 caliber talent, a player so disciplined, hard-working, and intelligent that he was dubbed “Little Saban” during his final season at Alabama. Even for a factory like the Crimson Tide, Fitzpatrick was going to be difficult to replace. They did it anyway. And they did it with Xavier McKinney.
A look ahead to the Packers
Green Bay’s defense is among the best in the league. How can the Broncos keep up?
There is a reality in which LaFleur’s shortcomings are overstated and these two weeks were little more than two great defenses playing two great games. That being said, even with quality of opponent in mind, LaFleur hasn’t proven enough in the past two weeks to suggest he can get this offense in better shape than McCarthy left it. LaFleur needs to find a quick fix before the Packers fall to an early deficit in the playoff race.
Gotta respect the way TE Marcedes Lewis (6-6/270, year 14) makes his— Brandon Thorn (@BrandonThornNFL) September 19, 2019
Underrated part of the Packers rushing success in week 2, especially outside the numbers (clips 1-2) pic.twitter.com/fm1PeSiMcO
NFL Network’s Willie McGinest breaks down how the Green Bay Packers’ defense got the best of Minnesota Vikings QB Kirk Cousins in Week 2.
Aaron Rodgers and the WRs started to struggle as individuals as well, but LaFleur flipped a bad switch the moment GB went up 21-0. Pretty fortunate to get the win tbh.— Derrik Klassen (@QBKlass) September 19, 2019
Davante Adams impact was felt from the first play of the game until the final minutes of the fourth quarter. Whenever the Packers needed a first down, Davante was there to make a play. The first play of the game forced the Vikings defense to pay attention to the passing game which freed up the box for Aaron Jones and Jamaal Williams to impose their will early in the contest.
Most pressures this season (PFF)— Ian Hartitz (@Ihartitz) September 19, 2019
15 - Za'Darius Smith, Danielle Hunter, Everson Griffen
11- Myles Garrett, Chris Jones, Dante Fowler, Khalil Mack, Brandon Graham
10 - Marcus Davenport, Nick Bosa, Quinton Jefferson, Preston Smith, Devon Kennard, Justin Houston
Right now, the Packers wide receiver position has more questions than answers
A look around the rest of the AFC West
The Raiders played their first two games at home, but it is going to be some time before they play their next game in Oakland. They’ll be in Minnesota Sunday and Indianapolis in Week Four before heading to London for a “home” game against the Bears.
Last week against the Denver Broncos the Raiders were able to dictate the pace of play with a strong game plan.
“Luckily the Ravens have me playing free safety, controlling the deep end,” Thomas said. “I plan on eliminating all the big plays.”
Do you think the defense will play better just with time and meshing with each other? — Donavin Hey Donavin! Thanks for your question. Yes... I think so. Full disclosure: I thought so last season, too — and it didn’t work out so well.
"How good is Mahomes?"— Scott Kacsmar (@ScottKacsmar) September 19, 2019
Imagine going from Andy Dalton to Brady/Brees, and then doubling that. https://t.co/vnXhzKfcaP
With the knee injury to Hunter Henry keeping him out for at least the next month, the Los Angeles Chargers had a sizable hole at the tight end spot.
NFL Rumors: Melvin Gordon retweets Buffalo Bills fan video | Should GM trade for disgruntled RB? - newyorkupstate.com
Gordon RTed Bills Mafia baby table video and captioned it: ‘I love it !!!’
I’m turning off this game I can’t watch these ridiculous penalties anymore #TENvsJAC— Tom Brady (@TomBrady) September 20, 2019
Jaguars cornerback Jalen Ramsey did not ask for a trade because of a sideline blowup with head coach Doug Marrone. Instead, the decision came in a postgame meeting when Ramsey said “some disrespectful things” were said to him.
Ya know I REALLY thought this jersey was gonna last as long as the first two pic.twitter.com/gjpC3vUg1Y— Chris Barnewall (@ChrisBarnewall) September 19, 2019
It’s not just Patrick Mahomes and Kyler Murray. Nine teams seem set to head into Week 3 with starting QBs from Air Raid backgrounds. How did the long-stigmatized system transform into one of the league’s defining philosophies?
Rudolph’s struggles with ball placement, zip, and off-platform launches limit him as a creative passer, but he certainly has fringe starting potential in a vertical-based offense with a strong offensive line...Baltimore, Jacksonville, and Pittsburgh all could make sense. Any team, regardless of scheme, should see top-tier backup potential in Rudolph as well.
”I think right now it’s important to anchor me down because I’m learning an entirely new system,” Fitzpatrick said, per the Associated Press. “Once I learn the system more, I’ll be able to move around a little bit. It’s part of my game. It’s one of the reasons they wanted me around.”
What can Giants expect from Daniel Jones as a starter? How will Buccaneers defend him? Scouts analyze strengths, weaknesses, more - nj.com
“He’s like a machine in his preparation. He’s very analytical. He has the athleticism, the arm-talent and he’s going to open some stuff up in their offense.”
I don't think you have been watching Bush that closely if you think he has been good.— Nick Kendell (@NickKendellMHH) September 18, 2019
He was solid week 1 vs the Pats but was one of the worst players on the field week 2 vs Seattle.
For as athletic as he is, always concerns about his coverage ability. It's not there atm. https://t.co/CRrySCYEgA
Myles Garrett leads the NFL with five sacks. He also is tied for the NFL lead with four penalties, three of them 15-yarders, and had an offsides negated by his own roughing penalty.
Quarterback health is a rampant concern in the NFL, and no passer is under more fire than Watson. Can the Texans keep their superstar upright? And how much are QBs responsible for their own protection?
Zimmer has had eight surgeries on his right eye since the retina detached back in 2016 -- and two surgeries on the left eye last year.
“Slater isn’t a Hall of Famer because all he does is cover kicks”— Taylor Kyles (@tkyles39) September 19, 2019
So punters have an edge because they also hold? https://t.co/okqvxUI4nD
New Orleans traded a third-round pick and gave Bridgewater a big extension for just this possibility. To keep his team’s Super Bowl hopes alive, Sean Payton will need to retool his offense around the former Pro Bowler.
For the second day in a row, Panthers quarterback Cam Newton is not practicing. Newton, who injured his foot in the preseason and aggravated the injury in Week Two, missed practice today. That makes it highly likely that Newton will miss Sunday’s game against the Cardinals.
New tonight: Antonio Brown sent our source from Monday’s story menacing group text messages, including a picture of her children with instructions for his associates to investigate her.— Robert Klemko (@RobertKlemko) September 20, 2019
Her lawyer wrote the NFL calling for the intimidation to stop. https://t.co/rCTM8WSI6Z pic.twitter.com/QtONzBf7Ig