Broncos’ pass rush remains an Achilles heel for defense
Sometimes old habits die hard.
That was true for the Broncos’ pass rush against the Las Vegas Raiders on Sunday afternoon.
With the opportunity to start the season on the right foot, Denver struggled to generate pressure on quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo — continuing a run of poor production that dates back to the trade of Bradley Chubb to Miami after Week 8 last season.
The Raiders faced third-and-7 with a one-point lead and two minutes left in regulation when Denver blitzed six defenders. But as had been the case all game, the pass rush failed to get home. Instead, Garoppolo stepped up and scrambled to his left for eight yards and a first down, solidifying a 17-16 victory on Sunday.
The Broncos finished the game with zero sacks and only three quarterback hits.
“I do not feel like (Garoppolo) dropped back much early on,” outside linebacker Randy Gregory said. “I know for me that probably messed me up a little bit. As a pass rusher, you would like to get more opportunities for one-on-one rushes and to see (the quarterback) drop back more.”
On Garoppolo’s game-sealing scramble, Broncos head coach Sean Payton didn’t like how his defense lost containment by allowing the veteran quarterback to step up before running to the outside. Inside linebacker Josey Jewell admitted that he should’ve had better eyes on the play.
Jewell thought Garoppolo threw the ball off. But when he finally shuffled back, he noticed Garoppolo was on the move and had to chase him down. Jewell’s tackle was too late.
Last season, the Broncos had the four-highest blitz percentage in the league (32.9%) but ranked 24th in sacks (36) and 26th in quarterback hits (81). They totaled a combined 12 sacks in nine games after dealing Chubb.
The Broncos haven’t had a double-digit sack leader since Chubb (12) and Von Miller (14 ½) in 2018. Denver banked on a healthy Gregory and the addition of Frank Clark to fix that issue.
On Sunday, neither player delivered. The Broncos finished with only six pressures, while Clark and Gregory had zero on a combined 33 pass-rush snaps, according to Pro Football Focus.
“You blitz or you win your one-on-ones,” Payton said. “A lot of it is dependent upon what (you want) to do coverage-wise within the framework of a scheme. There are times when you want to keep the quarterback in the pocket and play a certain coverage.”
While the Broncos slowed down Raiders running back Josh Jacobs (19 carries for 48 yards), the failure to get to the quarterback more often was costly. Of course, it wasn’t for a lack of trying. Defensive end Zach Allen, who had five tackles (one for loss) and a quarterback hit in his Broncos debut, thought the team had a good game plan, but Garoppolo’s quick release played a factor.
“(Garoppolo is) very smart, like I said earlier in the week, he knows where the ball is going before the ball is even snapped,” Allen said. “So obviously you just can’t get frustrated. I think there (were) some good wins out there but we can improve in every aspect.”
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