No sacks or turnovers? Broncos' defense searching for answers

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- When Denver Broncos linebacker Von Miller drops the phrase "get back in the lab" it's a sure sign things are not going as planned.

After Sunday's excruciating, last-second loss to the Chicago Bears, Miller was somber and contrite, saying the Broncos will need to "try three times harder this week and get back in the lab and keep practicing."

Two of the most unsettling items on the 2019 résumé of the 0-2 Broncos?

  1. The defense does not have a sack.

  2. The defense has not forced a turnover.

First-year head coach Vic Fangio's defenses have routinely piled up sacks and turnovers, so this is a surprise. In fact, the Broncos haven't gone more than two games in any season without a sack since 2010, when they had five such games in that 4-12 disaster on the way to selecting Miller with the second pick of the 2011 draft.

They haven't had back-to-back games without a sack or forced turnover since 2007 when they didn't have a sack or turnover in back-to-back losses to the Indianapolis Colts and then-San Diego Chargers as September turned to October.

"Watch the film," pass-rusher Bradley Chubb said Sunday night. "They're getting the ball out fast, chipping us ... can't control everything. Trying to play to the best of our abilities, that's one thing me and Von come in here every day and do, be the best us and don't try to count sack numbers like y'all do and just go out there and play football.

"I've got to find a way to do my job no matter how fast they throw it," Miller said. "Double loss for Von."

Fangio has said it will take time. The Bears, where he was defensive coordinator last season, led the NFL in interceptions and takeaways while finishing third in sacks in 2018. But it was Fangio's fourth season with the team.

Still, the Broncos' inability to solve the quick-throw riddle, with two of the best pass-rushers in the league, is of at least some concern. Because quarterbacks getting the ball out quickly is not a new strategy.

According to NFL Next Gen stats, Broncos quarterback Joe Flacco, on average, actually threw the ball slightly quicker, from snap to throw, than the Bears' Mitchell Trubisky did Sunday, but the Bears had two sacks and an interception. It should also be noted that Flacco attempted 23 more passes than Trubisky.

"What do you want us to do?" defensive end Derek Wolfe asked. "I'm tired of hearing about it ... people bitch and moan about us not getting any sacks, but the ball is gone in two seconds, 1.8 seconds, 2.2 seconds, there's no sacks to be had."

For Miller, the Bears' final possession left the biggest stain. The Broncos had just taken the lead with 31 seconds left, but the Bears were able to go 40 yards in six plays to make the game-winning field goal.

That total included a roughing the passer penalty on Chubb that the Broncos disputed, but also two completions by Trubisky, including a 25-yarder to Allen Robinson with one second remaining. The Broncos rushed at least five players on three consecutive plays in that final drive, all incompletions.

A sack would have kept the clock moving and forced the Bears to use their remaining timeout before they used it to attempt the game-winning kick.

"I've got to find a way to get a sack right there," Miller said. " ... At the end of the game, that's my time right there and I wasn't able to do my job."

"It wasn't frustrating or surprising up until the end there when we need some," Fangio said. "At least you guys can't get on me for rushing three there at the end. We rushed four a couple times and we rushed five a couple times, we could have used a little better rush there at that time."

For his part, Miller has finished each of his seasons when he played at least 15 games -- he missed seven games in 2013 with a torn ACL -- with at least 10 sacks. He does subscribe to the bunch theory on sacks, that they will come in clusters, and his previous years show that trend.

He has gone at least two consecutive games without a sack in all eight of his previous seasons, gone three in a row without a sack in four of those seasons and finished out the last four games in 2016 without a sack.

But with the Packers' Aaron Rodgers across from the defense this coming weekend, two games against the Chiefs' Patrick Mahomes still down the line, and with the Chargers' Philip Rivers, Titans' Marcus Mariota, Browns' Baker Mayfield and Texans' Deshaun Watson on the schedule as well, the Broncos will need to spend their lab time wisely.

"Three time harder, have to come back three times harder," Miller said. " ... I've got to do my job, doesn't matter what the offense is doing, I have to do my job."