One way you can identify a good team in the NFL is by how it plays in key moments in a game. The best teams execute consistently, and especially so in crucial situations.
Also, those teams' best players come up big in those key moments more often than not. None of these were the case for the Denver Broncos on Monday night vs. the Oakland Raiders.
The Broncos lost 24-16 and that eight-point margin makes the game seem much closer than it actually was. The Raiders dominated from the drop and one of the reasons why was the performance of QB Derek Carr.
Carr went 22-of-26 for 259 yards and a touchdown with a passer rating of 121.0. Carr was completely impervious to the machinations of Vic Fangio's defense and the pass-rushing duo of Von Miller and Bradley Chubb.
Not only were the Broncos unable to sack Carr even once on the night, the pass rush couldn't even register a single QB hit. Miller, for all his 98 career sacks, and Chubb, for all his preseason hype, were non-factors.
We're talking about two guys who are supposed to be two of the best defensive players in the NFL. Truly premier defenders. They were completely ineffective in rushing the passer, despite Miller playing 97% of the Broncos' defensive snaps and Chubb playing 90%.
On Tuesday, after the Broncos had flown home to Denver, head coach Vic Fangio explained more in-depth why Miller and Chubb were held in check once again by the Raiders.
“They were throwing it quick, that was pretty obvious," Fangio said. "They did some chipping, which every team in this league does against every defense. They were getting it out quick, I think was the main reason.”
Carr was uncorking the ball as soon as he hit the back foot of his drop, no doubt. He was getting rid of the ball fast and it seemed nothing Fangio could do from a schematic/coverage perspective, nor from a pressure standpoint, could change that.
However, this wasn't the first time the Broncos have faced a QB who gets rid of the ball fast. Tom Brady has always been one to get rid of the ball long before the rush can get to him, and yet, the Broncos harassed him incessantly in the 2015 AFC Championship Game.
Brady was only sacked four times in that contest, but he was hit 19 times, which was the most all-time in the future Hall-of-Famer's career. Wade Phillips and the Broncos' eventual World Champion defense had an answer for Brady's propensity for getting the ball out.
Fangio's 2019 counterparts were confounded, however. Perhaps conditioning had something to do with it. I don't know.
Miller and Chubb were hardly taken out of the bubble wrap during the preseason. Outside of a few series in preseason Game 2 and 3, they didn't see the field of play.
There's a difference between being 'in shape' and being 'in football shape'. The duo's stamina seemed to falter but then again, it's not as if Miller and Chubb were a force early against the Raiders, only to fade down the stretch.
They were a complete non-factor from the drop. Hats off to Jon Gruden for designing a phenomenal gameplan that kept Fangio and the Broncos' defense off-balance, and kudos to the Raiders' O-line for completely shutting down the rush and blowing Denver's front seven off the ball in the run game.
And tip your cap also to Derek Carr, who has only thrown 15 incompletions combined in his last three games vs. the Broncos. The Raiders' QB appears to have the Broncos completely figured out.
The Broncos won't get a do-over. Week 1 was painful and it counted in the standings. But Denver can try to get on a winning track this coming Sunday when Fangio's former team — the Chicago Bears — roll into town for the Broncos' home-opener.