GREEN BAY, Wis. — That whopping slice of football history the Denver Broncos now lug around with them like some ball and chain can be summed up in the far-too-clean jersey Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers pulled over his head Sunday following Green Bay’s 27-16 win.
“I have to say this is one of the cleanest games my jersey has ever looked,” Rodgers said. “I took basically one shot, I hit the ground one time, so I’m ecstatic.”
The Broncos? They’re not ecstatic, not happy and, right now, not able to change it. They are believed to be the first team since sacks were first kept as a team statistic in the NFL in 1969, to have gone three games into a season without a sack and without forcing a turnover.
Sacks did not become an official statistic for individual players in the league until 1982. But no matter how the numbers have been crunched in the past, the big zero the Broncos’ defense has put up to this point is not what was expected from a team with Von Miller and Bradley Chubb at outside linebacker with Vic Fangio as the coach.
“I’ve got to find a way to play better,” Miller said. “I’ve got to find a way to play better, I’ve got to find a way to get a sack, find a way to do my job.”
Miller has pointed to double teams during previous sack droughts, but he could not say the same Sunday. He was blanked by the Packers with tackles Bryan Bulaga and David Bakhtiari largely working solo against Miller and Chubb.
“I could sit here and make all kinds of excuses,” Miller said. “I got clean rushes today, it’s different than last week and the week before, [but] I’ve got to find a way to get the quarterback on the ground. … I’ve got to find a way to get a strip sack, do what I’ve been doing my whole career.”
Miller has had short strings of sack-less games in the previous three seasons. He went the last four games of 2016 without a sack, the last three games of 2017 without any and he went three games in a row last season.
But this feels different. Fangio has a history of success with pass-rushers and his Bears defense last season led the league in forced turnovers and interceptions and was tied for third in sacks. Miller and Chubb were supposed to be the kind of tandem any defensive playcaller would love to have.
“You got the solution? … That’s no good obviously,” Fangio said. “That’s the circumstances to the game to a degree, this game in some ways was similar to our first two. Until we can stop people more decisively and score more points, teams are going to be content to play these kinds of games.”
The Raiders, Bears and Packers have been content to get the ball out quickly, limiting their quarterbacks’ exposure. Fangio believes the Broncos’ defense simply hasn’t put opponents into long enough yardage situations on third down to maximize a rush.
And the Broncos’ three opponents have rarely had to play from behind, which is always the best formula for a pass rush to help force turnovers. In the first three games combined, the Broncos have held the lead for all of 11 minutes, 49 seconds with all of that time coming during the Week 2 loss to the Bears — Chicago won 16-14 with a game-winning field goal on the last play.
The Broncos did not hold the lead at any point Sunday or in the season-opening loss in Oakland.
“Those are the best situations,” defensive end Shelby Harris said. “… But we can’t quit, we have to just keep at it.”
“[I’ve] got some of the best coaches I’ve ever had,” Miller said. “… We have to just keep pushing, keep pushing, that’s what you can do.”