GREEN BAY – The statistics are so strange they’re practically meaningless.
The Broncos’ defense has no sacks and no takeaways through the first two weeks of the 2019 season.
This is a defense being put together by Denver’s new head coach Vic Fangio, mind you, the same Vic Fangio who coordinated havoc-wreaking defenses in San Francisco (2011-14) and Chicago (2015-18) for four years apiece before landing his first head coaching gig at age 61.
Fangio’s defenses are known for generating pressure and turnovers, and the Broncos have the edge rushers to do it in seven-time All-Pro Von Miller and 2018 top-five draft pick Bradley Chubb. The fact that they haven’t yet in the season’s early-going means nothing in the Packers’ evaluation heading into Sunday’s Week 3 matchup at Lambeau Field.
“Those are two of the premier rushers in the National Football League, so I don’t put a whole lot of stock in the fact that they don’t have any sacks right now,” Head Coach Matt LaFleur said Wednesday. “I know that they are a hungry football team, and I’m sure those two in particular are going to be ready to get after it this weekend.”
Particularly Chubb, who no doubt has been fuming all week about a ticky-tack roughing-the-passer call late in the fourth quarter of Week 2 (sound familiar, Packers fans?) that helped the visiting Bears pull out a last-second win in Denver.
Fangio repeated in a conference call with Green Bay media that Chubb was “100 percent legal” in how he took down Chicago QB Mitch Trubisky and wouldn’t tell him to do anything differently.
Fangio did mention his pass rushers have played “two unusual games” so far, perhaps a reference to opposing offenses throwing the ball quickly and/or employing unorthodox protection schemes.
LaFleur and Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers both alluded to something similar with Fangio’s style as a defensive play-caller, in that he’ll match up certain personnel groups in unexpected ways. Rodgers faced Fangio’s San Francisco defenses four times and his Chicago units on seven occasions, so he assumes nothing when it comes to Fangio’s response to various packages.
“They’ll do some mix-matches,” Rodgers said. “They’ll do base against nickel, or base against sub. They’ll go nickel against 12 (one back, two tight ends) personnel. They’ll run five or six defensive linemen, rush-type guys, on the field.”
LaFleur added the game plan must have “answers” to whatever unusual matchups the offense encounters. But in the same breath, LaFleur is just as focused if not more so on the Packers’ offense itself right now, regardless of the opponent.
A string of manageable third downs early last week went the wrong way later in the game. The running game lost some juice until the final three minutes. Both sacks of Rodgers occurred in the second half, and more flags flew (though a couple were declined).
LaFleur mentioned he would like to balance the touches between running backs Aaron Jones and Jamaal Williams a little more (it’s 41-19 in Jones’ favor through two games), and Rodgers noted one way to get receivers Marquez Valdes-Scantling and Geronimo Allison going would be to design plays specifically for them.
It wasn’t by accident the Minnesota game started with a 39-yard completion to Davante Adams after he had just 36 receiving yards in the opener. The only other true deep shot against the Vikings was to Adams as well, and he drew a 25-yard pass interference penalty.
“I don’t think we’ve showed a quarter and a half of what we can be,” center Corey Linsley said. “There’s so much more meat on the bone for us to go after.”
There are plenty of angles to work as the Packers enter Week 3, but it starts with the matchups on the edges – Miller and Chubb against Bryan Bulaga and David Bakhtiari, respectively – and goes from there, no different than the first two games.
The Bears featured Khalil Mack and Leonard Floyd, then the Vikings had Everson Griffen and Danielle Hunter. Third game, third pair of elite pass rushers, current stats be darned.
“They’re right at the forefront of your plan,” LaFleur said. “Anytime you have guys that can singlehandedly wreck a game, you’d better have a plan for that.”