ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — When the Broncos hosted the Raiders in Week 2 of the 2018 regular season, Denver overcame a 12-point deficit and kicked a game-winning field goal with six seconds remaining.
The Raiders built that initial lead for a number of reasons, but perhaps none was as important as this: When Oakland dropped back to pass, the ball hardly ever hit the ground.
Aided by a series of quick passes, Derek Carr finished the game 29-of-32 for 288 yards, a touchdown and a 114.6 quarterback rating.
His 90.6 percent completion percentage was easily the highest of his career, and his accuracy proved troublesome for the Broncos for most of the game.
Carr’s accuracy, coupled with the Raiders’ quick passing game, negated Denver’s pass rush for most of the game. The Broncos recorded just one sack during the game.
And as Von Miller noted Friday ahead of the Broncos’ season opener against the Raiders, there’s not a lot Denver can do to prevent the Raiders from using the same strategy on Monday night.
“You've just got to play great defense,” Miller said. “You've got to play tight coverage, you've got to be aware of quick passes. That's what Derek Carr is known for, getting the ball out quick, getting the ball out accurately. That's just his game. You can't really change it. You've just got to keep rushing and keep playing around and just wait for your open shot.”
When an opponent completes those quick passes, picks up first downs and moves the ball, that sort of game plan can frustrate even the most veteran pass rushers.
“It gets frustrating when throw they the ball quick and they complete it back-to-back-to-back-to-back-to-back all the way down the field,” Miller said.
But there is a silver lining, as the Broncos found out last September. Many of Carr’s quick passes were also short passes, and the Broncos’ defense held up on third downs. Carr dropped back to throw six times on third down — and converted two of those six attempts. Twice, the Raiders were stopped short of the line to gain. Carr threw an incomplete pass on another attempt and also took a sack. The Raiders finished just 3-of-10 on third down.
“[A] quick pass [that’s] incomplete is not [frustrating],” Miller said. “Quick pass, tipped ball — [that’s] not too frustrating.”
If the Broncos can keep the Raiders’ third-down percentage low on Monday — and, obviously, their point total — Miller and Co. could negate Carr’s ability to control the game.
BRONCOS ALWAYS EXPECTED TO FACE A.B.
After a day of reports surfaced that Raiders wide receiver Antonio Brown could miss Monday night’s game, Oakland head coach Jon Gruden said Friday the team plans for Brown to play vs. Denver.
And that was the Broncos’ expectation all along, Head Coach Vic Fangio said Friday.
“It hasn’t affected it at all, because No. 1, the players weren’t here yesterday when everything happened, and we’ve just been assuming that he was going to play all along,” Fangio said. “Obviously, that’s the way it looks right now.”
Miller, who said he expected to be asked five questions on Brown and ended up answering six, said the team always planned to face the talented player.
“For me, you can't have a good team and let one player being down or one player being up change your whole game plan or change what you feel about the game,” Miller said. “We always assumed that he was playing and that's just the way we attacked it form the very first day.”
Brown is so talented, though, that he’s like a “cheetah-rabbit mix.”
“He's quick, but he has that killer mentality like a cheetah,” Miller said.
LEARNING FROM FANGIO
Offensive Coordinator Rich Scangarello will call his first game as an NFL coordinator on Monday, and in his few months with the Broncos, he’s become far more prepared for the moment.
A big reason why? Vic Fangio.
“Honestly, he's helped me grow in ways I probably couldn't have imagined before I got here,” Scangarello said Friday. “One, just practicing against him every day and his style of defense is very difficult. Aside from the talent, the scheme itself is … a challenge. That helps you grow as a play caller and in developing your offense. And then just the situations he likes to practice, he's so on top of game management and the things he asks of you. He's just really asking a lot of you to be on top of it — players and coaches — and that helps just elevate our game. In those critical situations, you're just kind of trusting what you've been doing in practice. You've seen it be successful and you can execute it in a game because you believe in it.”
Fangio said he is also “intermittently” involved in offensive game planning.
Denver’s rookie offensive coordinator said he won’t wait long to make adjustments on Monday if the need arises.
“If you're waiting into halftime, in my opinion, to make adjustments in the NFL, you're waiting too long,” Scangarello said. “I think it's how you communicate in between series that you're always never wasting an opportunity because the possessions are so precious in the NFL. The game goes by quickly and there are so few plays. You need to be on top of it and it's our job to see it.”
LEAVING THE PAST IN THE PAST
Fangio’s former team, the Chicago Bears, took on the Green Bay Packers on Thursday night in the first game of the 2019 season.
The Broncos’ head coach, though, did not watch his former defense hold Aaron Rodgers to 10 points.
His focus, he said Friday, is entirely on the Broncos.
“I saw a couple of plays, but I purposely didn’t watch it because I didn’t want to be distracted in preparation in this game,” Fangio said.