The Denver Broncos have taken pride in their defense over the past five years, so it was surprising to see Oakland quarterback Derek Carr gash the unit for 158 yards on 18-of-19 passing in the first half on Sunday.
The Broncos aren't worried. Coach Vance Joseph faulted the game plan and mental mistakes as reasons for Carr's big first half.
"Our corners have to play with great confidence all the time and obviously play press coverage," Joseph said Monday. "We were really too soft at corner with our coverage."
The positive spin was while Carr dissected the secondary and unloaded the ball before Denver's vaunted pass rush could bother him, the Raiders only scored 12 points on two field goals and a touchdown. Carr was 11 of 13 for 130 yards in the second half, and the Broncos held Oakland to seven points to pull out a 20-19 win.
Oakland found success in earlier downs but was just 3-for-10 on third down.
"Our defense is based on rushing and covering and being aggressive with our coverage, and in the first half we didn't do that," Joseph said." On third downs we were aggressive. Our plan early was be careful with the matchups early, get him into third down and obviously pressure the quarterback. That third-down plan was right on but the first- and second-down plan in the first half was way too cautious."
Denver is measuring defensive success differently this season. In some years, particularly in 2015 when the Broncos won the Super Bowl with the fourth-ranked defense, limiting opponents' yards per game was an emphasis. This season the focus is on points allowed more than yards allowed.
"We just worry about the points," cornerback Chris Harris Jr. said after Sunday's win. "We tried to change our mentality a little bit. We've always been about yardage here but last year our points-per-game number was too high. As long as we can hold anyone to 19 points we should win every game."
It has also helped that Denver's offense seems more dangerous this season. A year ago it would have been a longshot for the Broncos to drive from their own 10 to an opponent's 18 in 1 minute, 41 seconds, to set up a game-winning field goal. Signing quarterback Case Keenum and stacking the backfield with dynamic rookie running backs Royce Freeman and Phillip Lindsay have been big upgrades.
The confidence in the offense allows the defense to be more aggressive and take chances because the unit knows the offense can score.
"A year makes a lot of difference, especially with our new quarterback and all of the weapons," nose tackle Domata Peko Sr. said Sunday.
LUCK AND PREPARATION: Denver has lost just one player to injury through the first two games -- tackle Jared Veldheer, who left Sunday's game and is now in the concussion protocol. It's unusual to be that healthy after two games but Joseph isn't complaining.
"I think we're pretty lucky," said Joseph, who also gave credit to the training and medical staff for its work with players. "How we practice during the week also helps that. I think just practicing smart, how we train and how we treat our players is the key. But, it's football, so some of it's luck."
--RB Phillip Lindsay is the first undrafted rookie to gain 100 yards in his first two games. He had 102 yards (71 rushing) in Week 1 and 111 yards (107 rushing) against Oakland on Sunday.
--CB Chris Harris Jr. was shaken up in the third quarter when he collided with teammate Justin Simmons on Seth Roberts' touchdown catch. Harris said after the game he was fine.
--T Jared Veldheer left Sunday's game with an injury and entered concussion protocol.
--T Billy Turner replaced Veldheer and played well, head coach Vance Joseph said. "I felt good about Billy," Joseph said. "No one talked about him, which is a good sign."
--CB Adam Jones was replaced by Tramaine Brock Sunday due to tight hamstrings, Joseph said. "He's only been here, now, three weeks so he still needs to get into football shape," Joseph said. "That's half of Adam's problem right now."