BALTIMORE -- As a quarterback who looked over the Denver Broncos' once-feared "No Fly Zone" secondary and then spent an afternoon doing most of what he wanted to do, Joe Flacco said the Baltimore Ravens could have done even more damage Sunday had they simply chosen to.
"Honestly, if you really want to say it, this game, we could have thrown the ball 55 times, and I think it probably would have been to our advantage," Flacco said after the Ravens' 27-14 victory over the Broncos.
Oh, where have you gone Aqib Talib?
The Broncos are three games into the season, and it's clear that opposing quarterbacks now think they can do what would have been considered unthinkable two seasons ago. They feel that the best way to win against the Broncos' defense is to throw early and throw often.
Pro Bowl cornerback Chris Harris Jr. believes it's because those quarterbacks know exactly what they’re going to get from Denver's defenders.
"We've got to disguise better, we've got to move better, we've got to work together better, and we're not doing that right now," Harris said Sunday. "We're just stagnant, sitting ducks, [quarterbacks] kind of know where to throw the ball at. We've got to get better at confusing them, tricking them, we're not tricking anybody right now. They know exactly what's going on, we've got to trick them and move and disguise better."
Asked how the Broncos could do that, Harris added: "We've got to move and disguise better, try to do whatever we can to do something different ... as a whole, we've got to figure that out. ... We're doing everything we can to get better. We just have to keep working."
Only seven days after Oakland Raiders quarterback Derek Carr set a league completion-percentage record with a 29-of-32 passing performance against the Broncos, Flacco threw for 224 yards and a touchdown in the first half Sunday, as the Broncos did little to unsettle the veteran. Flacco finished the game 25-of-40 for 277 yards and the score.
In three games, opposing quarterbacks have completed 69.5 percent of their passes with five touchdowns and two interceptions, resulting in a collective passer rating of 102.2. This is coming against a pass defense that was the league's best in 2015 and 2016, and the Broncos were fourth in pass defense in their 5-11 campaign last season.
"Our entire back end has to play better versus the pass," Broncos coach Vance Joseph said. "[The Ravens] couldn't run the football, so they threw it. That's two weeks in a row."
Football math should dictate that if the Broncos' defense stops the run, the team's pass rush and secondary should feast against an offense forced into throw-first mode. The Ravens ran for 2.8 yards per carry Sunday and finished with 77 yards rushing overall.
Yet the Broncos rarely made Flacco that uncomfortable in the pocket, registering two sacks, one that came on Flacco's first pass attempt of the game. The Broncos forced the Ravens into third-and-8 or longer nine times in the game. The Ravens converted two of those, and the Broncos' defense had penalties on two others.
Otherwise, the Ravens consistently turned first- and second-down throws into first downs.
"I don't think we got them in a true third-and-long," Broncos linebacker Von Miller said. " ... Altogether as a unit, we had a pass rush, and the DBs weren't there, and then the DBs were there on some plays, and we didn't have a pass rush."
That caused rookie cornerback Isaac Yiadom to be a frequent target of Flacco's, as the Broncos were often forced to use three safeties in their dime package (six defensive backs) in certain pass-first situations.
Those injuries, along with the existing coverage issues, have the Broncos in a tough spot. They get the Chiefs and quarterback Patrick Mahomes -- who has 13 touchdown passes in three games -- next Monday, and the high-flying Los Angeles Rams come to Denver on Oct. 14.
"We have to shore it up in the back end and play much better," Joseph said. "Play better technique and do our jobs."