With two fourth-quarter sacks and a forced fumble, Bradley Chubb’s return to form Monday night in Seattle was a silver lining in an otherwise disappointing start to the Broncos’ season.
Chubb, who had zero sacks in seven games in 2021 after multiple ankle surgeries limited his effectiveness, is in a contract year. And at Lumen Field, the outside linebacker looked healthy and determined to re-establish his value as an elite pass rusher.
The Broncos hope, and believe, that will be the case.
“(Chubb) had some great moves (and) I thought he did a really good job chasing after the ball and just playing with his hair on fire,” head coach Nathaniel Hackett said. “That’s what we want to see from him as a leader of this team.”
The Broncos captain recorded his first sack on Seattle quarterback Geno Smith early in the fourth quarter of the 17-16 loss, beating left tackle Charles Cross with a quick-step off the edge. Chubb tomahawked Smith’s arm as the QB cocked to throw, causing a fumble that popped right into the arms of Cross for an eight-yard loss.
Chubb employed a similar speed rush on his second sack with less than five minutes left, where he zoomed off the edge and ripped through Cross’ block to take Smith down for a 10-yard loss.
“I was setting those up throughout the game because I was rushing up the middle a little too much, and then I felt Geno’s drops getting deeper and deeper,” Chubb said. “So I just decided to take a chance on one of them (coming off the edge). It worked out for me, and I wanted to do the same thing on the second one.”
Though just one game, the 2018 No. 5 overall pick has a head start in challenging his career-best mark of 12 sacks from his first season — a Broncos rookie record that produced a third-place finish in AP Defensive Rookie of the Year voting.
Chubb has yet to record double-digit sacks since due to a combination of injuries (ACL tear in 2019, left ankle injury in 2020, and last year’s ankle issues) and empty games. He did have 7.5 sacks in 2020 en route to earning his lone Pro Bowl nod. But all the ups and downs of his career are what’s keeping Chubb grounded after a notable Week 1 performance.
“It was good to go out there and have a strong showing to start off, but at the end of the day, (sacks) are going to come and they’re not going to come some days,” Chubb said. “You’ve got to be prepared for both and stuff (out of your control).
“I’m staying (level-headed), I’m watching tons of film, doing everything I can to get a bead, to get a jump. It’s all about finding those little details and those little (pre-snap) hints to get my way into the pocket, someway somehow.”
Defensive coordinator Ejiro Evero sees a player who “has been feeling good for a while” physically following last year’s lingering ankle issues, and that’s starting to show up on tape.
“That’s the biggest thing for him: He’s confident in his ability and I know if he feels fine, he’s going to be playing fine,” Evero said.
Chubb is eager to show Sunday’s Empower Field crowd that Week 1 wasn’t an aberration, and that the Broncos defense has taken a step forward following a rusty first half against the Seahawks. After allowing 17 points over the first two quarters, Denver pitched a shutout over the final two.
“We know during the first half, that wasn’t us,” Chubb said. “We showed that we could tighten it up, but we have to make sure we’re hitting on all cylinders for all four quarters (against Houston). We’ll get those mistakes cleared up and get those petty-type (coverage) things (like giving up big plays on lob passes) taken care of. We saw how bad those can hurt us, so we’ll be on point at all times.”
One of Chubb’s understudies, second-year outside linebacker Jonathon Cooper, believes the veteran is poised for a season that will rival or top the productivity that the pass-rusher generated as a rookie. That prediction is underscored by Cooper’s belief that Randy Gregory’s impact on the other side will help boost Chubb’s overall numbers.
“I think (Chubb) is going to have a breakout year, and he’s going to ball out, have people talking,” Cooper said. “I ain’t no betting man, but if I had to put some money down (on a minimum of double-digit sacks for Chubb), I would.”