Takeaways from Denver Broncos’ Win Over Chargers
Dec 1, 2019; Denver, CO, USA; Denver Broncos kicker Brandon McManus (8) reacts following his game winning field goal in the fourth quarter against the Los Angeles Chargers at Empower Field at Mile High. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports
The Denver Broncos beat the Los Angeles Chargers in Denver to advance to 4-8. Better yet, they swept a division rival. Drew Lock got his first start and threw his first two touchdowns to Courtland Sutton, threw his first interception, and got his first NFL win all in one. There was a coaching gaffe toward the end of the first half, and poor player execution toward the end of the second half, both of which either kept the game close or gave the Chargers unnecessary opportunities.
At the end of the first half, the Broncos were enjoying a 17-3 lead with just over three minutes left and getting the ball back in their hands. Most teams would use this opportunity to try a two-minute offense, throw the ball to the sidelines to stop the clock, and use timeouts when plays ended in the middle of the field.
What did the Broncos do?
They ran into a stacked box for a loss of one, then let the play clock run down and run a terrible play resulting in an incompletion.
Then, they punted the ball to the Chargers that flew 30 yards but bounced an extra 21. The Chargers then drove 77 yards on three plays to score a touchdown in 22 seconds. The Broncos’ coaching staff then realized their conservative play-calling blew their lead for no reason. Receiving the ball with 30 seconds left in the half and a really good return by Diontae Spencer, the coaching staff tried to run a two-minute scoring offense.
They got the ball within range for a 65-yard field goal attempt that Brandon McManus, who looked 100 percent ready to hit the record-breaking kick. Coaches lingered on the decision to kick the field goal for too long, trotting McManus on and off the field twice. The team then took a delay of game because of indecision before completing a quick 33-yard pass to Coutland Sutton, taking a 17-10 lead into halftime. The final two possessions showed distrust in the offense, defense, and special teams.
The first of two player-initiated second half gaffs came with the score at 17-17 and the Broncos driving the field after a missed field goal by the Chargers. The team was moving the ball well, and Drew Lock threw a dime to DaeSean Hamilton over the middle that seemingly would have been a 15- to 20-yard gain and put the team in a first down red zone situation. Hamilton instead dropped the best-thrown ball of the day without a single defender around him and open room to run. The Broncos would settle for a 52-yard field goal and a 20-17 lead.
The second was on fourth down and eleven yards to gain with the game on the line after two straight false starts by the Chargers offense. Issac Yaidom saw a 38-yard ball over his head land in the hands of Mike Williams who was in pretty good coverage but not good enough.
The Chargers would convert that into a field goal with 14 seconds on the clock and the game seemed to be headed to overtime considering how conservative the coaching staff had been up to that point. Instead, they decided to be gutsy and take a hail mary shot to Courtland Sutton, and to the surprise of everyone, they garnered a 37-yard defensive pass interference call that set up a game-winning field goal by McManus to walk off with a 53-yarder.
The offensive line allowed zero sacks, zero quarterback hits and zero holding calls, and gave the young quarterback an opportunity to succeed without making life more difficult. Running game wasn’t as good as it has been, 84 yards on 25 carries, but the Chargers front seven are a good group.
Drew Lock certainly had room for improvement as he only had three passing yards passing in the third quarter, threw a bit of a duck on his one interception, and 33 of his 134 yards came on a first-half hail mary that meant nothing. However, he also threw the two big touchdowns, converted the interception into points, threw the ball deep well, and led the team to a victory.
Brandon McManus was visibly angry on the sideline when he wasn’t given the opportunity to kick the 65-yarder to end the first half, but he kicked 52- and 53-yard field goals to tie and win the game. McManus is a true competitor and wants to be remembered in the history books.
Alexander Johnson made plays all day in the backfield and in the passing game, finishing with nine tackles, two for big losses, and was a force in the running game. It seems like a weekly reward for him on this piece. He’s a big-time player the Broncos have to be thrilled with.
Dre’mont Jones has been battling all year for reps and has been rewarded for his hard work. He’s had a few sacks this season, and against the Chargers, he hauled in a big man interception when sniffing out a screen pass. Jones showed sweet hands and snagged the ball and rumbled toward the endzone.
Derek Wolfe is having a career year in Denver on a contract season and is the epitome of a dog; he fights and scraps and claws for everything he gets and it doesn’t go unnoticed. For the first time since 2013, Von Miller did not suit up for game day, so Wolfe picked up the slack and managed two huge sacks and three quarterback hits to make sure Philip Rivers couldn’t get comfortable in the pocket.
Seemingly every passing play that Todd Davis was covering Melvin Gordon or Austin Ekeler out of the backfield featured a big result. Davis finished with 10 tackles and one pass defense, leading the team, but the two running backs had 62 yards on six catches and used that mismatch to bring the game back to a close one. Davis made plays in the run game and did his part, but getting burned by tight ends and running backs in the passing game is sickening.
Noah Fant is so hit or miss this season that it is hard to get a bead on his skill level. For one, he’s in the top 25 for dropped passes this season with five total while he is in the top 10 for penalties this season with seven. His impact in the blocking game is basically non-existent, but he’s working on it. And finally, his impact in the passing game is greater then nothing. He had one catch for five yards on three targets. He needs to have a bigger impact in the game as a first-round draft pick, now 13 weeks into the season.
This hurts for me to identify again, but DaeSean Hamilton had high expectations when Emmanuel Sanders was shipped out and he just hasn’t lived up to it. Against the Chargers, he was actually included in the passing game for the first time in weeks, where he had two big catches but swallowed huge hits to secure. Then, an easy pass over the middle that could have been a score was dropped. This just reminds me of the Week 1 drop in the end zone that would have been a game-tying touchdown. He has to have a short memory and build on his impact next week, but drops are so frustrating for a team.
Conservative play-calling. Fans are so over taking big first-half leads, demonstrating good play-calling, good run-pass percentages, moving the ball effectively, and taking deep shots. Then, the team gets a lead and the coaching staff starts playing not to lose instead of playing free, playing to win, and calling a game indicative of a team that knows how and wants to win games. Showing a run-run-pass strategy when they stack the box on first down, running a cover two shell defense second down, and blitzing hard on third-down becomes so predictable and mundane that it’s torture to watch.
Devontae Booker has had a minimal impact all season in the running game, but he has a role as a special teams player and a veteran on this team. He blatantly roughed the kicker, giving the Chargers a second shot at scoring points. They converted this gaffe into a 30-yard field goal.