The Denver Broncos came into their matchup with the San Diego Chargers at Qualcomm Stadium soaring. A Week 12 victory over the then-unbeaten New England patriots and a young quarterback on the rise would put any team on top of the world.
The Chargers have spent 2015 at the opposite end of the football spectrum. They’ve been dominated up front on both sides of the football, key injuries have taken their toll, and with a 3-8 record coming in, they’ve spent their weeks fighting not for a playoff spot, but to stave off elimination.
Sunday’s contest with the Broncos did nothing to help the Chargers’ cause. They fell behind early, Philip Rivers found himself on his back more often than not, and the Broncos came away with a dominant 17-3 victory.
Three takeaways from Sunday’s game:
Injuries are Starting To Become a Concern on Both Sides of the Ball
The Denver Broncos came into the season with some of the best depth on the defensive side of the football in the NFL. They’re beginning to need it.
In the Week 12 victory vs. New England, T.J. Ward (ankle), Sylvester Williams (ankle), and Louis Vasquez (groin) went down with injuries. Those injuries would keep all three players out Sunday in San Diego. Demarcus Ware has been forced to sit out the last four games with a lingering back injury. Coming into Sunday’s game the Broncos were depleted; coming out of it they’re reaching a point of desperation.
C.J. Anderson (ankle), Vernon Davis (concussion), Danny Trevathan (concussion), Demaryius Thomas (hand) and David Bruton Jr. (knee) all suffered injuries that will likely put their availability in jeopardy for next week’s matchup with the Oakland Raiders.
Should safeties T.J. Ward and David Bruton Jr. miss any of the upcoming games, the Broncos fierce secondary is in trouble. The depth chart has Josh Bush—a player who was on the street just one week ago—as the next man up.
A roster move is on the horizon at the running back position as well. If C.J. Anderson should miss any time moving forward, expect Kapri Bibbs to make the move from the practice squad to the active roster for the second time this season.
Can the Broncos win with an injury report and reserve/injured list longer than the lines on Black Friday? Probably… But this season isn’t about winning in December. It’s about winning in January and taking home the ultimate piece of hardware on that fabled first Sunday in February. If the 2015 Denver Broncos have any chance at making a run deep into the postseason, names like Ward, Bruton, Davis, Thomas, Trevathan, Williams, Vasquez, Mathis and Manning have to find their way off of the injury report and back onto the field.
Brock Osweiler Has a Long Way to Go
Photo: Dennis Poroy – Associated Press
The first drive of the game for the Broncos went off without a hitch. Ronnie Hillman and C.J. Anderson ran the ball effectively. Brock Osweiler threw the ball on-time and on-target. Demaryius Thomas and Vernon Davis ran crisp routes and exposed gaping deficiencies in the middle of the San Diego defense, and the Broncos found themselves up 7-0. That was where the success for the Denver Broncos offense came to a grinding halt.
The next two possessions resulted in three-and-outs. When all was said and done, Brock Osweiler and the Denver Broncos offense had nine more failed opportunities to put the ball in the end zone. The dominant opening drive of the game was to be the only time a Denver offensive player would set foot on the painted grass beyond the goal-line with the ball in his hands.
The Broncos’ young signal caller’s numbers were less than impressive on Sunday. A 16-26, 166-yard, one touchdown and one interception performance is hardly something to write home to Montana about. While there were flashes of brilliance early, Osweiler showed us all why the NFL learning curve is the toughest on the planet. His reads were slow, the ball came out late, and the throws were often off-target.
Osweiler left the ball short targeting a wide open Emmanuel Sanders at the 2:53 mark of the first quarter, he threw a ball into double coverage during the waning seconds of the first half that should have been intercepted by Chargers’ All-Pro safety Erick Weddle, he threw an ill-advised ball, again into double coverage, at the 5:23 mark in the third quarter, and finally on another under-thrown ball at the 4:09 mark in the third, he was picked off by Chargers cornerback Jason Verrett in the end zone.
These kinds of poor decisions and badly thrown balls are just what you’d expect from a player making his third start in the NFL. In fact, they’re exactly what we had come to expect this year from an injured first-ballot Hall of Famer in Peyton Manning. These kinds of plays can be overcome in December against inferior teams like the Chargers, but everything gets magnified when the temperatures drop, the calendar turns another year and the stakes are at their highest. Young Brock Osweiler has got to learn fast if he expects to keep Peyton Manning on the sidelines when he gets healthier in the coming weeks.
The Denver Broncos Defense Can Play Aggressive Smash-Mouth Football Without Piling up Penalty Yards
Photo: Jake Roth – USA Today Sports
The Broncos defense was penalized just twice for 10 yards Sunday in San Diego—a vast improvement from their season average of 7.5 penalties for 45 yards. Gone were selfish plays like the late hit on Tom Brady that resulted in an $8,681 reduction in Von Miller’s paycheck last week. Gone were the 15-yard walk-offs the Denver defense has become all too accustomed to enduring. In their place were clean, bone-shattering hits that had Philip Rivers and company reeling; a testament to this team’s ability to harness their emotions and play mistake-free football.
The performance, while remaining within the guidelines set forth by the novel that is the NFL rulebook, lacked no luster. Von Miller, Shane Ray and Shaq Barrett combined to sack Philip Rivers a total of four times. The defense had countless knockdowns, caused four fumbles while recovering two, and saw Danny Trevathan return an interception 25 yards for a touchdown. In the end only a 51-yard Josh Lambo field goal stood between the Denver Broncos defense and their first shutout since a Nov. 21, 2005 blanking of the New York Jets.