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IN DENVER BRONCO PRE-GAME ANALYSIS
"There is one certain way," replied the Prince [William of Orange] "by which I can be sure never to see my country's ruin, -- I will die in the last ditch."
The young and battered Denver Broncos go into Qualcomm Stadium as underdogs. They have led the division after every game this year and beat the Chargers earlier this year, but nobody will give Denver any chance of winning this game. Does Denver have a chance of winning this game? Is there any way our beloved team avoids ruin?
Join me. We will break down the game together, and then on Sunday night each of us can find his or her comfortable couch to watch the game. As one, we will all fight the good fight, and perhaps avoid having to die in the last ditch.
(A member of MHR's elite Game Film Analysis Team (G-FAT) researches the SD Chargers for this week's Chalk Talk)
This is it, the game we've all been waiting for. While many of us are skeptical about just what Denver can do in a postseason game, many of us had hoped only for the chance to be in such a position. For those of us hoping for a record approaching 10-6 and a chance at a playoff spotnce, this is the the all or nothing shot to get there.
Now Denver won't be 10-6 even with a win. But for Denver to have done this well despite the numerous IRs this team has had (including 7 running backs) is astounding. Denver has improved over last year, and has enough youth at enough positions to give the team hope moving forward. It has been, on the whole, a good year.
But if you're like me, you want to go out in style. When a team has to end a season, it is much more satisfying to end it in the post season. That's what I want, and I want it every year. Making the playoffs is my personal, minimum desire for the team each year. Can it be done?
Names to watch for SD (offense)
One doesn't have to like the child like antics of Rivers to acknowledge that he is a decent QB. Rivers is a smart QB that can read a defense and connect with a target. While he has players in key positions to help him (a top notch RB and a top notch TE, each of whom enhances Rivers' abilities), Rivers is a solid QB on his own. His line will protect him, his TE will provide a safety valve, and his RB will keep the opposition from focusing on the pass. But even without that support team, River's would be a threat (he holds the best passer rating currently).
TE Gates, while slowed a little with age, is still a premier receiving TE. He should match up advantaged against any of Denver's current LBs or strong safeties.
RB Tomlinson is effective in every area of the game (though like Gates, he too is slowing). Tomlinson is a fast and agile runner with the ability to get through the first level of defenders, but he can catch and even throw. He is well rounded, and excels in every task. With his OL blocking for him, he is a major threat to Denver's front seven.
WR Chambers is a qualtiy WR, and enhances what Gates and Tonlinson can do. While he won't match well against Denver CB Bailey, he will at least keep Bailey from covering Gates (a tactic that Denver used to employ).
Sproles is the #2 RB on the Chargers, but his biggest threat is on STs whenever he touches the ball for a return. He is a solid spell back for LT.
Names to watch for SD (defense)
The key player to watch is Cromartie. He is the best CB for SD, and will match against Denver WR Brandon Marshall. This will be the key duel.
Jammer is a savvy CB threat on the other side of the field, but WR Royal should get a shot at a few deep passes after faking the comeback. SD should not respect the Denver running game, and play the SAFs deep to account for the Marshall Royal threat.
In the center of the field (where TEs Graham and Scheffler can do serious damage, as can slot receiver Stokley), SD features a very solid 4 LB look, including Cooper, who seems to get an INT every game lately.
Denver runs the ball
The one cut, Zone Block for Denver should overcome the Phillip's 3-4 System (one gap) that SD runs. But Denver is down to it's 8th string RBs (if there is such a thing), and the SD defense is quick enough and skilled enough to keep Denver in check. Denver likely can't run wide either with the SD LBs spread out so far, and SD should have the speed inside to swarm a RB that hits the right gap.
SD runs the ball
SD's OL is very good, and LT is a legend (albeit aging). Denver's run defense has a reputation for being poor, but it has shown flashes of improvement. LT should make good gains on Denver, but Denver should hold better than most wirters (who don't even watch a down of Denver football) might think. If Denver can prevent a break away run, they can keep the game close.
Denver passes the ball
Denver's Pro Bowl QB has (perhaps) the best pass blocking OL in the League. Cutler can throw to any of three elite level receivers (Pro Bowler Marshall, who runs folks over), rookie phenom Royal, or slot specialist Stokley. He also has two elite TEs (Scheffler and Graham) to throw too.
Denver's only real weakness is that they almost always have to throw the ball (no RBs), and teams can adapt their defenses for this. Denver seems to have folded up the West Coast, and switched to a spread.
Cutler should have excellent protection.
SD passes the ball
CB Bailey will smother Chambers, so Chambers should not be a legitimate target. Jackson will be coverd by Bly. Bly will only provide effective coverage if he has a free SAF playing "over coverage" on the weak side. Both Gates and LT should find themselves open often. Rivers should have excellent protection.
Keys to the game
- Do not turn over the ball. Cutler needs to let the game come to him, and not try to win it all on his own.
- The defense needs to guard against big plays. SD will score, but the defense should make SD work for it every drive.
- STs will likely be key for several field position battles. Denver's STs need to be at their best.
- If possible, put away Denver early in the game. Denver is a young enough team that they might fall apart ina key game if things go south too quick. Cutler might also get too aggressive with the ball.
- Tackle Denver's receivers and TEs on first contact. Denver's receivers aren't so much possession oriented as they are "yards after carry" types, whether they are powerful (Marshall, Graham, Stokley), fast (Royal), or balanced (Scheffler).
- Don't let the game be close in the final quarter. Denver is a quick strike team, and can overcome 14 points in a flash.
SD is favored this week. They are also at home. They have played well lately, and Denver has come up short. I have picked for and against Denver this year, and been stunned by loses (KC, Oak, and Buf) and pleased with wins (TB, NYJs, ATL). This game could go in many directions, including being close or blown out for either team. On paper, I like the Broncos because of the high flying offense and the better coaching. On intangibles, I like SD for the home field, the momentum, and the experience on the team.
In the end, it's a very close call. I'm going to go with Denver, not because they're the better team right now, but because I'm going to take Denver if the choice is too close for me to have a firm opinion.
I feel comfortable that the winning team deserves to go to the playoffs (and a likely quick demise), and the loser did not earn the trip.