The NFL chose to put a microphone on Broncos Head Coach Josh McDaniels during the week 4 game versus the Cowboys. Those sound bytes gave Broncos fans some quotes which have quickly become a part of Bronco lore. Things like:
To QB Kyle Orton: "I'm not talking about my bad anymore. Just make the play!
and, right after that one, these words to the entire offensive unit:
Right after that, to the entire offensive unit: "Get in here! When we quit (bleeped) around and just do our job and quit worrying about everybody else's job and doing your own thing. That's what's killing us right now!
Finally, the one that has become a personal favorite of mine:
Do! Your! Job! and quit making (bleeped) up.
As I have walked back through the games of 2009, I have been raising up one theme or football truism which leapt out to me as I watched. So far, I have offered for your consideration:
Keeping Eyes on the Ball
Feeling the Pressure of the Rush
Controlling the Gaps
Problem of Penalties
Use of Time Outs/Challenges
This time around, as I went back and watched the first gave versus San Diego, I found myself considering what I call "Heroes and Goats" -- the play of special teams.
What this means? After the jump
The 5-0 Broncos traveled to San Diego to take on the AFC West rival Chargers. The thing which stood out during this game more than any other single thing was the play of the special teams of both franchises.
It is, IMHO, an unfortunate part of the game that the special teams are all too often either derided as being the goats who cost their team the game, or are simply ignored as being of no real consequence. Very rarely do the special teams get heralded as heroes in the same way that the offensive and defensive units. In the Denver-San Diego game (version 1.0) this was not the case.
In that game, Denver ran 63 offensive plays and San Diego ran 59. In addition to those plays, there were 27 special teams plays. This would include kick offs & returns, punts & returns, and field goal attempts. 13 of those plays were kick offs and the subsequent returns. 7 were punts & returns. 7 were field goal attempts. Let's take a look at these different groups.
Kick Offs & Returns
Denver kicked off 7 times. Those 7 kicks landed as follows: SD8, SD5, SD11, SD -1, SD4, SD7, and SD4. The Chargers, then, got the ball at an average spot of their own 5 yard line. Sounds pretty good.
The Chargers had returns on those kick offs of: 16, 21, 21, 30, 22, 20, and 19. This gave them an average starting line scrimmage after the kick offs of their own 27 yard line. Not so good.
San Diego, by way of comparison, kicked off 6 times. Those 6 kicks landed as follows: DEN7, DEN8, DEN7, DEN5, DEN11, and DEN5. The Broncos got the ball at an average spot of their own 7 yard line. Not too bad, they started with the ball about 2 yards further up the field than the Chargers did when the Broncos kicked.
The Broncos returns on those 6 kick offs were: 93 (and a TD), 14, 18, 18, 14, and 18. This gave them an average starting line of scrimmage after kick offs of their own 24 yard line. Not so impressive, given the returns by the Chargers.
So, on the upside, Denver -- on the average -- kicked the ball deeper than the Chargers, but San Diego returned those kicks farther. The bright spot for Denver in this part of the football battle was Royal's 93 yard kick off return for a touchdown.
Punts & Returns
The Broncos punted the ball 4 times. Those punts landed as follows: SD12, SD23, End Zone, and End Zone. This would seem to be a pretty effective punting attack. Especially when we consider that San Diego made a Fair Catch on the first punt, and the 3rd & 4th punts resulted in touchbacks. This gave San Diego an average starting line of scrimmage of their own 17 yard line (starting at the 12 and 2x at the 20). Squeezed in between the 1st & 3rd punts, however, was a 77 yard punt return for a touchdown.
San Diego punted the ball 3 times. Those punts landed as follows: DEN25, DEN29 and the DEN24. An adequate job of pushing the Broncos deep, but not as deep as Denver had pushed the Chargers. The Chargers covered 1st & 3rd punts extremely well, allowing only a 1 yard and a 5 yard return respectively. However, the 2nd punt was returned 71 yards for a touchdown. The average starting point for Denver was their own 27 yard line.
Both teams returned a punt for a touchdown. As with the kick offs, Denver tended to kick the ball deeper than their opponents, but also gave up larger returns -- a touchback has the same effect as a 20 yard return.
The Broncos attempted 3 field goals (34, 54, and 29 yards). They made 2 of them (34 and 29 yards). The Chargers attempted 4 field goals (20, 44, 50 and 55 yards). San Diego made 3 of them (20, 44, and 50 yards). Thus, the kicking game added 6 points for Denver and 9 points for the Chargers.
Overall, both the special teams from both sides provided a much needed spark to their respective teams. Without the points generated by field goals and returns, the final in that game (34-23) would have stood at 14-7 (in favor of Denver).
On a day when neither offense was looking consistently good (118 net yards for Denver, 207 for San Diego), and neither defense was looking particularly dominant (both defenses gave up long time consuming drives), the special teams rose to the occasion -- though it must be admitted that the Broncos special teams rose just a tad higher, outscoring the Chargers' unit 20-16.