You never know what to expect.
All fans and teams enter the season with eternal hope and confidence this is the season. But there is always a hint of skepticism before Week One because you just aren’t sure. Call it human nature.
The same holds true for the outcome of Week One. If your team wins, fans, coaches and players are on top of the world. If your team loses, you want to remain hopeful but that skepticism grows a little bigger.
Welcome to the day after the Denver Broncos 24-21 season-opening win at an orange-clad, raucous Mile High Stadium over Philip Rivers and the Los Angeles Chargers. Does hope for a great season remain? Is there still skepticism? Perhaps a combination of both? Here’s the five things we learned from this victory.
Hype for the Chargers unwarranted
Prior to the game, all we heard was how good LA was; it just needed to avoid the injuries. With the addition of Gus Bradley as the defensive coordinator and two young, Pro Bowl cornerbacks and all-world pass rushers, the Chargers had the next great defense in the AFC West. Added to Rivers and Melvin Gordon, you could see why they were the sexy pick in the AFC.
Then the game started and the familiar version of the Chargers appeared. They may have moved north in southern California, but they’re the same old Chargers. This team has a special talent for losing in heartbreaking fashion. It’s a gift, and LA should be recognized for it.
As noted earlier, it’s tough to take much from Week One, but the hype didn’t live up to what we saw from the Chargers.
There wasn’t enough hype for Mike McCoy
Through three quarters, it was a marvel to see what an effective offense looked like. It’s felt like ages since Broncos Country has been able to say that. All credit goes to McCoy and his staff. It should come as no surprise given the success McCoy has had over the course of his career, especially in Denver.
The Broncos offense was humming. It was a sight for sore eyes. As I’ve been saying since McCoy was hired, he fits his offense to players instead of forcing players to fit his offense. And of all the bizarreness of Monday night’s game, perhaps the most was Denver’s tight ends. The Broncos triumvirate of tight ends finished with five catches for 98 yards. Meanwhile, Los Angeles’ tight ends finished with two receptions for 17 yards.
But it wasn’t all unicorns and rainbows for McCoy’s return. After a big fourth-down stop at Denver’s 48-yard line early in the fourth quarter, the Broncos had the chance to put Rivers and company away. Remember, at that point Denver’s offense was humming.
But instead of jamming his foot on the pedal, McCoy had his headset hacked by Gary Kubiak. His playcalling turned conservative and cute. As I said in my column after the game, it gave the Chargers life and allowed them to take momentum.
McCoy and his staff need to use this as a moment to learn. When you have the chance to finish an opponent, do it. Put your faith and trust in the players to do so. The benefit is it is Week One and even coaches get learning moments.
An answer at run defense
Since Super Bowl 50, that has been a weak point in the Broncos defense. In 2016, Denver was 28th against the run. As a reminder, there are only 32 teams in the NFL. So to say fans and the team wanted to see what this aspect looked like is an understatement.
The Chargers are no slouch in this area either. Not only does LA have Gordon, it hired one of the best running-game architects in the league right now in Anthony Lynn as head coach. Last season as the offensive coordinator, Lynn helped the Buffalo Bills become the No. 1 rushing offense in the league. He knows how to create a great rushing attack, so the Broncos got an early test.
They aced that test.
Denver held Gordon and the Chargers to 64 yards on 22 carries. That’s an average of 2.9 yards per carry. If the Broncos remain that strong against the run, they will win a lot of games this season given the defense is still dominant in other aspects. Don’t forget the unit still have some key injuries so it will get better in that aspect as well.
The real test comes this Sunday against Ezekiel Elliott and the Dallas Cowboys offensive line. Will we see similar results?
Balanced Denver offense
The last time the Broncos had that was McCoy’s last season as offensive coordinator. It took one game for Denver to get what it’s been looking four seasons to find. Starting to see why the hype should have been higher for McCoy?
The Broncos finished with 140 yards rushing on 36 carries, led by C.J. Anderson and his 20 carries for 80 yards. The duo of Anderson and Jamaal Charles was damn exciting and will be difficult for defenses to stop.
Meanwhile, Trevor Siemian put the offense on his back in finishing 17 of 28 passing for 219 yards, two touchdowns and an interception. He also embarrassed Joey Bosa on a 1-yard touchdown run. I said in our predictions that Siemian would take what Alex Smith did against the New England Patriots and build on it.
The stats may not back it up, but you needed to watch the game to see it. Although Pro Football Focus did give him an 82.1 overall grade, fifth-highest among QBs. Siemian was the reason the Broncos were 8-for-15 on third down and 3-for-5 in the red zone. That’s a stark contrast to last season when Denver wasn’t good in either area.
Where that balance pays off the most is in time of possession. The Broncos held the ball for almost 10 more minutes, 34:13 to 25:47. When that happens, Denver’s defense stays on the sidelines and fresh.
Yes, the Broncos offense needs to finish games, but when that balance is consistent, watch out.
Denver has a better record than New England
It’s crucial to point out that Tom Brady and the Patriots still have the worst record in the NFL. It probably won’t last that long, but we still have to poke fun at Massholes. There’s no way New England thought it would lose to Smith and the Kansas City Chiefs, let alone in the fashion it did. The Patriots and their fanbase are still trying to pull up their drawers.
Imagine what will happen if they fall to 0-2.