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The Good, The Bad, and the Elway: The four other plays that doomed the Broncos in L.A.

Drew Lock and Jerry Jeudy drew the headlines, but the Denver Broncos had chances against the Los Angeles Chargers last week.

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In the immediate aftermath of the Denver Broncos loss to the Los Angeles Chargers, it seemed everyone across the NFL had something to say about Jerry Jeudy’s performance. Five drops on 14 targets is a rough outing, and when your team loses by a single field goal it’s easy to remember the dropped pass when one occurred on the final drive of the game.

With just one week left in the regular season, it’s time to accept Jeudy’s rookie season didn’t go as hoped. As tends to be the case, there’s a number of reasons for that. We’re so far past the lack of training camp at this point it feels like little more than a convenient excuse, but it’s also a valid one. Courtland Sutton’s early injury meant the rookie wouldn’t have a true number one to draw coverage and tough assignments. The Broncos also started four different quarterbacks this year and that kind of dysfunction doesn’t help anyone on the offense. The QB1 Drew Lock also had some rather shaky passes mixed in.

While all these factors are outside the 2020 first round pick’s control, he’s hardly blameless. Dating back to before the draft, Jeudy’s drops were a notable part of his tape at Alabama. I had concerns about his technique catching the ball in traffic as well as how physical coverage could cause issues for him. Before we condemn the rookie receiver, however, it’s worth keeping in mind that Sutton also had issues with drops his first year in the NFL. Jerry Rice too. Terrell Owens still does. There’s plenty of reason for optimism with Jeudy going forward, and his ability to separate will continue to create opportunities for him to improve at the catch point.

Rather than focus on Jeudy’s role in the Broncos loss, I made a point to zero in on what else happened during the Broncos game Sunday. There were four other notable turning points. Any one of them bounces the Broncos way, they’re probably 6-9.

Special Teams

  • Brandon McManus missed a three point kick inside the 40-yard line for the first time since 2017. It was so jarring the refs gave him another shot at it. The ball didn’t lie and he missed again. Across 109 games in the NFL, McManus has kicked 101 field goals within the 40 yard line if you don’t include extra points. He’s made 95% of them.

Defense

  • Without Von Miller, A.J. Bouye, Bryce Callahan, Jurrell Casey, Bradley Chubb, Mike Purcell, Essang Bassey, Duke Dawson, and Kevin Toliver, the Broncos held Justin Herbert’s Chargers to 19 points. This after holding Patrick Mahomes’ aerial circus to 22. For the season, Kansas City is averaging 30 points per game while LA is scoring just 23. What stood out to me once again is how the Broncos find a way to buckle down with their backs against the wall.

Fangio knows what he’s doing.

  • Josey Jewell’s performance really stood out to me during the broadcast and only more so since. He allowed the only touchdown of the game on what looks like arguably Fangio’s biggest gaffe. The Chargers came out in an empty 2X3 look with Austin Ekeler on the boundary. Pre-snap he motions back towards the formation behind Mike Williams, and Josey Jewell stays on the back even as it causes Williams and Michael Ojemudia to stand between him and Ekeler. The Chargers take advantage, essentially using their 6’4 220 lb. receiver as a moving wall. Jewell makes matters worse when he tries to square up to bring Ekeler down near the sideline. This forces him into an arm tackle. Six.

What I consider the real turning point play from Jewell, however, is the dropped interception on the Chargers’ opening drive. Fangio dials up a trap and a rookie quarterback throws the ball right at Jewell. He dropped it and LA got to kick for three points.

The Chargers come out in an empty 3X2 look. The way Jewell is positioned pre-snap hints that Kareem Jackson is responsible for the slot receiver. On the snap, Donald Parham (89) runs a drag so as to occupy both Jewell and Alexander Johnson. Herbert immediately looks to his slot receiver who is running a slant between Jewell and Jackson. The only problem? Jewell knew it was coming and cuts out to intercept the ball even before it leaves Herbert’s hands.

  • An oblong football can bounce funny ways, which makes both luck and skill crucial ingredients necessary to recover fumbles. Down 13-0 with 46 seconds left in the first half, Malik Reed and DeShawn Williams meet at Herbert to knock the ball loose. It arcs past a pursuing Jeremiah Attaochu to hit the ground and bounce towards Storm Norton, who fails to land on it as he falls to the ground. Attaochu tries to scoop the ball up, but Donald Parham stops a scoop and score when he collapses to shield the ball with his body.

If Jeremiah Attaochu comes up with the ball, the Broncos offense has another chance to score from right around the 29-yard line with 40 seconds left and two timeouts.

Offense

  • I know I was adamantly opposed to Melvin Gordon’s contract and have been vocal about what Elway could have done with the $16 million. Without a long ramble, it comes down to how I view roster building. That in mind, I’m quite happy with what he’s provided outside the fumble issues earlier in the year. Without Bosa, the Chargers weak run defense was susceptible Sunday and Gordon took advantage early and often.

On the Broncos first carry of the game, Shurmur dialed up outside zone heading to the right. Check out the way Graham Glasgow climbs up to Kenneth Murray (56). Gordon’s vision is on full display as he watches for how the rookie tries to leverage the gap and feels 52 creeping over. He cuts up off Glasgow’s left and Dalton Risner impedes two defenders long enough for Gordon to grab eight yards.

  • I thought Pat Shurmur made the right call dialing up a Gordon carry with 2:10 left in the first half. It’s been obvious for weeks that the Broncos ground game and specifically Gordon are the one consistent performer. With the two minute warning and two timeouts to spare, Fangio had flexibility with the clock and needed to be wary of giving Herbert too much time. At this point in the game his offense had just 71 passing yards across 15 attempts.

Facing 1st and 10 on the wrong side of midfield, the Broncos come out in the gun with 11 personnel. All the receivers are lined up in a trips formation to the left while Noah Fant is in a nasty split to the right of Wilkinson. L.A. comes out in a single high look and tilted over the trips set. With the strong safety dropping into a robber before the snap, Tevaughn Campbell’s defending a lot of grass.

That’s a lot of grass.

With Campbell out of the way and Fant locking horns with the defensive end, it came down to Risner to spring Gordon to a one on one with Jahleel Addae. The way Risner tightened his pathing behind Fant leads Kenneth Murray to work towards his right shoulder. This allowed Gordon to cut up between Risner and Fant and gives him the time to setup, then cut off Addae. Beautifully executed and Gordon finishes it carrying a bunch of baby blue jerseys.

  • I need to mention that I believe I’ve underestimated Fant’s growth as a blocker.
  • The Chargers defense hasn’t been good for the vast majority of the season and played the Broncos without their three best edge rushers and Derwin James. That said, the pass protection did a nice job. By my count, L.A. only pushed Lock off platform four times across 46 dropbacks and had a rusher impact him five other times. There were also a couple of times where Lock flushed early in part because Elijah Wilkinson vs. Demar Dotson reared it’s ugly head.

LA lines up with three of their four lineman left of Lloyd Cushenberry. On the snap 93 loops back towards the right as 98 crashes insides. While the right tackle picks up the late rusher, he allows him to show outside. Lock sees it and it effectively shuts down a rollout towards the right. The quarterback stops, scans back left and sees a hole between Risner and Bolles. He takes it.

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