Facing a must-win game against the Los Angeles Chargers, the Denver Broncos put forth arguably their best performance of the season in a 28-13 victory that should have never been that close. If not for an injury to Teddy Bridgewater and a rather shaky call on Ronald Darby, the game could have turned into a true blowout. Instead, Broncos Country will have to “settle” for a 15-point victory.
Here’s a few of the things I noticed during my first watch through.
Fangio did a nice job keeping Herbert off balance
With an elite arm to go with 4.5 wheels, L.A.’s second year passer is the kind of talent that isn’t going to be completely shutdown in any game. To beat the Chargers, Denver had to make Justin Herbert’s job as tough as possible while they took care of their business in every other aspect. They did just that, and it’s a testament to Fangio’s defensive gameplan that it worked to perfection.
I’ll need to go over the all-22 if/when I get it to really zero in on what the Broncos did in coverage all game, but it looked like more true zone than they’ve used across the last three games. It meant more easy completions, but less chunk plays for Keenan Allen and Mike Williams. It also helped Simmons and the rest of the secondary keep an eye on Herbert for when the Chargers’ QB elected to scramble. Up front, Fangio did a fantastic job picking his spots with blitzes and mixed in a bunch of games with the ends and tackles, which is something L.A.’s line has struggled with all year.
The results speak for themselves. As a team L.A. finished with 72 yards rushing. Herbert was sacked three times, threw two picks (he could have had two others) and the Chargers went eight of 16 on third and fourth down and the offense scored all of 13 points.
Heck of a play by Caden Sterns to break this up pic.twitter.com/dAgSogcVe6— Joe Rowles (@JoRo_NFL) November 28, 2021
Rookies showed up in a big way
Caden Sterns earned his first start and spent most of the day invisible on the broadcast, which isn’t a bad thing when you play DB. Javonte Williams ran for a huge touchdown on third and long with Lock in the game and later pitched in a huge run after the catch to set up the Broncos’ first touchdown in the fourth quarter. Jonathon Cooper drew two holding calls and played an instrumental role in Stephen Weatherly’s sack in the second quarter. Quinn Meinerz was monstrous as a run blocker and when it came time to pass. While Baron Browning’s sack got wiped out by a dubious DPI on Ronald Darby, he also played airtight coverage for most of the afternoon.
Patrick Surtain II picks off Justin Herbert! pic.twitter.com/b6EDwbpjm9— Joe Rowles (@JoRo_NFL) November 28, 2021
There’s no doubt about it, it was a really nice day for George Paton’s first draft class.
Patrick Surtain with his II pick of the day and he scores a 70-yard touchdown! pic.twitter.com/KYStCLarqY— Joe Rowles (@JoRo_NFL) November 28, 2021
Justin Simmons was everywhere
The Broncos’ best player had a pick go right through his hands, but if you can forgive that you saw a safety who made plays from sideline to sideline today. Simmons was a constant presence against the run, broke up a Herbert pass or two, and helped the Broncos’ defense account for Justin Herbert’s scrambles.
If Denver only sends one player to the Pro Bowl it should be Justin Simmons.
Vic Fangio is the king of dumb challenges
Presented without comment:
Facing 3rd and 8, Justin Herbert vacates the pocket and scrambles for the sticks.— Joe Rowles (@JoRo_NFL) November 28, 2021
Vic Fangio challenged the play. pic.twitter.com/iBH0rFv2Mj
The Broncos backup OL > the Chargers backup OL
Before kickoff we learned Bobby Massie and Garett Bolles would miss the game and then Calvin Anderson and Dalton Risner got hurt during the contest. All the injuries meant the Broncos were asking Quinn Bailey and Cam Fleming to hold up against Joey Bosa while Netane Muti stepped into the right guard spot. It’s a testament to the whole offense as well as Shurmur that the Chargers finished the day with only one Drew Lock while Denver rolled to 147-yards rushing.
Meanwhile, the Chargers had Sergio Kelemete playing for Matt Feiler while Storm Norton earned his ninth start in place of Bryan Bulaga. Kelemete’s meltdown in the second half helped the Broncos defense keep Justin Herbert under wraps.
McTelvin Agim beats Kelemete on his way to a Justin Herbert sack. Broncos D holds up on 3rd down! pic.twitter.com/HQMvgIJBZy— Joe Rowles (@JoRo_NFL) November 28, 2021
Kelemete was so bad Agim was still making his presence felt on Herbert’s garbage time touchdown late in the fourth quarter.
As a fan base, we need to chip in ankle ligaments to Matt Feiler to come back next week https://t.co/TGKSukE5QX— Arjun Menon (@arjunmenon100) November 29, 2021
Lock’s interception was a 10-14 point swing
Throughout the first half Pat Shurmur did a solid job managing the offense despite playing fourth and fifth string tackles in front of a backup quarterback who routinely panics under duress. The Broncos’ offensive coordinator did so by leaning on Melvin Gordon and Javonte Williams, as well as a couple conservative pass plays that gave the quarterback simple reads.
The plan went about as well as you could reasonably hope until Denver wound up in a two-minute situation at the end of the first half. With limited time it makes little sense to go run-heavy because the clock is a factor, and without a legitimate rushing threat play action isn’t going to be an effective strategy. Drew Lock found himself in a “must-pass” situation, an opportunity to prove he still had the potential to blossom into a starting quarterback.
He failed miserably.
Facing 2nd and eight Shurmur dialed up a curl/flat concept to the right, an easy read for Lock. With the L.A. squatting on the routes Lock rolled out of a clean pocket, Joey Bosa was responsible for spying him and took the opportunity to close in, so Lock forced a throw to a covered Kendall Hinton. Easy interception for Derwin James. With three timeouts and Justin Herbert, the Chargers quickly marched down the field to score a touchdown and cut Denver’s lead to seven.
Might be the worst interception I've seen all season.— Joe Rowles (@JoRo_NFL) November 28, 2021
Horrific decision by Drew Lock. pic.twitter.com/QzFu8546Gj
Teddy Bridgewater made some brilliant business decisions
If there was ever a doubt that Bridgewater handily won the competition out of training camp, today should have put it to rest. The Broncos’ QB1 helped Denver strike first with an 11-yard scramble that ended in him diving for the pylon, and he gutted through a gimpy leg in the second half to revive the passing attack. It paid off in the fourth quarter when Bridgewater stiff armed Joey Bosa to stay alive long enough to find Eric Saubert for six.
First career TD for Eric Saubert!— Denver Broncos (@Broncos) November 28, 2021
: CBS pic.twitter.com/GZ6UDE9UXj
Final Thoughts (for now)
Beating L.A. means the Broncos are still alive in the playoff chase with six games to play. Five of the remaining games will come against AFC contenders, with a primetime showdown against the Kansas City Chiefs up next.
Let’s hope the Broncos are ready for Patrick Mahomes.