The Denver Broncos playoff hopes are dead, but that doesn’t mean there’s nothing to play for over the last two weeks of the year. The Broncos have now reached a point in the season where they’re fighting for a chance to avoid some rather dubious history. If Denver loses out they’ll finish with the fifth straight losing season, the longest streak since the 17-year stretch following the Broncos’ founding in 1960. A loss to the Los Angeles Chargers or Kansas City Chiefs would also break Fangio’s current tie with Lou Saban for most losses as head coach, which mean’s he’d own sole possession of the worst start in franchise history. So there’s more than pride at stake when the Broncos head to L.A. to spoil the Charger’s season.
To find out what’s ahead in the matchup, I reached out to Pro Football Focus and Guilty as Charged’s Arjun Menon for this week’s Cover 2 Broncos. What follows is a brief synopsis of the topics discussed.
Collabed with @tejfbanalytics to combine our QB rankings to show how much help each QB has gotten with how good they've been this season (per @PFF). Every rookie QB but Mac Jones in the bottom left with no help. Also, the entire 2020 QB class are in the top quadrants pic.twitter.com/eCF6GvgfVR— Arjun Menon (@arjunmenon100) December 28, 2021
- How will the NFL’s new Covid-19 policy impact the matchup?
The Texans upset the Covid-19 depleted Chargers last week. After they had to add Michael Davis to the reserve shortly before the game, their Covid list reached 14 players. Just a few of the other key pieces who missed the contest:
- Joey Bosa
- Corey Linsley
- Austin Ekeler
- Mike Williams
I don’t think we can talk about this week’s matchup without touching on the fact that the new Covid-19 policy could dramatically impact things.
Tuesday’s agreement between the NFL and NFL Players Association adopting the CDC’s new five-day rule (down from 10) for all positive cases (vaccinated and unvaccinated) if asymptomatic includes a few other terms that will alter the experience at team facilities, until the next change in the COVID protocols.
Chargers’ offense vs Broncos’ defense
- X-factor: What can Fangio do to slow down Justin Herbert?
- Austin Ekeler’s return from the Covid reserve is huge because LA’s backup backs have mostly struggled this season.
- If Williams can’t play the receiving corps. will turn to rookie Josh Palmer and whoever returns from the Covid-19 list (Jalen Guyton, Andre Roberts)
- The Broncos are sneaky good against tight ends this year, which could be huge in this game if Williams can’t play.
- In the first matchup this year the Broncos’ front took turns abusing Senio Kelemete, but Matt Feiler’s returned to health since. Will the pass protection be better this time around?
- Storm Norton vs. Malik Reed/Jonathon Cooper looks like a big matchup
- Chargers are quite good in the redzone. The Broncos have been about league average because their pass defense is pretty good, but they really struggle to stop opposing runners.
62% out of 11 - run on 26% of plays (4.7 YPC)
27% out of 12 - run on 59% of plays (5 YPC)
35 plays out of 21 (37% run, 3.8 YPC)
32 plays out 13 ( 66% run, 2.4 YPC)
11 plays out of 22 (100% run, .8 YPC)
- 3rd Overall
- 3rd by passing
- 12th rushing
- 17th ranked in variance (average-ish slight lean inconsistent)
- 8th by ALY
- Bad in power situations (22nd)
- Stuffs on 15% of runs
- 12th in second level
- 11th in open field
Adjusted Line Yard ranks by direction
- 12th off left end
- 4th off left tackle
- 7th mid/guard
- 25th off right tackle
- 11th off right end
- 27th in ALY - stuffs on just 12% of carries
- Broncos run defense is extremely weak off LT (31st) and M/G (32nd). Opponents run off LT 14.5% of the time, and between the tackles on 56.5% of all carries.
- Broncos rank 20th vs. WR1s, but they’re the best pass D vs. passes to the right in the league.
30th ranked redzone rush D. (Chargers are 6th best RZ O overall)
Chargers RUN CONCEPT USAGE and EPA
Broncos’ offense vs Chargers’ defense
- Broncos averaged 4 yards per play against one of the weakest defenses in the league. I went and looked at running backs with 100+ carries this season, 29 are averaging more than 4 yards per rush.
- The Broncos scored one touchdown from the 1 yard line after Bradley Chubb picked off Derek Carr. They did not enter the redzone the rest of the game against a Raiders defense down 3 DBs that ranked among the worst defenses in the league by DVOA and EPA.
- Despite 3 turnovers from LV O, they scored 13 points.
- What is up with the Pat Shurmur offense?
- With Lock in the offense cut out a bunch of horizontal leading routes and progressions. Curls gave Lock easy completions against cover 3, but hurt receivers’ opportunities for yards after completions.
- Around midfield Shurmur tends to call a lot of 2-route shot plays, which puts Denver behind the sticks if it doesn’t hit.
- Drew Lock had one of his better games despite really pedestrian total numbers overall. PFF ranked him as the 3rd best QB this past week. Bridgewater’s still in concussion protocol. Who is a scarier matchup for LA?
- Staley’s defense has had personnel issues all year. Outside of the Bengals game with some fluky plays, they haven’t had a good performance by DVOA since the trade deadline. What’s going the problem?
- Broncos need to find a way to effectively run the ball, or punish LA if they commit to stopping it.
- The Broncos OL was a complete train wreck against the Raiders. Will LA be able to heat up Lock/Bridgewater?
- How should Pat Shurmur attack this Chargers defense?
- The Broncos play a little less 90% of their snaps out of 11 or 12 personnel. The next most used grouping is 13, but they dabble in 21, and 22 and could use it in this game.
- Top 10 rushing o on second and third level by ALY
- Best running off LT and RT, about average M/G
- Best 3rd/4th down rushing O in NFL (Chargers worst)
- 25th overall
- 23rd pass
- 32nd run
- 13th in variance (consistent)
Chargers’ defensive front by Adjusted Line Yards
- 29th by ALY
- 26th in power success
- Stuffs on 12% of runs
- 28thth defending second level
- 16th defending open field
Adjusted Line Yard ranks by direction
- 15th off left end
- 10th off left tackle
- 30th mid/guard (61% of all opposing carries)
- 32nd right tackle
- 23rd right end
Chargers’ DVOA rank vs. receivers
- 31st vs WR1s
- 4th vs WR2s
- 6th vs WR3+
- 25th vs TEs
- 8th vs RBs
Chargers’ DVOA rank vs. pass direction
- 20st vs passes to left
- 9th vs passes to middle
- 18th vs passes to right
- 15th vs deep passes
- 20th vs short passes
- At least on paper this looks like a weak vs. weak matchup that could go either way.
Broncos special teams is a mess: 15 games into 2021 and the Broncos’ special teams are among the worst in football. What’s even more frustrating is that they’ve had huge blunders on every unit. Diontae Spencer’s muff in Kansas City cost the Broncos a touchdown and he’s among the least effective kickoff return men in the NFL. They’ve allowed a field goal block, they’ve given up a 102-yard kickoff return for a touchdown. They’ve been gashed by long punt returns, and they’ve allowed two blocks to get blocked in some fashion. had three punts come painfully close to getting blocked, Once against the Jets, and once against the Cowboys. They’re among the more penalized special teams in the league and it cost them a touchdown in the loss to the Steelers.
Chargers actually rank behind the Broncos’ in special teams DVOA.
Could this matchup decide the game?