The Denver Broncos won ugly in Week 10 as they defeated the San Diego Chargers 28-20 at Qualcomm Stadium. The Broncos' offense has performed like a well-oiled machine so far this year, but they had trouble moving the ball in the second half this week.
They scored 21 of their 28 points in the first half against the Chargers. They did this despite only having the ball for seven minutes and 31 seconds. San Diego employed a game plan that called for a ball control offense to keep Peyton Manning and the offense on the sidelines.
That would have worked except for the fact that Denver's offense made big plays in the limited time they were on the field. Manning threw for 330 yards and four touchdowns this week, but most of that damage was done in the first half.
The Broncos had scored 30 or more points in 11 straight regular-season games entering Sunday. That was the third-longest streak in league history. Against the Chargers in Week 10, however, they failed to reach that mark, scoring a season-low 28 points.
In the last two games, Manning had completed 58.1 percent of his passes to Demaryius Thomas, Wes Welker and Eric Decker. Manning completed 73.6 percent of such passes in the first six games of the season.
On Sunday Manning was slightly better, targeting his top three receivers. He finished the game with 61.9 percent completion to the talented trio.
Manning lost a fumble against the Chargers on a sack. That was the lone turnover of the day for the Broncos. That mark stopped the streak the team was on. They had turned the ball over three times in three straight games entering Sunday.
Beating the Chargers extended their winning streak of eight straight divisional games. This was the Broncos' longest streak since 1997-98 when they won 11 straight games.
The Broncos have now won seven straight road divisional games, beating the franchise record of six that was set during the 1976-77 season.
This game was the 300th win under owner Pat Bowlen. He becomes the first owner in the NFL to reach that mark in the first 30 years of owning a franchise.
After the game, interim head coach Jack Del Rio talked about Bowlen and the Broncos win.
This is Mr. Bowlen’s 300th win in 30 years. What a tremendous atmosphere he created for us to work in. No wonder he’s been this successful, just based on the way he treats everybody. I am very appreciative of that. It was a good hard-fought game. This is a divisional game against a team that’s been in all eight games. They’ve had a chance to win all eight games. We knew they’d have plenty of resolve, plenty of fight to win here. Last year they had us up at halftime. This year we had control at halftime and then we made enough plays to close it out late. Not everything was exactly how you’d like it but I thought it was a good divisional win.
Although the Broncos offense had some struggles in the second half, the defense continues to improve each week.
Entering Sunday the team was allowing an average of 27.3 points per game, tied for 25th in the NFL. Against the Chargers, they only allowed 20 points, and they seemed to be playing with a chip on their shoulders.
Part of that inspiration has been the return of linebacker Von Miller. He's an elite pass-rusher who has bulked up and become a better run defender this year. The team is playing much better since Miller returned from his six-game suspension.
Miller talked about the team's chemistry after the game.
"We have great guys in the locker room," he said. "All the guys continue to stand on each other, support each other and keep on working together.”
Check out the grades for each Broncos player against the Chargers.
Cecil Lammey is a B/R Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotations in this article were obtained firsthand. Record information was provided via email from the Denver Broncos.
Peyton Manning: A
Manning was nearly unstoppable in the first half against the Chargers on Sunday. On the third play of the game, he connected with tight end Julius Thomas for a 74-yard touchdown.
Manning reached 3,000 yards and 30 touchdowns on the season. His 15 seasons with 3,000 passing yards and his eight years with 3,000 yards and 30 touchdowns each rank second in NFL history behind Brett Favre.
He tossed four touchdowns against the Chargers, three of them going to wide receiver Demaryius Thomas. The Broncos have employed shorter routes to attack defenses underneath. This helps Manning get rid of the ball quickly and helps protect him from the pass rush.
The Broncos need to do a better job of that going forward because Manning got beat up against the Chargers. He was only sacked twice, but he was under duress for many plays in the second half.
Manning had two injured ankles entering the bye week and seemed to get re-injured late in the game. He has an MRI scheduled on Monday to check his health status.
After the game, Manning discussed why he scheduled an MRI.
"That’s just what the doctor said. I had one a couple weeks ago and because I took a couple of hits today it’s just kind of an update to see what it says so I’m hoping for no change."
Knowshon Moreno: B
The veteran is the most trusted back on the roster. He was running strong against the Chargers but only finished with 15 carries for 65 yards on the ground. Giving Moreno the ball a few more times might be wise as the team tries to better protect a lead (and Manning) going forward.
Moreno finished with the most catches of any Broncos receiver on Sunday. His eight catches were good for 49 yards. He caught all eight passes on which he was targeted.
Montee Ball: C+
The rookie continues to play more in recent weeks. He didn't see nearly enough playing time in the second half.
Ball was looking good on his five carries for 20 yards. I was surprised the team didn't try to feature him more in the second half.
Using Ball more does a couple of things. First, it gives him valuable experience and playing time. Second, his running style can wear down an opposing defense. This could be something the Broncos address moving forward.
C.J. Anderson: N/A
We saw Anderson active over Ronnie Hillman for the second game in a row; however, we only saw Anderson on punt team, as he received no carries in the backfield.
Demaryius Thomas: A+
The Chargers had a difficult time stopping Thomas on Sunday. Thomas scored three touchdowns and finished the game with 108 yards receiving.
This was the first time a Broncos receiver scored three touchdowns in a game since former Broncos tight end Shannon Sharpe caught three scores (against the Chargers) in 2003.
Thomas can beat defenses in a number of different ways. The Broncos love to use him on short passes and wide receiver screens where he can showcase his elite run-after-the-catch ability.
He is also a great red-zone receiver due to his size, wingspan and leaping ability. Thomas will also get open on deep routes if the team needs him to.
Wes Welker: B-
The connection between Welker and Manning is strong; however, against the Chargers, Welker had his lowest season total for catches and yards.
Welker finished the game with only three catches for 21 yards. This was also the second game of the season where Welker did not score a touchdown.
Expect the Broncos to emphasize Welker more next week against the Chiefs.
Eric Decker: B-
Against the Chargers we saw Decker make some clutch catches; however, we also saw him drop key passes on third down.
Decker is a fine receiver but drops have plagued him this year. He needs to improve that part of his game.
Andre Caldwell: D
Once again, Caldwell only got a small handful of snaps in the game. He dropped the only pass on which he was targeted. Manning tried to hit Caldwell on a wide receiver screen, but the pass fell to the ground. Caldwell won't get many targets, so he must take advantage when his number is called.
Julius Thomas: A+
Before the game, Thomas called himself a game-time decision due to the ankle injury that slowed him down during the week of practice. His ankle looked more than fine on the third play of the game when Manning found Thomas open on the right sideline and the big tight end ran 74 yards for a touchdown.
Thomas finished the game with three catches for 96 yards. Manning targeted him five times against the Chargers and Thomas made most of them count. He is proving most every week that he is an emerging star on the NFL scene.
Virgil Green: C
The team uses Green mostly as a blocker, and he does a fantastic job in that part of his job. Green helps jump start the ground game with his blocking ability.
Green does not get used much in the passing game for the Broncos, but he did haul in his lone target against the Chargers, good for a gain of four yards.
He gets an average grade here because of one missed block on a pass play that allowed Manning to get smashed after the throw. Green is a devastating run blocker, but he still needs to work on his pass protection.
Joel Dreessen: N/A
Dreessen didn't see the field much with Thomas healthy. He continues to be a quality reserve tight end.
Jacob Tamme: N/A
Like Dreessen, Tamme didn't see the field much against the Chargers. He gives them valuable veteran depth at the position.
Chris Clark: D
Clark has fallen off a bit after starting out as a strong replacement for All-Pro left tackle Ryan Clady. Teams are now targeting Clark with elite edge rushers, and he's struggling to protect Manning.
His footwork is the problem. Clark will rise out of his stance quickly, but he fails to move his feet fast enough to stonewall pass rushers.
The team may have to start putting a tight end on the same side as Clark to help him protect Manning. They could also choose to keep a running back in to chip any player who gets by Clark.
Either way, the Broncos need to make this priority number one. Protecting Manning and giving him time to throw is their key to winning the Super Bowl.
Zane Beadles: B+
Although Beadles had been struggling for the last few games, he turned things around against the Chargers.
Beadles did a good job in one-on-one matchups. He showed off his functional strength by standing his ground in the middle.
While Clark continued to struggle, Beadles made the correct adjustments to his game to play better.
Manny Ramirez: A
J.D. Walton was inactive for this game, as Ramirez has cemented himself as the starting center for this team. He continues to play well, and Ramirez does his best to help the guards next to him.
Middle pressure is devastating for a quarterback, and Ramirez makes sure Manning is not getting pressure up the middle that often.
Louis Vasquez: A
Vasquez returned to San Diego to play his old team, and he did a fantastic job. His functional strength is elite as he regularly pushes defenders out of the way.
Orlando Franklin: B-
Franklin struggled a bit early in this game, but as the game went on, he improved his play. He struggles with edge rushers at times, but Franklin is a quick study.
He'll do a great job adjusting to an opponent's moves as the game goes on, which allows him to anticipate what moves might be coming on any snap.
Franklin is a road grader when it comes to run blocking. He will blast open holes on the right side when asked to do so.
Robert Ayers: C
Ayers can set the edge as a run defender with ease. He did a good job of keeping contain and hazing backs to the inside.
He finished the game with only one tackle but also added one quarterback hit. Ayers does a good job each week of helping collapse the pocket.
Derek Wolfe: B
Wolfe had a strong game against the Chargers. His relentless style works well as a pass-rusher who can create middle or edge pressure.
Wolfe finished the game with one sack and one quarterback hit. His push in the middle helps create chaos that frees up edge rushers on the outside.
Malik Jackson: C+
Jackson lacks polish to his game, but he's incredibly effective as a part-time player. Although his moves aren't sharp, Jackson's motor is elite.
He continues to grind against opponents as the game goes on. Jackson is incredibly strong and does a good job of tossing players out of his way.
He finished the game with three tackles, including one for a loss.
Kevin Vickerson: B+
"Big Vick" had a great game against the Chargers. In the first quarter he batted a pass from Philip Rivers to the ground.
He was stout against the run as well. On a second-quarter carry by Ryan Mathews, he quickly closed the hole and violently tackled the runner to the ground.
Vickerson's lone bad play was one he immediately regretted. In the first quarter, it seemed like Vickerson had two arms wrapped around Rivers for a sack, but Rivers writhed away and continued to play.
Terrance Knighton: B
Knighton did a great job of collapsing the pocket against the Chargers. His strength, understanding of leverage and hustle help him wreak havoc in the middle.
He finished the game with two tackles and one sack against the Chargers.
Mitch Unrein: C
Unrein is one of the best part-time players on the Broncos. He didn't play many snaps but finished with one tackle on Sunday.
Von Miller: A
Miller's return has greatly helped this team. His presence on the outside takes a lot of attention from the opposing offensive line.
He is an elite level rusher who can create pressure with great regularity. That's what he did against the Chargers on Sunday. Miller only had one sack, but he was constantly swirling around Philip Rivers.
Miller has also added weight to become an even more effective run defender.
Shaun Phillips: A
Phillips returned to San Diego to play against his old team and had an outstanding game.
Like Miller, Phillips is an outstanding edge rusher who can put a quarterback under duress early and often.
He finished with one sack against the Chargers.
In the locker room after the game, Phillips downplayed his return to San Diego.
“It’s nothing different," he said. "It’s business as usual. Two end zones, two sidelines; you just got to play football. Even if we were playing in Denver or on a high school football field, it’s just business as usual.”
Wesley Woodyard: B
Woodyard would have gotten a better grade here had it not been for a couple of bad plays. He's a great run defender who can sniff out a play quickly.
Woodyard has the ability to scrape and flow to a play. He'll avoid bigger blockers on his way to the ball carrier; however, he struggles in coverage at times. The Chargers were able to take advantage with tight end Antonio Gates.
Woodyard should hard to improve this area of his game.
Danny Trevathan: C-
Trevathan has been an outstanding player for the Broncos defense this year. He was less than outstanding against the Chargers, though.
The Chargers went out of their way to pick on Trevathan, and it worked. He was burned by running back Danny Woodhead on a touchdown catch in the third quarter.
Earlier in the game, he was taking bad angles and getting washed out of run plays. Trevathan needs to play with better control moving forward.
He'll be able to learn a lot about his deficiencies from this contest.
Nate Irving: C
With the return of Miller, Irving is back to being a part-time player. He was injured in this game with what the team is calling a shoulder injury.
Chris Harris: C
None of the Broncos cornerbacks had a great day. Harris was around the ball but dropped what could have been a pick-six in the first quarter.
He covered several different players but was focused on keeping Eddie Royal from having a big day. Harris did that but struggled when asked to cover Antonio Gates.
Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie: C+
Rodgers-Cromartie did not start against the Chargers. It was not a coach's decision that bumped him from the starting lineup, it was his decision.
After the game Rodgers-Cromartie told Mike Klis from The Denver Post why there was a change to the lineup. The veteran said he felt it was better if Quentin Jammer started the game in his return to San Diego.
When on the field he did a good job of playing with physicality. That aggressive style, however, cost him with a second-quarter pass interference penalty on a pass intended for Vincent Brown.
Quentin Jammer: C
Jammer seemed to be energized by the surprise start. He also was energized by the return to San Diego.
“It felt great, especially with a win," he said. "I don’t know what I would have felt without a win.”
That energy got the best of him with an early game holding penalty when Jammer was covering Gates. Like Harris, Jammer also dropped an interception that could have been returned for a touchdown.
Kayvon Webster: C-
Webster is always looking for the big hit. Without safety Duke Ihenacho on the field, Webster becomes the team's top enforcer in the secondary.
The rookie, however, needs to wrap up on a tackle in addition to delivering a big hit. Keenan Allen kept beating Webster on inside slant routes late in the game.
Webster's best play was a touchdown-saving swat on a pass intended for Vincent Brown in the end zone.
Rahim Moore: B
While cornerbacks struggled against the Chargers at times, it was Moore who was left to clean up. He did a good job as the last line of defense for the Broncos.
Moore was able to knock one pass away in addition to making a couple of tackles for the Broncos on Sunday.
Mike Adams: C
Without Duke Ihenacho in the lineup, we saw Adams get the start. His nerves got the best of him early as he failed to wrap up Ryan Mathews on a first-quarter run.
Mathews again got the best of Adams in the second quarter. When Mathews got to the second level the young running back stiff-armed Adams out of his way on a big gain.
David Bruton: C
Bruton saw an increase in playing time without Ihenacho in the lineup. He responded by getting a couple of tackles in a part-time role.
Trindon Holliday: B
Holliday failed to make a huge impact in this game, but he did hold onto the ball. He finished with four kick returns for 103 yards and two punt returns for six yards.
Matt Prater: A
Prater was perfect on all four extra-point attempts against the Chargers.
Britton Colquitt: A
Colquitt punted the ball five times for 233 yards. His longest punt of the day went for 59 yards.