Broncos vs. Chargers: 8 Takeaways from Denver's 28-20 Victory over San Diego
In a reversal of what the Broncos have become accustomed to, Denver's offense was hot out of the gate. The Broncos ran just three offensive plays before scoring their first touchdown of the game on a 74-yard catch-and-run by Julius Thomas. The Broncos scored 21 first-half points before going the final 26 minutes of the second half without scoring a single point.
Peyton Manning continued his torrid pace to the season, as he threw another four touchdowns without throwing a single interception.
In a game between elite quarterbacks, Manning got the better of Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers, as Rivers struggled to drive the Chargers into the end zone until it was too late.
The Broncos will face the undefeated Kansas City Chiefs (9-0) in Week 11 next Sunday night. What are eight takeaways from Denver's 28-20 victory over San Diego before they look ahead?
The Defense Made Plays When It Had To
For the second consecutive game, the defense held its end of the bargain.
Much maligned for its low defensive rankings, the defense has made plays all season long when it has had to due to the offense struggling.
The offense came out firing, scoring 21 points in the first half, including seven more points on the first drive of the second half, but went scoreless for the final 26 minutes of the game.
The Chargers offense moved the football well all game long and even controlled time of possession in the first half—22:39 to Denver's 7:21—but failed to score touchdowns on three scoring opportunities in the opening half. The Chargers came away with just two converted field goals.
When San Diego pulled within 28-20, the Broncos sacked Philip Rivers twice on the Chargers' final offensive drive, forcing San Diego to punt.
The defense may not lead any statistical categories, but it continues to complement the offense when the Broncos need it.
The Broncos Love Their Quick Pass Plays
Peyton Manning opened the Broncos' first drive of the game with a 74-yard touchdown pass to Julius Thomas out in the flats.
It was a simple pass-and-catch where Thomas was open and proceeded to outrun the Chargers defense for most of the 74 yards.
Manning would then hit Demaryius Thomas on a similar play to the flats later on in the first half before completing another touchdown pass to D-Thomas on a screen play to the left for the Broncos' fourth passing touchdown of the game.
The four-time NFL MVP is so adept at recognizing weaknesses of the opposing defense that the Broncos are able to convert short passing plays into long touchdowns.
The Chargers were not able to truly rough up Peyton and his receivers—if you fail to be physical with the Broncos offense, you have no chance of stopping it.
San Diego found that out the hard way in its 28-20 loss Sunday.
The Broncos Have Too Many Weapons
The Broncos have too many weapons.
It's as simple as that.
When you have a quarterback who is considered to be the greatest quarterback of his generation, to go along with four receivers who are capable of being 1,000-yard receivers in any offense, you get this result—an offense that is nearly unstoppable.
The Broncos came into this game averaging an NFL-record 42.9 points per game through the first eight games of the season. They did not come close to matching that, as the offense scored just 28 points in the Broncos' victory over the Chargers.
Although the offense slowed down as the game progressed, you can't ignore the results—another win, a four-touchdown performance by Peyton Manning and a three-touchdown performance by Demaryius Thomas.
Normally, a defense focuses all of its attention on shutting down an opposing team's No. 1 threat. You see it all of the time with the Arizona Cardinals' Larry Fitzgerald and the Detroit Lions' Calvin Johnson.
You can't do that with the Broncos.
If you decide to shut off Wes Welker by putting an extra defensive back on him, Julius Thomas will take advantage. If you decide to shut off Eric Decker with an extra man, D-Thomas will make your single coverage pay.
The Broncos offense just has too much talent.
In the NFL, having too much talent is never a bad thing.
Philip Rivers Is a Good QB, but Peyton Manning Is a Great One
Philip Rivers entered this game having quite possibly the best eight-game start to his NFL career.
Rivers entered Sunday's contest versus the Broncos leading the league in completion percentage, along with ranking third in passer rating.
As Broncos safety Rahim Moore stated about Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers, per Mile High Report: "Never count him out. Every time you look up, he's always having 300, 400-yard passing [games]. His quarterback rating is 106.5-that's outstanding. So he's getting better and it's showing on film."
Sunday wasn't one of those 300- or 400-yard passing games for Rivers.
The four-time Pro Bowl quarterback had a solid overall game—he went 19-of-29 for 218 yards and a touchdown. Good, not great numbers.
What did the quarterback on the other side of the field do?
Peyton Manning went 25-of-36 for 330 yards and four touchdowns.
Outside of the strong play of Denver's defense, that was the main difference in this game. Rivers is a good quarterback, whereas Manning is a great one.
Manning and Rivers do the same things on offense—they are both veteran quarterbacks who have the leeway to call their own plays and audible whenever they choose.
Rivers controls his offense well—he's just no Manning when it pertains to controlling an offense.
Quite frankly, no quarterback is.
Mike McCoy Came in with the Perfect Plan, but the Chargers Did Not Execute
Former Broncos offensive coordinator and current Chargers head coach Mike McCoy knows a thing or two about Peyton Manning.
McCoy coached Manning and the Broncos offense to a 13-3 record and the second-best offense in all of the NFL in 2012. Having firsthand experience coaching Manning on a day-to-day basis for an entire season, McCoy knew what the Chargers needed to do to beat Manning and the Broncos—keep the four-time NFL MVP off of the field.
McCoy and the Chargers offense did just that. The Chargers offense controlled the time of possession for nearly 23 minutes of the first half.
The problem is, it didn't execute.
While Denver's offense was rarely on the field, when it was on the field, it was scoring touchdowns in quick bunches—the Broncos scored three touchdowns in the first half. None of those drives lasted longer than two minutes and 27 seconds.
That is the first indication of failure to execute the game plan.
The second indication of failure to execute was the offense's performance. It's nice that the Chargers racked up the yards versus the Broncos, reaching inside the Broncos' 25-yard line on three different occasions. However, when you score just six points on two field goals out of those drives versus a Manning-led offense, you have no chance of winning.
The Chargers came in with the perfect game plan, but as The Denver Post's Mike Klis stated: "Mike McCoy understands: You can have the perfect plan. But without the execution..."
Broncos Continue to Struggle with Fumbles
Peyton Manning had an excellent game yet again on Sunday.
His one blemish?
Yet another fumble lost. It was Manning's seventh fumble of the season and fifth lost fumble—career highs in both categories, and we're just nine games into the season.
Various Broncos players have had problems fumbling the football this season. Montee Ball struggled through it in the preseason and in the beginning of the regular season. Ronnie Hillman has fumbled the football throughout his first two seasons in the NFL, and since his most recent fumble versus the Indianapolis Colts in Week 7, he hasn't played since.
But Manning may be the most fumble-prone of any Broncos player this season.
Broncos left tackle Chris Clark got cleanly beat around the edge by Chargers linebacker Tourek Williams, but Manning should have had the sense that Williams was on his heels. Manning decided to attempt to throw the football before his arm moved forward, and Williams forced the fumble inside the Broncos' 20-yard line.
The fumble led to a Chargers touchdown on San Diego's next offensive drive.
In order for the Broncos to continue in their pursuit of improving week to week, they must cut down on the turnovers.
Broncos Will Be Fine with Jack Del Rio as Head Coach
Broncos head coach John Fox continues to recover from surgery, as there is no definitive timetable on his return.
Jack Del Rio, who coached the Jacksonville Jaguars for nine seasons before arriving in Denver as the defensive coordinator last season, will coach the Broncos in the meantime.
Fox shouldn't rush into returning—not just for health reasons, but because the Broncos will play just fine under Del Rio.
The Broncos are such a stacked squad. When you combine the fact that Del Rio has head coaching experience and was an NFL player himself, he is the perfect replacement for Fox on a short-term basis.
Peyton Manning is essentially an offensive coordinator himself. The offense won't suffer much in Fox's absence, and Del Rio can continue to focus most of his efforts on improving the defensive side of the ball.
The Broncos will not miss a beat with Del Rio as interim head coach.
Broncos Will Be Heavy Favorites vs. Chiefs
The Denver Broncos host the visiting Kansas City Chiefs (9-0) in Week 11 in front of a national television audience.
In a game between two AFC West rivals and the best teams in the AFC, one would believe the Chiefs would be the favorites entering the game, considering they're undefeated, right?
The answer is no.
The Broncos are still the best team in the NFL. With the Broncos playing at home and the Chiefs finally facing a real quarterback (sorry, Chiefs fans), Kansas City will face an uphill battle versus the Broncos.
In order for the Chiefs to upset the Broncos at Mile High, Kansas City will need its No. 1 defense to not only pressure and rattle Peyton Manning, but also to force turnovers in order to help its offense score points.
It's easy to do versus teams that are led by Jeff Tuel at quarterback, but we'll see if the Chiefs have it in them to do so versus the best quarterback in the game today, Peyton Manning.