The Denver Broncos suffered their third loss of the season Thursday night at the hands of the San Diego Chargers. The Broncos defense did very little to stand in the way of Ryan Mathews, Philip Rivers and the Chargers offense, but that's no reason to think that the defense is going to keep them out of the Super Bowl.
The obvious argument to Denver overcoming their porous defense is their elite offense.
The Chargers were able to limit that offense to just 21 minutes of possession. "We didn't have the ball much," said Peyton Manning via David Krause of 9News.com, "and when we had it, though, we didn't do enough with it."
Allowing the Chargers to run for 180 yards kept the Denver defense on the field. That proved to be the Chargers best option for containing Peyton Manning, as Jack Harry of KHSB.com tweeted:
Let's go beat the Raiders and this will get interesting. Denver defense was never good but giving up 180 yds rushing kept Manning on bench.— JACK HARRY (@JACKHARRYKSHB) December 13, 2013
Denver's defense wasn't that far off even against the Chargers. Had they made a couple third-down plays, it would be a different story.
"They made a lot of plays on third down, and that's the tale of this game, not getting off the field on third down," said linebacker Wesley Woodyard via Jeff Legwold of ESPN.com.
The Chargers success on third down isn't new, they are No. 1 in the league on third-down conversions.
The Broncos actually didn't do enough on offense. Thanks in large part to their 2-of-9 third-down conversion rate. Denver, however, didn't have Wes Welker, who leads the team with 18 receptions on third down.
The analysts on Fox Sports in the video below discuss Denver's inability and the Chargers' ability to convert on third down in the video below:
Welker is the difference maker for the offense. He causes matchup problems that force defenses to pick their poison between himself, Demaryius Thomas, Eric Decker, Knowshon Moreno and Julius Thomas. This would have been a different game with Welker, and the playoffs will go differently with him in the lineup.
Denver is ranked No. 1 in red zone TD percentage, but with Welker out they settled for a field goal on one possession Thursday. Welker isn't regarded as a red-zone threat, but he leads the league in receptions inside an opponent's 20-yard line.
Having Welker in for the playoffs will help the Broncos maintain their great third down and red zone percentages.
The Denver defense has had some injuries and shuffled some players into the lineup, but not much has changed. Luckily, the defense doesn't have to be great.
As Will Holden of KDVR.com writes they aren't that far away from a Super Bowl:
"When you consider the fact that five of the last seven Super Bowl champions have achieved the ultimate goal with defenses that allowed a combined average 22.44 points per game, the Broncos defense doesn't exactly look eons away. And when you consider that this year's Broncos are averaging 39.6 points per game on offense—compared to the 26.28 points those aforementioned five Super Bowl teams' offenses averaged—Denver's defensive deficiencies start to look iota-like in the grand scheme of things."
After Thursday's game, Denver's offense is still averaging 38.2 points per game.
And while some teams use a great defense to propel their offense, Denver will have to use a great offense to propel their defense. When teams start to fall behind Peyton Manning and the Broncos, they are forced to throw the ball regardless of their game plan.
It's a little easier to defend teams when you know what's coming.
Where Will Denver Finish This Season?
The reality is that Denver's offense is so good with Welker in the lineup that the defense just needs a couple third down stops, a turnover or a couple field goals over touchdowns to win ball games.
If Denver doesn't make it to the Super Bowl it will likely be because their offense didn't score 35 points, which would be under performing. That point total should be doable with Welker healthy.
And they're 9-0 when scoring 35 or more.