Chargers vs. Broncos: Live Game Grades and Analysis for San Diego

Kristopher KnoxFeatured ColumnistJanuary 12, 2014

DENVER, CO - DECEMBER 12:  Quarterback Philip Rivers #17 of the San Diego Chargers calls a play at the line of scrimmage during a game against the Denver Broncos at Sports Authority Field Field at Mile High on December 12, 2013 in Denver, Colorado.  (Photo by Dustin Bradford/Getty Images)
Dustin Bradford/Getty Images

The San Diego Chargers made things interesting late with a pair of fourth-quarter touchdowns and a successful onside-kick attempt, but ultimately fell short against the Denver Broncos.


Score: San Diego 17, Denver 24

San Diego Chargers Game Grades
Position UnitFirst-Half GradeFinal Grade
Pass OffenseFB
Run OffenseCD
Pass DefenseC-C
Run DefenseDD-
Special TeamsFC-
vs. Broncos Divisional Round


Game Analysis for the San Diego Chargers

Pass Offense: Quarterback Philip Rivers had a difficult time establishing an early rhythm due to an effective Denver pass rush and windy conditions. Drops by his intended targets did not help matters. After amassing just 20 yards passing in the first half, the Chargers were a little more aggressive in the second. Rivers especially came alive in the fourth quarter, when a large deficit forced the offense to take chances downfield. Rivers finished the game 18-of-27 for 217 yards and two touchdowns.

Run Offense: The San Diego rushing attack provided some production in the first half, though it was certainly nothing special. The Chargers were forced to play without starting back Ryan Mathews after halftime. Mathews provided just 26 yards on five carries before disappearing. Danny Woodhead added 29 yards on nine carries of his own.

Pass Defense: Denver quarterback Peyton Manning did not put on a deep-passing clinic by any stretch of the imagination, but he was extremely efficient and in command throughout the contest. Manning shredded the Chargers defense on short and intermediate routes and repeatedly drew offside penalties with his pre-snap shenanigans. He finished the game 25-of-36 for 230 yards with two touchdowns and an interception.

Run Defense: Manning was not asked to carry the load in this game because the Broncos established a strong rushing presence early and maintained it for four full quarters. This allowed Denver to keep the San Diego defense off-balance early and sustain long, clock-grinding drives late. Knowshon Moreno led the Broncos with 82 yards on 22 carries, while rookie Montee Ball added 52 yards on 10 rushing attempts.

Special Teams: San Diego endured a number of special teams miscues in the first half, including a huge Denver punt return and a missed field goal. A blocking penalty saved the Chargers from surrendering a touchdown on a fourth-quarter kickoff. On the bright side, the unit did successfully execute an onside kick that gave the team some life late in the fourth quarter.

Coaching: A conservative offensive game plan worked almost to perfection against the Cincinnati Bengals in the opening round of the postseason. Offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt tried the same tactic for the much of this contest with drastically different results. When the offense went into attack mode late, it had success. Had Whisenhunt called a more aggressive game from the beginning, the Chargers may have been able to come out on top.

Defensive coordinator John Pagano might want to spend a large portion of the offseason drilling a little discipline into his unit, which was frequently drawn offside. The fact that his unit allowed Broncos tight end Julius Thomas to run freely on Denver’s game-sealing drive was also puzzling.

DENVER, CO - JANUARY 12:  Keenan Allen #13 of the San Diego Chargers scores a fourth quarter touchdown against  Michael Huff #29 of the Denver Broncos during the AFC Divisional Playoff Game at Sports Authority Field at Mile High on January 12, 2014 in Den
Justin Edmonds/Getty Images



First-Half Analysis for the San Diego Chargers

Pass Offense: Due to some shaky pass protection and a lack of consecutive passing calls, Rivers had a difficult time getting into a rhythm early. Rivers finished the half just 5-of-8 for 20 yards.

Run Offense: The Chargers struggled to move the football on the ground early in the half, though they did manage to produce enough in the running game to maintain balance. Unfortunately, the overall offensive production was extremely lacking, and it will be interesting to see what kinds of adjustments are made at the break. Mathews and Woodhead combined for 45 yards on 11 carries, though 23 yards came on two separate runs.

Pass Defense: Containing Manning is never an easy task, and the Chargers struggled to do so during the first half. While Manning did not frequently test the San Diego secondary with deep passes, he was very efficient with short and intermediate throws. He also kept the San Diego defense off-balance (and often offside) by changing up the pre-snap count. On a positive note, the Chargers did manage to come away with an end-zone interception just before halftime. Manning went 11-of-16 for 100 yards with two touchdowns and the pick in the half.

Run Defense: The Chargers were mostly effective in combating the Denver ground attack during the first quarter, but they had trouble stopping it in the second. Ball led Denver with 39 yards on seven carries, while Moreno added 38 yards on 10 rushing attempts.

Special Teams: It was not a good half for the San Diego special teams unit. The punt coverage unit allowed a 43-yard return in the second quarter and kicker Nick Novak missed a 53-yard field-goal attempt. On the play, it appeared that Novak slipped on his approach to the football, which caused the kick to sail to the left.

Coaching: Leaning on the running game was effective last week against the Cincinnati Bengals. It didn’t work quite so well in the first half against Denver, but Whisenhunt stuck with the strategy anyway. Ineffective run plays on first and second down often put the Chargers in 3rd-and-long situations, which is not where the team wants to be in a game against the Broncos’ aggressive pass rush.

San Diego's use of two first-quarter timeouts was also questionable. Had they held onto them until after the second-quarter interception, the Chargers might have been able to take a chance on adding some points.