Earlier today, we got refamiliarized with San Diego's offense. Let's check in on the defensive personnel, plus consider some ideas for how the Broncos can complete a season sweep of the Chargers.
Defensive line - San Diego’s line has begun to come together, but they’re still not the team's strongest link. Third-year right end Corey Liuget (94) struggled early in the season with a shoulder injury, but he now has 4.5 sacks, and according to PFF, zero missed tackles. He has also committed six penalties and has struggled at times to get to the running back.
If he gets there, he doesn’t miss, but his lateral movement needs to improve. Luiget also has the most QB pressures on the team, with only 27 - that’s the lowest production from a team leader in the league.
Thursday night, the Broncos will host the Chargers and attempt to win their 11th straight divisional matchup. The two teams first met in Week 10, when Denver jumped out to a 28-6 third-quarter lead thanks to three straight touchdown passes from Peyton Manning to Demaryius Thomas, and then held on for a 28-20 victory.
While the media has overstated the ‘guarantee’ of a win that Mike McCoy supposedly promised for Thursday, the Chargers would no doubt relish the chance to be spoilers of the Broncos’ drive for a Super Bowl berth.
The Broncos celebrated the first day of December with a brilliant come-from-behind 35-28 victory over the Chiefs, and now control the AFCW and their own destiny for playoff seeding.
After customarily deferring possession on the opening kickoff, Denver had to weather KC's emotional level of play in the first half, falling behind 21-7, but getting to within a touchdown late in the second quarter.
They went three-and-out on their next series, but starting with the second-half kickoff, the Broncos sucked the life out of Arrowhead with three consecutive long touchdown drives - of 80, 92, and 95 yards.
Don’t you love life’s little ironies?
Just moments after Cris Collinsworth had long-windedly and orgasmically extolled the brilliance of Chiefs RT Eric Fisher (#72) during Denver's 27-17 Week 11 win, Derek Wolfe notched his fourth sack of the season by ragdolling Fisher. It happened with 9:35 left in the third quarter, and KC’s Alex Smith (#11) playing from the shotgun.
Since before he was drafted, I have liked Fisher’s play, and I enjoy watching his work. He’s learning quickly enough as a rookie for me to expect that at some point he’s going to take over the left tackle position from Branden Albert, just in view of his play so far. That doesn’t make his first year in the pros any less of a learning experience, though - every player has rookie moments.
During Sunday night's win over the Chiefs, Rahim Moore departed with a leg injury that reportedly had the Broncos' medical staff baffled. Today’s information clears up what occurred, and how Moore will be cared for.
It turns out that Rahim had lateral compartment syndrome, and underwent emergency surgery on Monday morning to correct the dangerous condition.
A compartment syndrome will occur when the muscles swell too much, putting pressure on the surrounding sheath of fascia (connective tissue) and, in some cases, impinging on the local nerves. That muscle swelling is usually linked to bleeding into the fascial compartment.
During Jack Del Rio's first training camp as the Broncos' defensive coordinator, the players laughingly called him ‘The 12th Man’ because of how often he bounded onto the field to demonstrate where he wanted people and what he wanted them to do; his enthusiasm for the game is endless.
Wesley Woodyard said that anyone on the defense would run through a wall for the man.
A year and a half later, JDR is stepping into John Fox’s job on an interim basis while Fox recovers from surgery to replace a defective heart valve. Most of the simple, day-to-day things such as practices will almost certainly continue to be run pretty much the same way.
The Broncos took on Mike Shanahan’s squad in Week 8, and Washington did well to keep themselves in the game for three quarters, before the proverbial roof fell in on them. Denver's habit of finding their adjustments at and after halftime made another furious resurgence, and they put up 31 points in the fourth quarter alone.
Moderately Obscure Fact - Shanny's team has two former Broncos starting on the offensive line: former center Kory Lichtensteiger is at left guard (6-2, 284), and Tyler Polumbus is at right tackle. Tyler’s listed at 6-8 and 305 lb, which is light for a tackle (and it shows at times when he’s blown off the ball). He did fairly well in pass pro, with only one QB hit and a hurry, but his run blocking wasn’t sharp. This is a case where his stats matter less than how he played - this should give you an idea of what I mean.
There has been no shortage of exceptional special team players with the Denver Broncos this year. Among them is linebacker Steven Johnson, currently second to Jacob Tamme with four tackles and an assist.
Johnson's signature play of the season was his Week 4 blocked punt and touchdown return against the Eagles that resulted from two factors: a quick explosion off the snap to the right side of Eagles long snapper Jon Dorenbos (46), and blown blocking assignments by the offensive line. Let's take a detailed look at what happened.
As you'll see below, the Eagles put four men on the offensive right - the special teams guard and tackle, plus two more - running back Chris Polk (32) and safety Colt Anderson (30). Johnson makes his charge through the A gap between the center and right guard - the guard is ‘covered’ (looking directly at) by Johnson but blocks down (to his own right) on Adrian Robinson (57) while the snapper blocks to his left, making Johnson's charge up the middle easier.
In an effort to learn more about their offensive line, I put on some tape of Jacksonville this week. It didn’t take long to know that I was watching a terrible group, especially when it comes to run blocking. It’s making the work of RB Maurice Jones-Drew much, much harder.
They’re slightly better against the pass, but their quarterbacks - Blaine Gabbert and Chad Henne - aren’t playing well. I don’t have any qualms about saying that the Broncos are likely to run roughshod over this OL.
Gabbert played hurt early in the season, but then gave in to a hamstring injury, leaving the team’s leadership to Henne; he isn't the answer either. Both QBs played in the Week 5 loss at St. Louis, with Gabbert leaving after he felt the hamstring ‘pop’. Henne will start tomorrow against the Broncos.
Trindon Holliday may be Denver's brightest special-teams star, but he's far from their only one. Let's check in on how the rest of the Broncos' third unit is faring:
Denver's coverage units have rebounded from a brutal preseason - during which they allowed 15.3 return yards per punt and 42.6 per kickoff - and cut those numbers to 11.8 yards and 24.2 yards, respectively.
They've achieved this by doing an excellent job of staying in their lanes in coverage.