It’s no secret why the Broncos lost tonight.
The Chargers converted half of their third downs.
The Broncos converted only a whisper of two.
It’s really that simple. You can take the time of possession, the big plays, the stupid penalties—all of it pales in comparison to the fundamental fact that you can’t string a drive together without converting on third downs. Of course, the converse is also true. You can’t stop a drive without stopping your opponent on third down.
San Diego’s defense entered the game ranked dead last in overall efficiency according to Advanced NFL Stats, but they held Denver’s record-breaking offense to its lowest output of the season, in terms of both points and yards (295).
Their previous lows had been 27 points against KC in Week 11, and 397 yards against these same Chargers in Week 10.
Inactives: Broncos - Wes Welker, Champ Bailey, Derek Wolfe, C.J. Anderson, Chris Kuper, J.D Walton, Zac Dysert
Chargers - CB Johnny Patrick, SS Brandon Taylor, OT Kenny Wiggins, WR Lavelle Hawkins, OG Stephen Schilling, NT Kwame Geathers, and QB Brad Sorenson
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.
Peyton Manning can’t throw in cold weather—unless he can.
That’s the narrative now. Although the temperature hovered around a frigid five degrees for most of the game, the Broncos offense—and Manning in particular—created a blaze so hot, the Titans needed treatment for third-degree burns.
Make no mistake: the Broncos had two plans in this game. The first was to win the game, which they did handily, 51-28. The second was to send a message to the rest of the league: Peyton Manning can not only play in cold weather, he can torch you.
If you’re coming into Denver late in the year, you'd better believe in Santa Claus. That’s because Peyton Manning is Jack Frost.
Another day, another record-setting performance for the Broncos (11-2). Another year, another playoff berth for John Fox’s squad.
Last week, Eric Decker set a new team mark for touchdown receptions in a game. Sunday, in the Broncos’ 51-28 (Gamebook) win over the visiting Titans (5-8), they established new marks for both their team and the league, clinching their third straight playoff berth along the way.
Matt Prater hit a 64-yard field goal to break the record for the longest in league history, and the Broncos racked up 39 first downs, their most in franchise history.
Their 515 points are the most of any Broncos team; the prior record of 501 was set by the 1998 tite squad.
Inactives: Denver - Derek Wolfe, Champ Bailey, Ronnie Hillman, Trindon Holliday, J.D. Walton, Chris Kuper, Zac Dysert
Tennessee - WR Kenny Britt, TE Delanie Walker, WR Damian Williams, DB Micah Pellerin, T Byron Stingily, DE Lavar Edwards, QB John Skelton
Since it went so well, we decided to do it again. Tom also contributes to Football Outsiders, and we're pleased to work with him again, as we respect his work and thoughts about football.
Here are five questions that I asked, and Tom answered, about the Titans:
Q: The numbers suggest that the Titans pass defense is good. What have they been doing, and who is playing well in pass defense?
Wait, don’t the Chiefs win games like this at home?
Turning turnovers into touchdowns, taking kickoffs back for touchdowns, breaking off big runs—these are the things that define the Chiefs.
It doesn’t matter, not when Peyton Manning comes to town, even when Manning breaks bad for a quarter. Manning’s mind is just too good. His arm (no matter how wobbly the passes) simply follows.
The Broncos now stand in sole possession of first place in the AFC West; even better, they are in complete control of their own destiny. If they want the first seed, they can do more than wish for it for Christmas.