Brock Unimpressive In His Third Start
On the surface, the Denver Broncos 17-3 victory over the San Diego Chargers looks impressive. Two-score wins aren't easy to come by in the National Football League, especially in division rivalry games.
But the truth is, had the Broncos defense not played lights-out football on Sunday, the complexion of that game would have looked very different. After an impressive eight-play, 76-yard scoring drive to open the game, wherein he went 3-of-4 for 40 yards and a touchdown, quarterback Brock Osweiler fizzled.
Osweiler took risks with the ball. He tossed an endzone interception in the third quarter, protecting a 14-point lead, which didn't make his head coach very happy, but he's fortunate to have escaped with just the single turnover.
Chargers safety Eric Weddle dropped an easy interception, jumping a route down the left seam, which nine times out of ten, is not only picked off, but returned for a touchdown (nothing but green grass ahead).
Osweiler couldn't find a rhythm and held onto the ball too long, allowing the pass rush to get to him and the opposing secondary plenty of time to cover, read the QB and react. The inexperienced gunslinger is lucky he was only sacked once.
His mobility and ellusiveness helped save him from more. Moreover, the Broncos offense could only muster 10 points on the day, going against the No. 24 defense.
Osweiler took a small step backward in Week 13, but it wasn't drastic and it's not cause for alarm. After beating the defending Super Bowl champion New England Patriots last week, perhaps the fourth-year signal-caller started to buy into his own press clippings a tad too much.
Fortunately, the Broncos were able to sustain some drives and milk the clock, thanks to the running game, led by Ronnie Hillman's 56 yards on the ground. Denver finished with 134 total rushing yards but it likely would have been more, had C.J. Anderson not left with an ankle injury.
Yesterday's game showcased the learning curve of a young QB. In his own words, Osweiler admits that he's "learning so much" each and every game he starts. He's shown tremendous poise and playmaking ability, but now he must shoot for consistency for a full 60 minutes.
Hey, at least he's 3-0 as a starter.
Return To The Orange Rush
The Broncos defense played their most complete game as a unit Sunday, since the early stages of the regular season. Wade Phillips' unit held the Chargers to just 272 total yards and three points.
Considering how well Philip Rivers had played thus far, that was a remarkable feat. Rivers was sacked four times and pressured constantly. Von Miller was relentless in his pursuit of Rivers, as were his edge rushing compatriots — Shane Ray and Shaquil Barrett.
Malik Jackson was not credited with a sack, but he was a force in putting pressure on Rivers from the inside, flushing him into the arms of the Broncos edge rushers. Derek Wolfe was his usual self, blowing up running plays and controlling the line of scrimmage.
The Broncos held Rivers to just 202 yards passing and picked him off once. The interception was returned for a touchdown by Danny Trevathan, before he left the game with a concussion.
The Denver defense took the ball away three times and put seven points on the board. What's more, they did that missing three starters — OLB DeMarcus Ware, DT Sylvester Williams and SS T.J. Ward. Two of those guys were in the Pro Bowl less than a year ago.
One of the reasons the Broncos were so successful defensively was because of the back end. The Denver cornerbacks were stingy in their coverage and when a completion was made, Darian Stewart and David Bruton laid wicked hits, getting into the Chargers heads.
Speaking of Bruton, what a day he had covering Antonio Gates. Bruton was matched up on Gates one-on-one for most of the afternoon, limiting the eight-time Pro Bowler to six receptions for 50 yards.
Historically, Gates has had some of his biggest games against the Broncos. That didn't happen Sunday, because of David Bruton. Hats off to him, Darian Stewart, and the recently re-signed Josh Bush, who forced a fumble. An honorable mention to Omar Bolden, as well.
Offensive Line Gelling At The Right Time
The Broncos offensive line got off to a terrible start this season. They couldn't run the ball, nor protect the quarterback. It was a recipe for a season cut short by an early exit from the playoffs.
Yes, Brock Osweiler's influence has helped. The offense has finally been able to run the scheme that matches the technique the O-line has been learning and implementing going back to OTAs.
And there's little doubting that they've galvanized emotionally around their young QB. Averaging 161 yards rushing over the last three games is a major step in the right direction and a recipe for sustained success down the stretch and into the playoffs.
Max Garcia has filled in nicely for Vasquez and Mathis, when called upon. He played well last week and on Sunday in San Diego. Overall, the Broncos offensive fortunes, and the fate of their season, starts with the big boys up front.
They have turned the corner at the most opportune time.
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Chad Jensen is the Publisher of Mile High Huddle. You can find him on Twitter @ChadNJensen.