The Broncos played most of the first half as if they were still hung over from the Miami game. Aside from the first drive, the offense was fairly ineffective. The defense started to take over the last five minutes or so of the half, and in the second half, the defense just plain took over the game. The offense finally came alive on the last drive to punch the ball in and seal the deal.
However, it's still a major concern that the Broncos turned the ball over twice in the red zone, and two other times started on San Diego's side of the 50 and couldn't put points on the board. The other big concern was the number of points left on the field. The offense is going to have to produce if KC is to be beaten.
This game is definitely one that can be built upon. The defense has started to define and exert itself, and that's going to be key for future games. The offense is starting to come together as well. But this is a very crucial game coming up against KC next Monday night, so I hope the entire team will increase its intensity leading up to the game.
It took a while (OK, most of the game) to really show up. The first and last drives of the games were vintage Broncos drives and showed what they're capable of. One thing that should be kept in mind is that the Chargers have an outstanding defense against the run, and a decent one against the pass. The keys here were that quarterback Jake Plummer turned it on when he had to, and the running game, particularly behind Ron Dayne, also turned it on when it was needed most (and that fourth-and-one pitch late in the game was a thing of beauty!).
Speaking of Dayne, I suspect we'll see more of him. Anderson mentioned, in a post-game interview I heard, that his fumble was at least partly caused by the extra pad over his ribs, and while Anderson did some great open-field running after catches, Dayne made the hard yards in the fourth quarter when they were really needed. So as long as Anderson is wearing that pad (most of the season, I would guess), Dayne will get his opportunity to show his stuff.
Other positives: Wide receiver Ashley Lelie was much more involved, particularly in the short passes, and wide receiver Charlie Adams is coming on strong (I really like his ability to get open). One name that was really missing was Darius Watts, although he did have a crucial catch in the second half. Rod Smith was, well, Rod Smith. I'm sure he could kick himself over the pass he let go right through his hands, but he remains the most dependable receiver on the roster. It was good to see the tight ends getting into the game, they're difference-makers. And who says Jeb Putzier can't block? His blocking is way improved over last season; I noticed he wiped out defenders at some important times.
Last, I think we need to acknowledge the offensive line play, particularly in the fourth quarter. It seemed as if they were just starting to click, and suddenly they were opening huge holes over the left side. By and large, they also gave Plummer good protection through most of the game.
They gave up too many yards in the large part of the first half, but this defense came out in the second half and dominated as a Denver defense hasn't done in a long while. Champ Bailey, John Lynch, Ian Gold, Al Wilson, Trevor Pryce, Williams (both of them, D.J. and Darrent), heck, just about everybody came out and played with a tremendous intensity. San Diego running back LaDanian Tomlinson was shut down (I think he gained 12 yards on his last 11 carries). Tight end Antonio Gates had several catches but none that was a real game-turner. Quarterback Drew Brees was under pressure a lot during the last five minutes of the first half and most of the second half.
It was great to see the defensive line finally get pressure on Brees (and some sacks) on their own without the benefit of a blitz. It's SO important to hear names like Gerard Warren, Courtney Brown, Pryce and Jon Engleberger (he's going to turn out to be a HUGE steal, especially given who the Broncos gave up to get him) mentioned prominently. And where did Demetrian Veal come from (the kid has speed!)?
The linebackers showed why they deserved the preseason accolades they were receiving as possibly the best group in the NFL. Wilson and Gold especially had monster games (I love Gold's intensity and speed), but D.J. Williams showed he's not going to be just a one-year wonder.
Finally, but far from least, are the defensive backs. Bailey's game speaks for itself - and he's the guy who, this time last week, was being lamented as being lost for a couple weeks. I look for Darrent Williams to put Lenny Walls on the bench by midseason. The more I see of Williams, the more I think he could be the steal of the second round, and I suspect a lot of teams are going to wish they had taken him instead. The safeties had good games, with Nick Ferguson bouncing back well after a questionable game against Miami. And who says Lynch has lost some speed? Bet Brees doesn't think that today...
Special Teams: B
Jason Elam is going to miss field goals, period. That happens. But he showed he has a short memory, because the game winner was kicked in as much a pressure cooker as you'll find in the regular season. The kickoffs were MUCH improved (why the heck is kicker Paul Erstner still getting a paycheck from the Broncos?). And no discussion of special teams would be complete without more kudos for Darrent Williams. He did show just a bit of tendency to run backwards on a kick or two (you can see that's much better than it was a few weeks ago), but he's turned the kick receiving game VERY exciting again. It may be a bit early to mention his name alongside Rick Upchurch, but this is how Upchurch started out, too.
I though this was a day-and-night comparison to last week. The coaching staff had a better game plan, they called better plays in the right situation, and they did a much better job of making adjustments when they needed to. I also have to say it again: that 4th down play late in the game was a thing of beauty; it left the San Diego defense holding their jocks and wondering what the heck happened.
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