Grading the Chargers and Broncos

The NFL Experts at TheInsiders break down this past Sunday's 37-8 beat down by the Denver Broncos against the San Diego Chargers. Taking a look at both teams' grades, the evidence was clear: The Chargers played like a 2-8 team.

Chargers

PASSING OFFENSE
F -- Doug Flutie had as many turnovers (four) as he did completions to his wide outs in going 9 of 25 for 70 yards, a touchdown and an interception. The numbers don't like, as the 41-year-old matched his age with his rating (41.2). Flutie was off-kilter from the start, as he fumbled two of the first three snaps. The line didn't help much, as the Broncos were totally prepared for the scrambling man, sending blitzes at him from different directions. Plus, there were at least four drops, including one by Stephen Alexander that resulted in the interceptions.

RUSHING OFFENSE
F -- Quick, who's the only person in the NFL that can keep Pro Bowler LaDainian Tomlinson under 100 yards rushing? How about Cam Cameron, the Chargers' offensive coordinator. Tomlinson had but eight rushes for 29 yards -- both career lows. We know all about how difficult it is to run when falling behind 27-0 before half. But even before this thing got out of hand, Tomlinson had only six carries in the first half. On some of those efforts, Tomlinson was met in the backfield by defenders. The run blocking was awful.

PASS DEFENSE
F -- Shannon Sharpe has a mouth that matches his productivity. So for him to sneak up on the Chargers is a grand mystery. The Chargers rarely paid attention to the future Hall of Famer and the result was a three-touchdown day by Sharpe. And while Sharpe made yards on some underneath routes, most of his damage came downfield, where Sammy Davis, Quentin Jammer and Terrence Kiel played every bit like the youngsters they are. This secondary is supposed to be young and getting better -- it has the young part down, but little else. The pass rush was such that Jake Plummer, after missing four games with a broken foot, got sacked but once.

RUSH DEFENSE
F -- The defensive front was dominated by the Broncos, who also seemed to get inside the Chargers' heads with their hits which bordered on late, and nasty disposition they displayed all day. Clinton Portis went for 106 yards; the Broncos ran for 201. Hard to overlook Donnie Edwards' career-high 18 tackles, but they were the quietest 18 tackles ever. Runs-stuffing tackle Jamal Williams was a non-factor.

SPECIAL TEAMS
F -- Rod Smith is 33 years old and was thrust into the punt returner's role only because Deltha O'Neal was sent to the bench. But he easily raced past the Chargers' punt coverage for a 65-yard touchdown, despite making nary a quick move or cut -- he basically just ran straight up the middle and didn't stop until hitting his head on the goal post. The Chargers' punt-return game? Tough to get yards there when the Broncos don't even try a punt for only the third time in franchise history.

COACHING
F -- After all the mini-camps, training camp practices and working six days a week, the Chargers basically played as if they needed name tags. It's difficult imaging a team looking this out of sorts this late in the season. Passion? Forget about it. Intensity? Left somewhere else in the Rockies. The Chargers had no answer for the Broncos' blitzing style, no clues how to cover Sharpe. It's easy to harp on the players, but the coaching staff needs to stand in line for its wrist-slappings. Except for that aberration last week against Minnesota, this team continues to sink deeper into a funk with no end in sight. Since starting last year 6-1, the Chargers are 4-15. And it's one thing to lose, another to get throttled. The Chargers got throttled -- again.

Denver

PASSING OFFENSE
A -- Jake Plummer hardly looked rusty after being sidelined for five weeks. His passes were crisp, and he had plenty of zip on the ball, and the timing was there with players like Shannon Sharpe (3 TD catches), Rod Smith (season-high 10 catches) and Ashley Lelie (season-high 48-yard reception).

RUSHING OFFENSE
A-minus -- Clinton Portis came close to breaking a long one, and still finished with his 6th 100-yard game of the season. The only negative was Denver's failure to convert a fourth-and-inches early that might have proved costly against a tougher opponent. Reuben Droughns and Patrick Hape did a good job filling in for the suspended Mike Anderson at fullback.

PASS DEFENSE
A -- The Broncos held Doug Flutie to 70 yards passing, sacked him twice and intercepted him once. When he did get off a good pass, Denver's corners were right there to knock the ball away, with Lenny Walls, Kelly Herndon and Jimmy Spencer all making fine plays.

RUSH DEFENSE
A -- The Broncos considered LaDainian Tomlinson the toughest challenge of the year, but they rose to the occasion, holding him to 29 yards on eight carries. One of those went for 16 yards on a draw on third-and-long. The more impressive effort was keeping mobile quarterback Doug Flutie in check as he gained only 11 yards on 5 carries, breaking free just once for 12 yards.

SPECIAL TEAMS
A -- More big plays here, with Rod Smith providing the spark on his 65-yard punt return for a touchdown. Jason Elam gutted out a pair of field goals and four extra points despite battling a groin injury, and when he finally had enough, punter Micah Knorr showed he was up to the task, hitting a 27-yard field goal on his first pro attempt. The Chargers had no return yardage on punts as Denver didn't have to punt once all day.

COACHING
A -- Mike Shanahan laid it on the line at a team meeting last week, saying deeds, not words, would get the job done. His players played inspired football. At some point, having Rod Smith back on punt returns might bite him in the butt, but the move worked brilliantly Sunday as Smith busted a 65-yard return filling in for embattled Deltha O'Neal.


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