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Rewatching the San Diego Chargers loss to the Denver Broncos

Using NFL Rewind, I went back and rewatched the San Diego Chargers' loss to the Denver Broncos and took notes.

Donald Miralle

With round 3 against the Broncos coming up on Sunday, I decided to watch the 28-20 loss in San Diego again to see if there was any information to be gleaned. I've reproduced my notes in full below.

First Quarter

  • The Week 10 contest against Denver was one of many in which the Chargers would lack at least one of their projected starting offensive linemen from the beginning.
  • On the first play of the game, the Chargers come out in the shotgun with 12 personnel with Antonio Gates and Ladarius Green. After surveying the defense, Rivers changes the play and lines up under center handing off to the right (and strong) side to Mathews who runs through a big hole and picks up six yards.
  • On second down, they line up with 22 personnel and run Mathews up the middle for three yards. Following two successful running plays and looking at 3rd and 1, Whisenhunt inexplicably sends in Danny Woodhead and declines to have a tight end lined up inline. The Broncos rush only four, but bat down Rivers' pass to kill the drive.
  • As you probably remember, the drive continued after Eric Weddle audibled to a fake punt and picked up the necessary yards. This is the part where we got excited mistakenly thinking Mike McCoy understood the necessity of utilizing David techniques to defeat the Broncos.
  • Rushing four, the Broncos get no pressure, Rivers is able to step up, and Keenan Allen easily beats his man (who for some reason was covering him one-on-one) for 18 yards on the outside.
  • The next play was the amazing run by Mathews that was wiped out by John Phillips' terrible holding penalty. In fairness, Phillips can't block Von Miller without holding and that run doesn't happen if he doesn't block Miller. The real disaster here was an injury to Mathews.
  • Whisenhunt then calls one of his world famous give-up draws on 1st and 20. I'll never understand how such a brilliant offensive mind gets sucked into doing something so self-defeating.
  • On 2nd and 16, Chris Harris just owns Eddie Royal and Rivers throws to him anyway. He's lucky not to get picked off. This is followed by a second give up draw in a three-play span that results in a punt.
  • Pagano opens the game in a 2-4-5 alignment, but with no safety deeper than six yards from the line of scrimmage. It's a run play and Donald Butler meets Knowshon Moreno in the hole to stop the play for no gain after center Manny Ramirez completely whiffs on his block.
  • Asking Manti Te'o to be responsible for covering Julius Thomas in any capacity is just a recipe for disaster. He gets caught looking in the backfield and Thomas takes a quick pass in the flat 74 yards for a touchdown after Derek Cox can't be bothered to shove him out of bounds. Weddle, assuming Cox is going to try to get in Thomas' way enough to force him out of bounds, fails to take a proper pursuit angle on the play. Everything that could go wrong did. Ugly.
  • A wide receiver screen with a play action fake to the other side goes for six yards to Eddie Royal, but it could have been a bigger play if Jeromey Clary had managed to so much as lay a hand on his man. After pulling and getting several yards downfield without blocking anyone, Clary lunges and misses. His man, predictably makes the tackle. If he makes his block, Royal has only one man to beat to go 70 more yards for a touchdown
  • Le'Ron McClain fails to block Von Miller again. I can't express how glad I am he won't be playing on Sunday.
  • Robert Ayers beats King Dunlap to the inside and Dunlap is forced to hold to keep Rivers from getting killed. Ayers will be playing on Sunday.
  • Quentin Jammer gets flagged for DPI trying to cover Antonio Gates and that matchup just isn't fair. We'll miss seeing Jammer in a starting role this weekend.
  • A draw play in a non-obvious situation nets 7 yards. Go figure.
  • With Miller off the field on 3rd down, Brown easily converts leaping over McClain's head to do so. Denver is much weaker without him.
  • The player McClain is blocking seems to make the tackle more than half the time. I'm not sure what the point of having him in there is.
  • Sometimes it's truly amazing what a mismatch Ladarius Green represents. If he gets a clean release, he eats up the defender's cushion in a heartbeat. Once he has any sort of position on you, he's way too big to defend. He's an effective run blocker, too. One play after a big catch, he's leading the way for a five yard run where he completely takes his man out of the play.
  • In the redzone, Rivers audibles to get a better play, but Johnnie Troutman gets pushed right into his lap and he's forced to scramble. Troutman's pass blocking leaves a lot to be desired still. Luckily, he's not expected to play on Sunday. The very next play (a key 3rd and 2), Troutman gets abused by Terrance Knighton who runs right around him to blow up the play. Credit to McClain, he actually blocked someone on this play.

Second Quarter

  • 4th and 1 from the Denver 8? This is an easy go-for-it situation, but McCoy elects to attempt a field goal. I killed him for this at the time, but with no Ryan Mathews and Troutman absolutely ruining the previous two plays all on his own, it's easy to at least understand why he was coaching scared.
  • The Cheerleaders were wearing those fantastic "salute to the military" getups.
  • Darrell Stuckey is such a beast. It's easy to ignore special teams guys, but please don't ignore Stuckey. He makes a great tackle on Trindon Holliday at the 16 yard line.
  • Hey, Manti Te'o made a play, getting off a block to stop a run for three yards. It's sad how unusual this is.
  • Such a beautiful, drive-killing sack by Larry English after Manning appeared to have changed the play at the line. It almost doesn't matter what the play is when a defender gets off the line and in the backfield that fast. So sad that his season was cut short once again by injuries.
  • Quick, quick pressure from Miller running right around D.J. Fluker. That guy is a monster.
  • Allen breaks up what looked like a sure pick (except for the fact that it was Jammer in coverage and he can't catch). That's two interceptions Rivers has tried to throw.
  • Chargers are showing Manning a lot of pre-snap movement and it seems to be affecting him.
  • Shareece Wright is out now. I forgot how dinged up the Chargers were throughout this game.
  • Wes Welker beats Johnny Patrick and Manning hits him in the hands, but he drops it. The Chargers are running out a much more athletic defense these days without Patrick.
  • Holy crap, that 35 yard run by Mathews. Dunlap and Troutman (and really the entire line) just blow the Denver defense out of the play and Mathews is strong running in the open field.
  • Jeromey Clary can't block Vickerson on the next play, though. It's hard to decide who the weak link was this week: him or Troutman? Both have been bad.
  • Vincent Brown wins deep with a double move, but drops the ball in the end zone. That was a rough, rough drop that results in a 40-yard field goal attempt.
  • You keep blitzing Manning and he'll get you with screens. Moreno gets nine easily.
  • Broncos take advantage of the two down linemen front with an easy six yard run for a first down. This is one of the few times they'll do this and you have to wonder why that is.
  • Weddle defends the short pass to Welker so well.
  • Richard Marshall, in as an injury replacement for Wright, fails to take away the sideline despite having help inside from Weddle and he gets burned for it.
  • I'm convinced not one player on the Chargers can cover Julius Thomas. This is even more pronounced when you're running a zone and nobody picks him up. Donald Butler looks bad in coverage there.
  • Demaryius Thomas catches a short pass in front of Wright (who is back in) and beats him to the pylon for a score. It was just a simple flat route against a blitz and Wright couldn't react in time.
  • Pistol sighting! It doesn't really work either time as the blocks aren't there, but I don't understand why they don't do this more. It really plays into Mathews' strengths as a runner.
  • Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie gives the Chargers a gift DPI. He was beat, but what are the odds Vincent Brown catches the ball anyway?
  • Watching Wesley Woodyard try to run with Antonio Gates is amazing and he was forced to try to do it twice on this drive. We can only hope that we get to see this matchup more.
  • 3rd and 6 from the Denver 14 inside of two minutes and Derek Wolfe and Shaun Phillips confuse Troutman badly. He gives up the sack and the once-promising drive is dead. This brings on the field goal unit for a 37 yard attempt that is missed giving Peyton Manning great field position. Red Zone Woes would be a cool nickname for Troutman after this game. Ouch.
  • Marshall can't cover Decker alone. Manning sees this and takes advantage twice. The Chargers are generating very little pass rush and playing soft coverage and relying on tackling to prevent big plays. Manning has was too much time and too short of a field for this to stop him. This is a really vanilla look from Pagano and it's far less effective than what he was calling earlier in the half.
  • Patrick shows off his lack of speed again and again.
  • Demaryius Thomas abused Wright in this game. He has help over the top in the middle, but gets beat deep to the outside.
  • Manning freezes Butler with a play fake and Wright is one-on-one with D. Thomas at the goal line. That equals touchdown. 21-6 at half time after a quick Chargers kneel down.

Third Quarter

  • The defense gets caught napping and Welker takes a simple screen play for medium gain.
  • Manti Te'o whiffs on a tackle in the backfield resulting in a big run. This was not a good game for him.
  • Butler lets a ball bounce off his finger tips on the next play.
  • The defense as a whole gets suckered by yet another screen play, this time to D. Thomas. It makes you wonder if they watched any film on the Broncos before the game.
  • On 3rd and 1, Whisenhunt again removes Mathews for Woodhead and again they attempt a pass play that falls incomplete. Protection was decent, but nobody got open.
  • Tourek Williams comes screaming around the edge and knocks the ball loose from Manning's hands. This play by the rookie gets the Chargers back into the game. Both sacks in this game have just been outside linebackers beating a tackle one-on-one.
  • At this point, Ohrnberger is in the game, Fluker has shifted to left tackle and the odds of winning have to be considered something close to zero.
  • The subsequent touchdown reception by Woodhead is really a special play. After catching the ball at the 5, he has to beat four Denver defenders to the goal line and he takes a shot doing so.
  • Andre Caldwell just flat drops a ball that hits him in the hands while he's standing still. I half expected Manning to send him to go clean out his locker.
  • D. Thomas beats Wright again. This time it's across the middle and Weddle can't get there to help, but the pass is off line because of some pressure up the middle. Chargers dodged a bullet and get the ball back following a punt.
  • Despite zero pressure and Keenan Allen all alone underneath with room to run, Philip Rivers scrambles to his right before throwing the ball away. Missed opportunity.
  • The jumbled and depleted offensive line is so obvious on this drive. Mathews has nowhere to go and is getting hit earlier and earlier.
  • Allen has shown up to play, though, and now Rivers is actually throwing him the ball.
  • At this point, the offensive line play is so poor that Shaun Phillips registers a (non-coverage-related) sack. This is followed by a delay of game. Things are spinning out of control.
  • Philip doesn't have time to let anything deep develop and the Broncos are playing the short passing game aggressively.
  • Tourek Williams doesn't look good in coverage or trying to tackle a running back in the open field. Hopefully he won't be asked to do these things on Sunday.
  • The 2-4-5 alignment is back and Kendall Reyes gets quick pressure which results in a poor pass attempt that falls harmlessly to the ground. I'm still not sure why Pagano went away from the 2 down linemen looks as these seemed to give Manning by far the most trouble.

Fourth Quarter

  • Lined up in the slot, Gates just abuses Harris for a big 24 yard reception.
  • Jeromey Clary trying to block Von Miller is as horrifying as you remember it.
  • An illegal motion penalty by Ohrnberger sets up a 3rd and long, but Rivers gets a wide open Eddie Royal for 30 yards as he splits two defenders down the seam.
  • Woodhead nearly gets in on a crossing route after being lined up out wide. Mathews cleans it up as he goes over the top for six. With 10:42 to go, it's hard to believe there won't be any more scoring as neither defense has impressed.
  • Denver is blocking Cam Thomas one-on-one with their center Ramirez, but it's not working very well as he's getting in on multiple run plays to help stop them short.
  • Every time Denver needs yards, they're there if they get D. Thomas lined up against Wright.
  • The Denver offense seemed content to bleed time off the clock and they ran roughly 4 minutes off the clock before punting the ball away.
  • Jammer just can't cover Vincent Brown early in the drive, and on 3rd & 12 neither can Rodgers-Cromartie.
  • Philip fails to secure a shotgun snap and the Chargers lose four yards and a down thanks to it. On the next play, Clary can't block Von Miller and they're looking at 3rd & 16.
  • Denver overloads the right side and Philip steps up to deliver a pass into double coverage that Royal can't control.
  • At this point, Mike McCoy has two unpleasant options. He can either punt the ball away and likely never get the ball back, or he can go for it on 4th & 16 and give himself a shot. Predictably, he chose to punt and was nearly rewarded as Holliday couldn't secure the punt, but it was not to be as he was able t recover his own fumble.


The biggest differences between this game and the game we'll get to see on Sunday is the health of the Chargers' offensive line and outside linebackers. For a good chunk of this 8 point loss, the Chargers had none of their projected starters lined up where they were expected to be. On Sunday, all five projected starters will start.

Jarret Johnson and Melvin Ingram are both incredibly noticeable by their absence in Week 10. Tourek Williams and Thomas Keiser just aren't on the same level and are decidedly more effective as backups than starters.

The reshuffled secondary with additional safeties and generally more athletic players is a major improvement over the Coxes and Patricks of the world that we saw in San Diego. Jahleel Addae is also a better player than he was then and Marcus Gilchrist is better as a nickelback than he was as a safety.

Manti Te'o still isn't very good, but he was a disaster 8 weeks ago.

The increased role of Ladarius Green (largely at the expense of John Phillips) also bodes well for the offense. Ryan Mathews isn't particularly healthy right now, but he was dinged up then as well.

I, for one, am actually more optimistic after rewatching the loss than I was beforehand. I'm still worried about how the defense will handle the Thomases, but I like them to be more successful than they were in November.