The Broncos feature one of the best defenses in the NFL with, in my opinion, the best defender in the NFL in Von Miller. Even with Keenan Allen healthy, it would’ve been tough for the Chargers receivers to beat Denver on the perimeter. The Broncos have the best trio of CBs in the NFL. With that said, San Diego has been very good on offense. In 5 games the only team that has been able to stop the Chargers are themselves. You’re never going to be perfect but even when the defense has given them great field position, they haven’t capitalized. If you want to beat a team like Denver then you have to take advantage of every opportunity.
How do you score on Denver? You attack them right down the middle. They play a ton of man coverage so getting their linebackers in coverage against tight ends and running backs should be something we can expect to see from Ken Whisenhunt. The Falcons running backs alone had 167 yards on 7 catches. Dexter McCluster only played 2 snaps against the Raiders, which is fine because Melvin Gordon is more than a capable receiver, but getting them both on the field at the same time should be the goal for the Chargers. In years past, the Broncos have been one of the few teams to take away the Chargers’ short crossing routes. Why? Because they’ll just leave a linebacker about 2 yards off the ball and have him sit there and wait. That’s what happens when there is a running back just sitting in the backfield blocking. If he’s out for a pass route, the linebacker has no choice but to cover him. Denver had big time issues with this last Sunday against Atlanta.
Throw it to your backs early and often
Simple rub routes and pick plays to create space. It’s also a quick throw so your QB isn’t back there holding on to the ball. This is the very next play. Devonta Freeman is in the slot to the bottom of the screen. He runs a little snag route which is hard for anyone to guard let alone a linebacker in space.
This seems more like a McCluster type route. There was another play in the 1st quarter where the Falcons fullback beat Denver's inside linebacker on a simple out route that went for 13 yards. Between Antonio Gates, Hunter Henry, and both RBs, the Chargers should be able to win over the middle of the field. Atlanta was able to get a couple deep passes to Tevin Coleman, I’m not sure San Diego will be able to pull that off, but staying ahead of the chains will be important to slow down Denver’s pass rush.
Use their speed against them
We know a Wade Phillips coached defense is going to be in man coverage no less than 75% of the time. We know they are going to be flowing fast to the ball. Atlanta used some misdirection to generate a couple big plays.
Everyone runs the same plays in football. The best offensive coordinators just dress them differently or throw in little wrinkles so the defense can’t always key on certain tendencies. Below, the Falcons run power. A play in every team’s playbook from peewee football to professional. A “normal” power play you fullback will come through the hole and either kick out the defensive end or wrap around to block the linebacker, which is 51 in this case. The Falcons used the fullback as a decoy and it caused both Broncos inside linebackers to take themselves out of position.
The backside guard kicks out the end man on the line of scrimmage and because the linebackers are reacting to the fullback, the left tackle has time to pull all the way from the backside of the play and block the middle linebacker. This is really a well-executed play by the Falcons.
The one other example, a Whisenhunt favorite, split zone. The Falcons use Julio Jones to come across the formation, leaving the right outside linebacker unblocked to slow him down. What they’re really trying to do is get the inside backers to flow with Jones.
They do justtttt enough and run themselves right into a block. The offensive line gets a hat on a hat and it’s a running back 1-on-1 with a corner and you’ll take those odds every time. If Gordon trusts his speed here, the result would be the same.
This is more realistic for the Chargers to run since it doesn’t involve much movement up front and their tight ends are much better at blocking the edge. For as dominant as the Broncos can be at times, their run defense is 20th in DVOA. More specifically, they have struggled to stop teams from getting outside of them. A run Sunday that was blocked about as well as you can by the Chargers could possibly be a big play for them Thursday night.
This is a stretch play. You have a great reach block by D.J. Fluker. Matt Slauson blocks the middle linebacker like only he could. You have a Henry chipping Khalil Mack and then making this play, but erasing #54. There’s Dontrelle Inman on the edge holding his block on the corner. Finally, Derek Watt, who recognizes 54 is being blocked then busts his tail to get 12 yards downfield and cuts the safety. This is what this team can be on the ground.
The Falcons still took their shots downfield. It helps to have Julio Jones, but the Chargers have a couple speedy receivers themselves. Aqib Talib is known for squatting routes and him guessing wrong was a direct result of a 1st down last week. Then just naturally because Denver plays so much man to man we and to keep their defense honest, it would make sense to take some shots. I’d like to see Travis Benjamin outrunning a defender from one side of the field to the other.
Denver is tough, but the Chargers have been able to move the ball up and down the field. Copying the Falcons gameplan would be wise if San Diego wants to continue to have success on this side of the ball.