So, with that nice little W in the rearviewmirror, I thought it would feel a little better to do all of this. So, just like always, simply a few nice little things I noticed after rewatching the game. They are in no particular order, although in general they are chronologically.
1) What a nice first drive. I spent a little more time on this because it was simply a great display of game planning. Being ready for what the defense can throw at you. You have something for zone, you have something for man. You can run it, you can throw it. Inlcuding a penalty, they ran Gordon four times on that drive, which kept the Broncos honest. Below I will focus on passes however:
Once the Broncos defense could not align correctly and gave up a cheap eight yard gain to make it 3rd & 2.
The second play (two pictures) is very nicely set up by Gates going outside on his first step to make the defender square up on him (without that stem, the defender wanted to play one shoulder and then force Gates to either run into him or away from him where he can chase Gates forward) but he is then completely lost after Gates goes outside initially and then again. Nice little recognition by Rivers on both those plays (and Gates if that was an option route).
Rivers then (12:56 Q1) hit Williams for a 18-yard gain on a simple touch pass to the outside shoulder against Talib. On that play, Von Miller was in man coverage with Gordon. So calm down when Pagano uses Ingram as a coverage defender. Other teams use the best pass rusher in football to cover RBs sometimes. Subsequently (11:32, Q1) Gates converted a 3rd & 8 on his typical "leaning" hitch route.
On the next play (10:24 Q1), Henry was too anxious to carry out his assignment and drew a well-deserved OPI that negated a nice play design straight from the Falcons play book where McCluster comes from the backfield into a slot position and then runs a quick slant "protected" by the go route from Henry, who just made a little too much contact with McCluster's defender.
The same concept was then run two more times, one time Henry picked Inman's defender (two pictures) when the Broncos tried hard to show zone to deter pick plays.
On the very next play, Gates and McGrath picked Henry's defender on go routes from a 3TE set. Very important play here after penalties made it 1st and 25 to go all the way to 1st & goal.
On the goal line (8:46 Q1), Gordon apparently missed one huge hole but I think that this was designed as a misdirection play and he needs to follow Franklin and Dunlap wide, but Miller shoves Henry back and basically not only defeats his block but also keeps Franklin and Dunlap in the tackle box.
At the end, Rivers hits Henry on a TD where the Broncos adjusted for all the pick plays. They passed off Henry and Inman but the route combination makes me think that this was perfectly anticipated by the offense. I mean, that route combination (outside stem slant & screen) is not working against simple man. Maybe it was intended to work as a fake screen, but that does not change the fact that the Broncos passed off the receivers quickly. Simply a better play by the Chargers.
2) First drive by the Broncos. How often do you see the Chargers do something good in one phase and another phase lets them down? Well not here. After a minimal gain in field position, the Broncos are forced to punt. Pagano employed a few nice formations and blitzes. On the very first play from scrimmage, he brought Ingram, Mebane, Liuget, Bosa and Brown. It was a quick pass but Brown still came through quickly.
Then, the defense brought enough pressure on twists and stunts to force a deep incompletion.
And finally, the defense forced a short dump-off on 3rd down when the defense disguised their intentions quite well. I am certain that Siemian wanted to hit one of the fade routes. Especially the inside one as it seemed like Lowery will cover him. But they drop back into a nice Tampa 2 which utilizes Browns athleticism perfectly. He can carry a seam route 15-20 yards downfield with ease (2 pictures).
3) Offense back out. A penalty against Miller, some short runs and short passes slowly moved the ball back from the shadow of the own goal-post.
Gordon got the ball again often. A few times he avoided losses and got a few yards back after being hit immediately. The Chargers focused on keeping the defense honest and kept feeding Gordon the ball. Many times it was 1 yard or no gain but he ran hard and was pretty decisive.
A 20-yard gain to Henry showed incredible play design and nice execution.
Those Broncos were ready for the crossers, I cannot say that often enough.
Just something about the run play here where a good pre-snap look lead to absolutely nothing.
Again a nice play design against man coverage with the unselfish Inman working as a decoy. Creative pick pattern here. Who says it always has to involve a slant?
Once more, well-crafted play with Henry staying in to block and selling the play-action. He then releases for cheap 12 yards.
McCluster with a good gain before that 4th down conversion where I am not sure it actually was converted to be honest. It was definitely very close. After that, three bad plays lead to a FG. One was a play-action were Henry could not get open against single coverage, then he did not beat an OLB down the sideline before Rivers was shoved OOB by Miller. Not saying these are Henry's fault but Rivers trusts him to get open by now and hopefully he can get those catches the next time.
4) I mean what is up with Benjamin? The guy was such a great punt returner in CLE who surely have to have even worse guys blocking for him. For the first bounce, I think its Whalen's fault. He was actually in a better position to catch that one. Then, the actual muff, that is simply on Benjamin.
5) What a great stop here to keep them to a FG. I am not sure you can say something like that in this situation but I remember watching that live and thinking "that was actually better than Benjamin making the fair catch". Like it showed that the defense will not break even when given the worst possible field position. I thought it took the air out of the Broncos team for good.
Mebane with a nasty run stop on the first play. That set the tone and put the Broncos behind the 8-ball.
On 2nd down, Siemian sent DT to the hospital (Ingram hit coming up from playing zone) after Pagano disguised the zone look again perfectly.
6) Relatively uneventful stuff right before the end of the half. Bosa once almost got choked to unconciousness (without a penalty):
Rivers and Gates need to make that play on the final drive of the half to convert a 3rd down:
Otherwise there was just a few punts exchanged. It was not like the Chargers went away completely from what was working. The Broncos simply made a few nice plays and the margin of error is very small against that defense. Mebane and Bosa come back with a vengeance to stall the first drive by the Broncos in the second half.
7) BOOM pt1 McCoil
8) That might actually be the biggest hole Gordon has ever had. And I am not exaggerating.
He makes a very good player miss 1-1 deep down field and is only stopped close to the goal line. If he can turn on the jets, he is gone. Afterwards, you need to score but OK. Making it a 2 score game is not bad here.
The next play, he should have had an easy TD on a busted coverage, but Rivers did not see him.
9) What a great play by Toomer. Being there to make the tackle for a short gain is good enough here. But he reaches in, strips the ball, brings down the ball carrier and recovers the fumble all by himself. Incredible play. Afterwards, the same old story. No push up front and noone can get really open on third down. That was maybe the worst of all series here. But again, 3 points are 3 points. On the other hand you need to finish a team that cannot score, that fumbles in its own territory right here.
10) Bad series by DEN afterwards. 3-and out from hell. Three passes and 5 yards gained. Nothing fancy by the D. Simple zone plays, telegraphed but Siemian was not accurate enough that day to thread the needle into tight windows. Toomer with the 3rd down tackle on the TE.
11) BOOM pt2 McCoil
12) The next drive is relatively solid but the Broncos made some nice adjustments, shifting to zone and repeatedly passing off receivers.
Chargers try to run, try to throw, but have a hard time to get anything going. Two defensive penalties do not hurt. One time, Talib is toast on the stop and go and has to grab Benjamin or otherwise it is a TD. Nice to have a receiver who can instill that type of fear in DBs. Basically one bad step and its panic time. We saw the same happen with Eric Berry in Wk 1. They have to respect the deep routes but also do not want to get beat on the hitch/comeback/quick out 10 times a game. He had a bad stat line, but those 15 yards are on him. Then the two miscommunications by Rivers and Gates. Not sure what was going on there. Next FG. OK drive, also kind of aggressive, not too conservative. Noone got open however. Once, Gordon was robbed of a TD on a screen that was just missed.
13) Q3 comes to an end with a solid drive by the Broncos that leads to no points as a 56 yard FG is missed. Chargers defense played pretty much the same stuff that always worked but the Broncos were able to sneak a few solid runs in there for the first time all game. Chargers answer with a nice drive on the ground that actually includes a first down. Punt by Kaser is great and pins the Broncos back deep. Safety on the very next play due to holding. Cannot argue with that.
14) The Kenny Wiggins play. Well, he obviously is told to stay away from the ball. But this one, there is no chance that the returners will get there in time. Its really a tough spot for him. This onside punt after a safety is a real thing (see that one by the Lions http://www.nfl.com/videos/nfl-game-highlights/0ap3000000450815/Lions-pick-up-onside-free-kick). Think about it. Compared to an onside kick, the punter can send this one sky high and the team has enough time to run under it. You can call for a fair catch, yes, and they cannot impede his catching process, but no matter who you put on this field, there are at least 7-8 guys on the field who are not used to catching punts in NFL games. It is bad coaching to have an OLineman back there among the deep 4 but they couldve kicked it even shorter and then a TE/LB has to make that fair catch, which is not easy for those guys as well. Bottom line is, Wiggins makes that catch and the game is over.
15) Kind of methodical, slow drive by the Broncos here between around 12 and 8 minutes in Q4. Chargers play almost exclusively Tampa 2 and Siemian cannot do anything else than take the short stuff underneath. Mager needs to make that pick @9:15. On the TD, I think that is a busted coverage. Ingram is not running full speed to recover and in general seems like he expects help from his left. It looks like he drops into his coverage, maybe Brown should have been there?
16) Run/Run/Sack. Nothing there on the 3rd down.
17) Broncos offense beings to get things done. Contrary to the previous drive, Pagano changes things up a little bit. Sometimes Cover 3, one or two blitzes, a litte bit of man. It works only a little bit however as the Broncos march down the field only to have TD called back and then have a sack and fumble on two consecutive plays.
18) The Chargers got criticized heavily for the play-calling on that last drive. I thought that was not too bad. Gordon gained 4 yards on two carries, an offside penalty made it 3rd and 1. In that situation, you have to run it. No matter. The penalty kind of forced their hand. Talib badly bobbles the punt before recovering it. Just to show that sometimes if you get lucky, noone will talk about your stupid mistakes (just like if Benjamin's fumble had been recovered by a Charger).
19) Chargers play prevent on the next Broncos drive. Basically, only a fast score kills them. Siemian throws underneath because he has no other choice. The drive burns 2:30 plus the 2 minute warning off the clock. Up two scores, that is a good outcome. Broncos kick the FG to pull back within 8 points with half a minute remaining. I like the personnel here. With Attaochu instead of Palepoi it would be even cooler but I like Ingram there. He is a good pass rusher but he is also fast and strong enough to play ILB here.
20) The onside kick, I do not think that the Chargers aligned badly. I do not think the timeout by McCoy was any indicator because that one was not played live. I am sure Inman gets a few nice shots and who knows if he can even catch it cleanly. Fact is both onside kicks were perfectly placed. Chargers were maybe overly concerned with a slow roller through the middle, but otherwise, that was just a good play by the Broncos. If it would be better to put someone more physical back there than Williams is another question.
21) What a bad attempt at a Hail Mary. You gotta be kidding me. Just over 40 yards by an NFL QB? Bad. I like McCoil going in there with that type of rigor though. No time to play around. Nice play.
OVERALL that was a very good game and I think that the Broncos were completely outmatched. Some penalties were in our favour, yes but the calls were all solid and I have not seen a single, blatant, foul on a Bronco lineman (like many non-Charger fans suggested).
This had the feel of a blowout, of complete domination but noone could enjoy that feel because the offense failed to put one of those 2nd half drives into the endzone. Ultimately, a sack fumble or INT couldve changed the game, so it was OK. I also think that the blame on McCoy/Whisenhunt and Pagano for being conservative was incredibly overblown in that game. The defense played lights out, you can trust it and it came up with a few nice plays. The offense never was able to counter-adjust after the Broncos adjusted but scoring 21 points against that D is no joke. And they had the chance to score more, it was not like they were lucky to get 21.
As a last note, I want to just say that many of you relax a little instead of offending and ridiculing McCoy for his emotional, honest moment there at the end. In case you did not know, one of his long-time friends died just a few hours before the game. Then, it was a phase in the game where there was stoppage over stoppage, reviews (Anderson's sideline catch, Siemians scramble, ...) with the inevitable feeling of losing yet another one. It was stressful for fans, so probably incredibly tough for someone actually involved with the team. Couple that with the emotional stress of losing a friend, I think it is absolutely unacceptable to ridicule someone just for taking a short timeout in a moment were he really was not "needed".