DENVER (The Sports Xchange) – The Denver Broncos once again doomed themselves at the start.
In both of their losses over a five-day stretch, they fell behind 10-0 on the first two possessions of the game. The offense struggled, but the defense also buckled.
Thursday’s 21-13 loss at San Diego was set in motion by two long drives that covered 12 and 18 plays, sandwiching a brief, six-play cameo from the Denver offense. While the offense’s struggles were to be expected with young quarterbacks handling the reins this year, the defense’s inability to get off the field early is perplexing.
“I think it’s more about effort on our part in that first drive,” said T.J. Ward. “I think we’re coming out too slow. We’re not being aggressive and fiery enough, and teams are taking advantage of that.”
But some of it is also schematic. The Falcons last Sunday and the Chargers on Thursday had success getting the football to tight ends and running backs, choosing not to test cornerbacks Aqib Talib and Chris Harris Jr.
“Teams are scheming us well in the first 15 (plays),” linebacker Brandon Marshall said. “After the first 15, I think we’re doing a (heck) of a job, but they’re scheming us well to start. I think we have to do a better job combatting that.”
The Broncos locked down the Chargers after two opening drives netted 10 points, but the offense could do nothing to capitalize. Until the fourth quarter, the offense’s only scoring drive was a field goal that followed three-and-out after a Will Parks recovery of a muffed punt return.
Denver’s offense has just six points in the first three quarters of its last two games, and 23 in the fourth quarters of those games — mostly against defenses playing back to take away the deep pass.
Still, the Broncos got back into it, and had a “Hail Mary” chance as regulation ended to force a tie with a touchdown and a two-point conversion. For the second straight week, the Broncos lost by one score — close enough for them to say, “What if,” but far enough away to let them know they weren’t on the cusp of success.
REPORT CARD VS. CHARGERS
PASSING OFFENSE: C-minus — Trevor Siemian threw 50 times, which is hardly what the Broncos want from their offense, and was mainly limited to short passes against a Chargers defense that was besieged by injuries in the secondary, but has found a strong pass rush since rookie Joey Bosa broke into the lineup. Siemian didn’t make any glaring mistakes, but receivers Jordan Taylor and Demaryius Thomas coughed up the football. Taylor’s fumble led to a San Diego field goal; Thomas’ miscue effectively ended any realistic hopes of a comeback.
RUSHING OFFENSE: C-minus — Two Devontae Booker runs for 33 yards late in the first quarter finally got the ground game going, but the inability to get any kind of push against the Chargers’ defensive line hamstrung the Broncos and prevented them from getting any kind of balance or play-action game going in the first two and a half quarters. The return of Virgil Green and Donald Stephenson from calf injuries did not appear to help matters early.
PASS DEFENSE: B-plus — After being gashed on the first two series by a series of short passes to Hunter Henry and Antonio Gates, the Broncos figured things out, dropping their cornerbacks slightly back to give them extra time to read the Chargers’ receivers as they fanned out off the snap. As a result, Philip Rivers and the Chargers struggled in the final three quarters, not scoring a touchdown on any of their final nine possessions.
RUSH DEFENSE: B-minus — The Broncos stiffened up late to extend their streak of games without allowing a 100-yard rusher to 23 (including playoffs), but allowed a 48-yard Melvin Gordon gallop that set up one of Josh Lambo’s four field goals. Still, the Broncos held the Chargers to just 3.4 yards per carry, and aside from the one long run, prevented the Chargers from finding any consistent holes.
SPECIAL TEAMS: B-plus — Two takeaways, a successful on-side kickoff and one of the most ingenious free kicks in recent memory highlighted the night. Trailing 21-3 after as safety, punter Riley Dixon lobbed a punt that covered just 34 yards, but came down in the range of Chargers offensive lineman Kenny Wiggins, who couldn’t corral the football, allowing the Broncos to recover and leading directly to their only touchdown of the game. Brandon McManus missed a 56-yard attempt in the third quarter.
COACHING: — C — Interim coach Joe DeCamillis won his only challenge, opting not to challenge a fourth-and-one spot because of the historic difficulty of getting those calls overturned. Defensive coordinator Wade Phillips did a good job adjusting to the Chargers’ rub routes, and San Diego was held to just nine points after their first two drives, with the Chargers finishing nine points below their season-long per-game average. But once again Rick Dennison’s offense struggled until San Diego began laying back in coverage; 23 of the Broncos’ 29 points the last two games have not come until the fourth quarter.