By Mark Schiff
In one of their easiest wins of the season, the Broncos cruised to a 17-3 victory over the San Diego Chargers on Sunday, their 15th straight road win against a divisional opponent. Take a moment to let that sink in. Denver hasn’t lost on the road in the decaying fortresses of Qualcomm, O.co or Arrowhead stadiums in five full seasons – an NFL record. Not surprisingly, the Broncos have won the AFC West each year since the streak began.
As New England’s loss to the Eagles moves Denver into position to land the No. 1 seed in the AFC, here are your Week 13 team grades.
Both running and passing, Denver moved the ball with remarkable ease on their game-opening eight-play, 76-yard touchdown drive. And thanks to the defense, that was all the points Denver would need in the game.
Denver’s dominant defense changes the function of the offense because of instead of trying to outscore opponents, the Broncos can trust that once they get the lead, the defense will hold it. When they’re ahead by more than a score, the offense tries to play keep-away, so even drives that end in a punt can be successful if they flip the field position, like the late-game 11-play, 50-yard drive that began at the Denver two-yard-line and ended with Chargers pinned on their own one.
So 17 points and a functioning running game — which toted the rock a season-high 39 times for 139 yards — was more than enough for the Broncos to hold on with the way the defense was playing. Brock Osweiler’s numbers reflected this, as he threw for just 166 yards on 16-26 passing with a touchdown and a costly pick that likely took points off the board.
Osweiler himself perfectly summed up the Broncos performance after the game: “We did what we had to do to stay in it.”
The Broncos allowed but a single field goal in what might have been the best defense performance in a season full of them. Danny Trevathan got a pick-six, the team’s fourth of the year. The defense forced and recovered fumbles on consecutive possessions in the third quarter. And Denver limited Philip Rivers to just 202 yards, his second-lowest total of the season.
They also got to Rivers four times, lead by Von Miller who finished with two sacks, a fumble and recovery. Shaquil Barrett and Shane Ray also had great games and with DeMarcus Ware likely coming back from injury next week, Denver’s talent at outside linebacker is looking downright absurd.
Special Teams: C+
Colquitt averaged just 36.6 yards per punt on his five attempts, but several of those were intentionally short to pin San Diego deep. More troubling was the play of kicker Brandon McManus, who badly missed a 52-yarder in the third quarter. After starting the season strongly, McManus is just 2-of-4 in his attempts over the past two games.
His low-key style makes him easy to overlook, but Gary Kubiak deserves consideration for NFL Coach of the Year. Week in and out, Denver seems to do well by its means, with the framework of the system designed to accentuate the players’ strengths. His in-game coaching choices — challenging a play, going for it (or not) on fourth down — have been sound. And perhaps most importantly for this game, there were just three penalties – one of the team’s glaring, and correctable, flaws.
There was something routine about Denver’s win this week over the Chargers, which came in front of a crowd that was heavy in support of the road team (“No one blinked with this being a road game,” Osweiler said).
Denver now gets to finish off its season with three of the last four at Mile High, starting with next Sunday’s game against the Raiders.
Mark Schiff is a freelance writer and music journalist for AXS.com. In 2013, his coverage of the Seattle Seahawks ended in heartbreak when they defeated the Denver Broncos in the Super Bowl. Now covering his beloved hometown team, his knowledge and passion for pro football has resulted in multiple fantasy football championships. Find him on Twitter at @mihilites.