The National Football Post’s Matt Bowen breaks down Monday night’s Broncos-Chargers game in San Diego.
Can you buy the Orton hype now?
If the Broncos’ undefeated start wasn’t enough to convince you how well QB Kyle Orton is playing right now, all you had to do was watch their 34-23 victory Monday night. Orton isn’t going to put up Peyton Manning numbers because the Broncos rely on their running game and on the short-to-intermediate passing game, but he doesn’t turn the ball over, and when he’s asked to make a play down the field, he gets it done in coach Josh McDaniels' offensive scheme. I thought it was obvious that he outplayed Philip Rivers — who never looked comfortable against the Broncos’ pressure.
We can all agree that LaDainian Tomlinson doesn’t have the same explosion when he hits the hole at this point in his career, but what I noticed most about his game is his sudden lack of ability to get to the second level — and break tackles when he gets there. San Diego is a “Power O” running team (weak side guard pull/FB kick out block), but when I see LT run up into the hole, I expect him to go down after three yards — when we’re used to seeing him slip a tackle and explode into the secondary. I give the Chargers credit for sticking to the off-tackle running game, but it doesn’t offer much more than a ball-control aspect to this offense. The big play in that package is gone.
The big returns were fun to watch, and both Eddie Royal of the Broncos and Darren Sproles of the Chargers are weapons in the kicking game, but the tackling was atrocious on each of the three big returns. I wouldn’t be surprised to see both teams bring in some players for workouts this week to strengthen their coverage units. We don’t talk about coverage units often when we break down the top teams because they aren’t an issue.
Tight end matchups
Both the Broncos and the Chargers have tight ends who cause major matchup issues for defenses. For the Bolts, Antonio Gates is a threat because defenses aren’t sure what the best call is when determining personnel to play coverage against him. On third downs, do you go with a nickel corner and risk the overall lack of a physical presence at the line of scrimmage, or do you go with a linebacker or safety and risk getting beat down the field? On third downs, it’s no wonder Rivers always looks his way.
For Denver, Tony Scheffter creates matchup problems because the Broncos can align him out of position and away from the formation. He can line up as the “X” receiver on the backside, or when the Broncos go three strong, he can align as the No.2 or the No.3. Unless you bring in a dime package, he’s going to face a safety on third downs.
Broncos’ third-down passing
What was interesting about the Broncos’ game plan on third downs was the simplicity of their routes. Whether it was Scheffter or WR Brandon Marshall, Denver ran slants, rub routes to the flat or hitch routes because they were able to move the ball enough on first and second down to set up manageable passing situations.
What happened to Chambers?
I’m still shocked that Chris Chambers isn’t a bigger part of the Chargers’ game plan. Coming into this game, he had only six receptions on the season, and the only catch he made against the Broncos came because of play action. He’s struggling to get off press coverage, and at times the Broncos rolled their coverage strong, played a cloud coverage weak over the top with a corner and walked a linebacker out to jam Chambers at the line of scrimmage. You won’t see that against top wideouts in this league. He has become a non-factor.
The Chargers’ front seven
I thought Ron Rivera’s defense came to play in the run game. Considering how poorly they played against the Steelers in their last outing, they looked physical and found a way to get some penetration against a very good Denver offensive line. But they also looked tired in the fourth quarter, and Denver altered the game plan to take advantage of that — leaning on the running game to eat up the clock. Even with that fourth quarter letdown, the Chargers allowed fewer than four yards per carry to the Broncos.
Champ is back
If Champ Bailey isn’t playing the best football at the cornerback position in the NFL right now, who is? He locked down Vincent Jackson when he was matched up in coverage, and his play allows the Broncos to pressure whenever they want to — because they don’t have to worry about his side of the field.
The bottom line
The Broncos looked and played like the better football team. I’d be lying if I said I predicted this hot start in Denver, but after six weeks, we can’t point to the schedule any more. This team is as real as it gets — and it’s well-coached on both sides of the ball.
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