The Broncos (11-2) want the division title and the AFC's top seed. Due to a loss to New England last month, they will likely have to win out to get both, unless the Patriots stumble down the stretch. The Chargers (6-7) know the time is now if they are going to snag an AFC wild-card spot, so much so that Jarret Johnson called Thursday night's game "a playoff scenario for us."
ESPN.com Chargers reporter Eric D. Williams and Broncos reporter Jeff Legwold take a look at Thursday night's game.
Legwold: Eric, former Broncos coach Josh McDaniels once called the Chargers the "measuring stick" of the division, but the Broncos are 4-1 against San Diego since John Fox replaced McDaniels and 3-0 since Peyton Manning became Denver's quarterback. How is former Broncos coach Mike McCoy framing this one, especially with the Chargers clinging to at least some postseason hopes?
Williams: McCoy has done a good job of making sure his players are staying in the now and not looking too far ahead. But with their postseason aspirations on life support, San Diego players view the trip to Denver as a playoff game. Defensively, the Chargers are frustrated with how sloppily they played against Manning in Week 10, giving up several big plays in the passing game. San Diego's secondary has played much better in the past two games, allowing just two touchdown passes. So the Chargers are looking to redeem themselves on Thursday.
Wes Welker will miss Thursday's contest due to lingering concussion symptoms. How will Denver replace his production?
Legwold: Even in the Broncos' ultrabalanced attack in the passing game, Welker will certainly be missed given he's second on the team in targets (111), receptions (73) and touchdown catches (10). But how the Broncos deal with that should look familiar to McCoy because the Broncos figure to field a lineup similar to the one McCoy called plays for here last season. The Broncos will move to a two-tight end look with Jacob Tamme working out of the slot. Tamme caught 52 passes last season, with the majority of those receptions coming when he was lined up as a slot receiver. It was a job he did well enough that Manning called him one of the most important players in the offense last season. Manning has confidence in Tamme -- they played together in Indianapolis -- and Manning threw to Tamme this past weekend in many of the situations where Manning usually throws to Welker.
The Chargers' secondary had a quality day against the Giants this past Sunday. How do you think they'll line up against the Broncos?
Williams: Cornerback Derek Cox was replaced by eight-year veteran Richard Marshall in the starting lineup two weeks ago, bringing stability to the back end defensively. San Diego has given up 20 passing touchdowns this season, but just two touchdown passes in the past two games. The Chargers had just four interceptions through the first nine games, but have hauled in five picks in the past four. Outside linebacker Jarret Johnson said his defensive teammates just made too many silly mistakes against the Broncos earlier this season, and that they need to make Manning work for Denver's touchdowns by playing sound fundamental defense with multiple looks up front.
How has Broncos coach John Fox made the transition back to the sideline after heart surgery?
Legwold: Fox had surgery to repair a condition that was diagnosed during his time with the New York Giants in the late '90s, so he knew the surgery was coming at some point. He has also lived with the difficulties a faulty aortic valve brought on. He says he now feels better than he has in 20 years. Doctors cleared him to return to work the Monday before the Titans game and he worked through the week without any difficulties. He coached from the sideline during the game this past Sunday and was on the field last week even though the team practiced outside in below-zero temperatures for three days.
Manning is five touchdowns away from tying the NFL single-season record, but Philip Rivers has two three-touchdown days over the past three games. Do the Chargers feel like they left some points on the field the last time these two teams met?
Williams: Yes, that's certainly the case. Rivers mentioned this week during his conversation with reporters here in San Diego that even though the Chargers had the ball for more than 38 minutes the last time these two teams played, the Chargers scored only 20 points. Rivers understands that can't happen again on the road at Denver. The Chargers seem to have a better plan for how they will attack teams when they get into the red zone. Running back Ryan Mathews has emerged as more of a focal point of the offense when they get near the end zone. Mathews has scored four touchdowns in San Diego's past seven games.
While Denver's offense purrs, the defense continues to sputter. What has Fox done to change his fortunes on that side of the ball?
Legwold: The Broncos have surrendered at least 17 points in every game this season and four times they have trailed by at least 11 points in games they eventually went on to win. They have certainly missed cornerback Champ Bailey, who has played in just three games this season, and defensive tackle Kevin Vickerson, one of their best run defenders up front who is now on injured reserve. Fox juggled things some this past weekend when he essentially benched linebacker Wesley Woodyard, a team captain, in the base 4-3 look, playing veteran Paris Lenon there instead. Fox also switched out Duke Ihenacho at safety, putting in Omar Bolden instead. Woodyard will still play the specialty packages, but the Broncos have juggled things in the base. Von Miller has had a dominant half against the Patriots and a dominant half against the Titans, but the Broncos are still waiting to see the impact player he can be for an entire game. The last time they played the Chargers, they were in the nickel most of time -- 42 snaps in all to go with 11 in the dime. They are far more consistent in those looks and have struggled more against teams that make them play out of their base defense.
Unless their regular-season finale in Oakland is flexed into late spot with quarterback Peyton Manning chasing single-season records and the team chasing homefield advantage, Thursday night’s game against the San Diego Chargers will be the Broncos' sixth and final foray into prime time before the start of the postseason.
The Broncos opened the regular season on a Thursday night with a win over the Baltimore Ravens, have defeated the Raiders on a Monday night and gone 1-2 on Sunday nights this season with a win over the Kansas City Chiefs to go with losses to the New England Patriots and the Indianapolis Colts.
But Sunday night seems be to fine, Monday night too. Thursday night games? Not so much. Not with a four-day turnaround for the weeknight affairs. Especially this late in a season with a long line of players in the trainers’ room. Or as Manning put it; “I am not a fan of Thursday games.’’
And there are some in the league who agree with his assessment. They privately say the quality of play has suffered overall around the league this season on Thursday nights that aren’t the traditional Thanksgiving games. The week is simply too short to get done what needs to be done.
For a quarterback like Manning it means three fewer days to prepare for an upcoming opponent. The Broncos’ coaching staff, however, had the scouting done on the Chargers as the game plan was constructed on Monday instead of the usual Tuesday. Fox said he also dialed back practice some, at least in terms of contact, because of the short week. The Broncos didn’t have a fully padded practice as they usually would on a Wednesday.
“Yeah, it’s a challenge for both teams and certainly we knew it was on the schedule and it takes real discipline by each player to get themselves physically ready to play,’’ Manning said. “Get your rest; at the same time, trying to study your opponent getting ready to play them. But there’s no question it’s a challenge.’’
In Fox’s tenure with the team the Broncos are 3-0 on Thursday night. The Broncos defeated the Jets on Thursday night in 2011, defeated the Raiders on Thursday night last season to go with the opening night win over the Ravens this season. Fox said in his time as a head coach, which includes nine seasons in Carolina, he has tested out different approaches to practice, meeting schedules and most anything else that comes with a short week.
Some have worked, some have not. Some ideas have been retained while others have been tossed aside. Asked to share what has, or hasn't worked, Fox said; "that's a competitive issue, we'll let out opponents figure that out for themselves."
“But it’s like everything, what we do, what you do, what everybody does, a lot this stuff is trial and error,’’ Fox said. “ … What’s the tempo going to be, shorts or pads, but truth be told, it’s all still trial and error. That’s the nice thing about experience, with any job you’re in, is you can learn from it. We’ve had our opportunity with it, we’ve won three in a row with it.’’
This week Fox said he even took into account the play totals from this past Sunday’s win over the Tennessee Titans. The Broncos offense ran 95 plays, including penalty snaps. The official snap count for the Broncos' offense in the game was 91 -- compared to 49 snaps for the defense.
“We just look at everything, at least we try to, and I’m sure the other team does too,’’ Fox said.
It often doesn’t afford a player enough time to recover from an injury who might otherwise would have benefitted from a couple extra days. But if the team does escape the game without too many additional injuries, it also serves as sort of a mini bye week with the coaches having the ability to give players two days off that aren’t there to give in normal circumstances.
“I kind of like it,’’ said cornerback Chris Harris Jr. “It’s kind of cool to play on the national stage. The positive thing is that we’re playing a team that we’re familiar with, and it would have been a lot tougher if we were playing a team that we hadn’t played before.”
“Yeah, if you win,’’ said defensive tackle Terrance Knighton. “You don’t want to be on the losing end of a Thursday night game, thinking about that for 10 days until the next game. If we do what we’re supposed to do, then it will be good to get a little break.’’
If you're dreaming of a white NFL Christmas, I say bah humbug.
You sing, "Let it snow!" I say let it go.
For me, watching football played in the snow is abominable, as in snowman.
During Sunday's early games played in the Northeast and Midwest, it once more hit me like an avalanche why I have long wished every National Football League game were played in a climate-controlled dome:
I can't stand seeing the great game of football reduced to an unwatchable joke by snowstorms. Or driving rain. Or howling wind chill.
That's right, Frosty: I have long believed every NFL team should play inside, even in San Diego and Miami -- at least with a retractable roof. One day, I believe, every team will.
You harrumph and say, "We purists believe football was meant to be played in the elements!" Yeah, maybe in the late 1800s. Give it up, Trapper John. We have indoor plumbing now -- and indoor football that makes the wintertime experience far better for players and fans alike. What beats a Super Bowl in the Superdome? Why should "real men" and "real women" suffer frostbite to support their teams?
Trust me, you cannot love football any more than I do. I'd like to think I'm a modernized purist. I just want to see the greatest players in the world be able to prove who's best in perfect conditions. Please, let's lock out Mother Nature.
1. The Broncos have already clinched a playoff spot for a third straight season and will clinch the AFC West with a win and a Chiefs loss this week. The Broncos are seeking to win three straight division titles for the first time in team history.
Since divisional realignment in 2002, the Chargers and Broncos have combined to win eight of the previous 11 AFC West division championships. The Chargers are the only team to win three straight titles in that span, when they won four in a row from 2006-09.
2. Peyton Manning has 45 touchdown passes this season, five shy of Tom Brady’s single-season record of 50 set in 2007.
He has three games remaining and appears poised to shatter the record. His fewest pass TD over a three-game span this season is seven from Weeks 10-12.
Manning also has 4,522 pass yards, the most through 13 team games in league history. He needs 955 pass yards to break Drew Brees’ single-season record set in 2011, or 318.3 yards per game.
Manning is averaging 347.8 pass yards per game this season and has thrown for over 300 yards in 11 of 13 games.
3. Denver has won 13 straight home games, tied for the second-longest streak in team history. If any team can stop the streak, it might be the Chargers. San Diego is 30-6 in December and January regular-season games since 2006, the second-best record in that span behind the Patriots (32-4).
However, the Chargers have lost four straight versus the Broncos and are trying to avoid losing five straight in the series for the first time since 1997-99. A loss will also secure a third straight non-winning season for the Chargers. The last time they had three straight non-winning seasons was 1996-2003.
4. The Broncos have scored 515 points this season, the most ever by a team through 13 games. They need 75 points over the next three games to break the NFL record for points in a season.
The Chargers are hardly the team to stop the Broncos’ scoring spree. They are allowing the most yards per play and the fourth-worst QBR this season. Their defense has cost the team nearly seven points per game, the third-worst Defensive EPA (expected points added) in the league.
5. While the Chargers defense will probably prevent them from beating the Broncos, their offense is built to give them a good game by keeping Manning off the field. They rank first in the NFL averaging 6.3 plays per drive, and are the fourth-slowest offense in the league (29.9 seconds per play).
The last time the Chargers and Broncos met, San Diego lost by eight points, but held Denver to its second-lowest scoring output of the season (28) and had the ball for over 38 minutes.
At least when you ask Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning to sit out a Wednesday practice or two.
The photo, taken by one of the Broncos’ trainers last week, of how Manning spent at least some of the recent Wednesday practices he did not attend. It was first shown during CBS’ broadcast of the Broncos’ win over the Tennessee Titans, and is now making the rounds. It shows Manning, helmet on, soaking his right ankle, as he watches game video of the Titans on an iPad.
Manning had the helmet on to listen to offensive coordinator Adam Gase make the play calls to backup quarterback Brock Osweiler during Wednesday’s practice. Manning, shown the photo Wednesday after practice, said Gase would also offer some additional commentary after some plays as well.
At first Manning simply had the helmet sitting next to him as he soaked his right ankle, but he couldn’t hear the play calls, so he picked it up and simply wore it the rest of the time.
Also shown the photo after Wednesday’s practice Broncos tight end Jacob Tamme said; “That’s a good one. I’ve never seen that one before until the other day. I didn’t know that that was out there but … that’s next level type stuff.’’
Asked if he thought Manning used hand signals to the other people in the trainers’ room before the plays were run, Tamme said; “Yeah. We’re lucky he didn’t drop the iPad there. Going through the mental reps.’’
Manning had tried to use the helmet to listen in during an indoor practice the Broncos held at a nearby recreation center the previous week, but the coach-to-player communication system wouldn’t broadcast several miles back to the Broncos’ facility.
Those who can't deal with that idea as they go about their football business "find themselves on the other side of the wall and they can't get back in."
There are those among this year's Broncos who have lived with change, wrestled with it, dealt with it, and still flourished with the team. A player such as Knowshon Moreno, who went from being a game-day inactive eight times in 2012 to the first choice at running back this season, is now on the doorstep of his first career 1,000-yard season.
Take a guy such as tight end Jacob Tamme.
With Wes Welker ruled out for Thursday night's game against the San Diego Chargers due to a concussion -- his second concussion in the past four games -- Tamme figures to become a far bigger piece of the Broncos' puzzle on offense. It's a role Tamme had last season, before Welker was signed.
In 2012, when Tamme essentially worked out of the slot like a third wide receiver, he finished with 52 receptions, including a nine-catch day in a late-season win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. After Welker joined the Broncos last March, Tamme's role in the offense went from regular contributor to spotty at best. Tamme didn't play more than 10 snaps on offense in any of the first 10 games of the season.
"You just prepare, do the work," Tamme said. "Something that's been a focus here from the beginning at the position, they want people who can do a lot of things at tight end. I feel like I can do a lot of different things, play in a lot of different spots."
But with Welker taking most of the snaps that were once Tamme's in the offense, Tamme simply went about the business of leading the team in special-teams tackles. He has nine, two more than special-teams captain David Bruton.
Tamme has played 285 plays on special teams through 13 games compared to 101 special-teams snaps all of last season. And on offense he has played 154 snaps so far this season (15.4 percent) compared to 528 plays on offense (46.2 percent) all of last season.
"You want guys on your team to understand it takes everybody, every day, to win," said Broncos head coach John Fox. "It's part of building a team, from staff, coaches and players, everybody has to participate and contribute. Sometimes that requires different things, sometimes it's more of one thing and less of another. If you don't work through that as a team, and keep moving, you're going to have a hard time being successful, I don't care what you're doing."
But it isn't like Tamme hasn't experienced this kind of ebb and flow before. During his time with the Indianapolis Colts he went from three catches in 2009 to 67 receptions in 2010 when Dallas Clark was injured. This season, the two tight ends the Broncos signed in free agency, Tamme and Joel Dreessen, have seen their playing time in the offense reduced, not only by Welker's arrival, but by tight end Julius Thomas' emergence.
In Thomas' most extensive playing time in his career -- he spent most of two seasons dealing with an ankle injury he suffered on his first NFL reception as a rookie -- he has 50 receptions to go with 11 touchdowns. Thomas' combination of size, speed and athleticism, to go with the trust Peyton Manning has in the third-year player in tight situations, has made him the go-to tight end in the lineup when the Broncos go to their third-wide-receiver look.
When Thomas missed two games with a right knee injury, Virgil Green got the starts and most of the work in Thomas' place against New England and Kansas City. But with Welker out things change. It figures to be Tamme in the lineup with Thomas much of the time and Eric Decker and Demaryius Thomas in the two wide receiver spots.
"[Tamme's] role has changed this year,'' Manning said. " … Obviously Julius has played well this year and Tamme hasn't had as much playing time, but he's had a great attitude. And when his number has been called he's come in there and been outstanding and has a chance to play more down the home stretch here and a real credit to him."
"He's a big part of the offense,'' said Demaryius Thomas. "I feel like you could spread Jacob out to any position because he has good speed, he's smart, he runs great routes and he knows every position on the field. So I think you can put him anywhere on the field to help the offense out and I think that helps us."
The move was not a surpise and Welker was not considered in line to play at any point this week by the Broncos. Welker is subject to the league's concussion protocol and did not take part in either of the team's practices Tuesday or Wednesday. He will continue to be evaluated and must be symptom free, as cleared both by the team's medical staff as well as an independent doctor, before he can return to the practice field.
Tight end Jacob Tamme figures to get most of Welker's snaps in the offense against the Chargers.
Defensive end Derek Wolfe, who has not practiced since suffering seizure-like symptoms on the team's Nov. 29 bus ride to the airport for the trip to Kansas City, was also formally ruled out for the game.
Cornerback Champ Bailey, who was a full participant in Tuesday's practice, was limited Wednesday and formally listed as questionable as he continues to deal with a left foot injury that has kept him out of the lineup for all but three games this season.
Bailey played about a half in the Broncos' win at Kansas City, but after both Bailey and Broncos secondary coach Cory Undlin talked about it on the sideline Bailey was removed from the game. Bailey later said he didn't feel “confident'' as he played in that game.
The Broncos have taken a more measure approach since.
"Being real honest, we may have rushed him a little bit, don't know if he was completely ready,'' said Broncos coach John Fox, following. "He's missed a lot of time this year, we just want to make sure. Down the stretch we're going to need him. We just want to make sure he's completely ready when we put him out there.''
All of the others on a long list of players on the Broncos injury report are expected to be available to play against the Chargers. That total included wide receiver Demaryius Thomas (left shoulder), running back Knowshon Moreno (shoulder), wide receiver Eric Decker (ribs), tight end Julius Thomas (right knee) and kick returner Trindon Holliday (shoulder), who were all full participants at Wednesday's practice and are all expected to play against the Chargers.
It took another job in the northwest to do it, albeit in a bigger conference with a higher salary just at the time when the BCS was folding shop and turning into a four-team playoff. And Moore found out Petersen was departing just like everyone else.
"I texted him after a few times and I'm sure I'll talk to him," Moore said. "He's got a million things going on right now."
Moore, of course, was Petersen's quarterback at Boise State from 2008-11, when he led the Broncos to three one-loss seasons and an undefeated year in 2009.
And after most of those years, he at least heard rumblings about his coach's possible departure.
"Yeah, I think everyone was surprised just because you were used to seeing it every year," Moore said. "Every year you dealt with it.
"But I think the more you realize Washington, Washington is the perfect fit for him. Fits his personality. I think it's just a good spot."
Broncos coach John Fox acknowledged Monday that Welker's health was "what we're thinking about," saying that the five-time Pro Bowler would undergo the NFL's concussion protocol.
Welker sustained his most recent concussion in last Sunday's victory over the Tennessee Titans.
According to the league's protocol, any player who suffers a concussion is not permitted to participate in a full practice until the following Friday at the earliest.
Welker, the Broncos' second-leading receiver this season, also suffered a concussion against the Kansas City Chiefs on Nov. 17. The 10-year veteran returned the following week to play against his former team, the New England Patriots.
And it was yet another glimpse, beyond, say, wearing his helmet in the trainers’ room last week as he soaked his right ankle so he could hear what was being said to the quarterbacks out on the practice field, into why he has pretty much driven opposing defensive coaches bananas for the better part of his football life.
The memory, for what’s said, written, and played in front of him on game day, is the rarest of rare finds. Even in Knoxville, when I was just another guy in the crowd with a tape recorder – pretty much still in the crowd, the tape recorder is just digital now – the memory was staggering.
He nailed it. Every. Single. Play.
It’s why a longtime defensive coach in the NFL has, when asked about Manning, consistently told a story about how his team had dug out a look they had thrown at Manning three years before because they thought it would work in an upcoming game. They had not used that look again since, but when they flashed it at Manning on game day, he checked to another play and that play was exactly the right call at exactly the right time.
The coach still contends, to this day, Manning remembered it, had studied it and knew what to do against it.
So on Wednesday, when some folks asked him the pile of records he could put his name next to this season, Manning said this to the group:
“That is not how I’ve ever approached it before. I remember my second year or whatever, we were playing Cleveland late in the season and we had a touchdown streak going -- consecutive games. We got down there late and hadn’t thrown one and we had a pass play called. They were dropping eight guys, checked to a run and got the touchdown and the streak ended. You don’t think twice about it. You have to do your job to get your team into the end zone -- whatever that is. That’s how I’ve always approached it.”
So, I paged through some things, just to see, once again. Manning and the Indianapolis Colts did face the Cleveland Browns in the 15th game of the 1999 season, his second season as the Colts would go on to finish 13-3 and Manning would make his first postseason. And with Manning "or whatever'' really means "exactly, but you're welcome to dig around and see for yourself.''
Manning had thrown at least one touchdown pass in the final 13 games of his rookie season in 1998 and had thrown at least one touchdown pass in the first 14 games of the 1999 season, a streak that had reached 27 consecutive games. And in a game played with a kickoff temperature of 31 degrees at old Cleveland Stadium, Manning was 27-of-43 passing without a touchdown pass or an interception in a 29-28 Colts win.
Indeed, with the Colts trailing 28-19, Manning and the Indianapolis offense opened the fourth quarter with a first-and-10 at the Colts 23-yard line. In 10 plays they drove to the Browns 2-yard line.
And on second-and-goal, Edgerrin James did indeed run, up the middle, for a touchdown. The Colts later won on a Mike Vanderjagt kick with seven seconds left in the game.
If memory serves, anyway.
Remember March? In NFL land, that was a time when some teams spent big, not necessarily trying to "win" free agency, but helping to build a better roster that could compete. Then in April, NFL front offices switched into draft mode, fixing their attention on finding the stars of the future.
Now, in the present day, with three weeks left of the regular season, we're in a decent position to see which front offices made the right moves and which ones didn't. Here are the best and worst teams based on how their offseason moves have played out.
Big move: Take your pick. They spent big on Louis Vasquez, and he's our top-ranked right guard on the year. He's been nearly perfect in pass protection and a powerful force in the run game. Come playoff time, it might be the addition of slot weapon Wes Welker that pays off the most. Seven of his touchdowns and 688 of his receiving yards have come from the slot, both league-leading figures.
Under-the-radar pickup: I lamented the move at the time, and he's been far from consistent, but, from his first game in a Broncos jersey Shaun Phillips has filled the void left by Von Miller initially and has proved a valuable role player thereafter. His tally of 37 quarterback disruptions is satisfactory, and he has set the edge impressively.
Elsewhere: In addition to the aforementioned pickups, the team landed Terrance Knighton, who has delivered on a more consistent basis than in his time in Jacksonville, getting some much needed push up the middle with 27 quarterback disruptions on the year. In the secondary, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie has been a success -- even if the unit itself has had some issues -- with the former Cardinals and Eagles defensive back earning the fifth-highest coverage grade of all cornerbacks.
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So McCoy will face his mentor for the first time when the Chargers meet the Broncos in Denver on Thursday.
“I remembered him as a player,” Fox said. “I definitely thought he had head coaching capabilities, and he’s done a fine job in his first year with the Chargers. Mike’s level-headed. He’s smart. He understands ball. He played in the league. He’s got a good feel for people skills and those types of things. As coaches we spent a lot of time together, so his traits come out. I knew he would do a good job once given the opportunity.”
Both have a no-nonsense approach when it comes to coaching football.
“It’s great to see him back out there,” McCoy said. “I wouldn’t be here today without John Fox. The seven years we were together in Carolina and then in Denver, he is a great football coach but he is an even better person. With the scare he had, you understand there are more important things in life when something like that happens to a close friend. Fortunately he is back out there doing a great job. He loves to coach. He’s a good coach.”
McCoy said the two texted back and forth during Fox’s time in the hospital recovering from heart surgery. Fox, 58, underwent aortic valve replacement surgery at a hospital in Charlotte, N.C., after he became dizzy playing golf near his offseason home in the Charlotte last month.
Fox had a pre-existing heart condition, and hoped to put off the operation until after the season.
Last week’s Denver game at home against Tennessee was Fox’s first on the sideline since the surgery. He missed the first meeting earlier this season between the two teams in San Diego, a 28-20 win for the Broncos on Nov. 10.
“Re-entry is never easy, but we managed to get through it,” Fox said. “It was pretty tough conditions weather-wise all last week, and I made it through just fine. So I got Week 1 of the re-entry all done, and I’m ready for a short week for Week 2.”
Fox is in the unique position of having two of his former coaches now serving as head coaches for division rivals. His former defensive coordinator, Dennis Allen, is the coach at Oakland. That makes for some odd moments standing across the sidelines competing against guys he helped groom.
“Mike’s a good friend,” Fox said. “I know his family. I know his wife, Kellie. I’ve spent a lot of time with his whole family. But it’s still competitive. He’s trying to beat our brains out and we’re trying to beat his brains out. But you develop a lot of close relationships in this league over time.”
But there are still some things to glean from Sunday's win over the Tennessee Titans and after a long look at the video from Sunday night's loss, here are some thoughts on how things went:
- For an offense that has scored so many points -- they lead the league with 515 -- and has run the ball so effectively inside the opponents' 20-yard line, the Broncos had plenty of trouble on the doorstep of the end zone Sunday despite 51 points. They ran a staggering 11 plays in the game from the Titans' 1-yard line or 12 percent of the Broncos' total. The Broncos had a pass for no gain, two runs for no gain, four incomplete passes, a defensive penalty on the Titans to go with two touchdown plays -- one run, one pass. It all still resulted in 17 points -- two touchdowns and a 19-yard field goal -- but it was a lot of energy expended down in close from an offense that has scored in a wide variety of ways by a long list of players. They threw on seven of the plays, both out of a two-tight end look and three wide-receiver set, and ran on just four. Montee Ball was stopped for no gain twice while Knowshon Moreno scored on a 1-yard run among those rushing attempts. It all needs at least some attention because a lost opportunity at the 1-yard line in the postseason is exactly the kind of thing the Broncos would think about all through an offseason that doesn't end with confetti around them.
- Broncos rookie cornerback Kayvon Webster is big enough, fast enough and confident enough to step up and play NFL receivers in press coverage. But he still can't let his technique get away from him. Webster “opened the gate'' as the coaches say when he didn't maintain his position on Titans wide receiver Justin Hunter on a 57-yard pass play up the left sideline in the first quarter Sunday. Webster played too far toward Hunter's inside shoulder right from the snap and when he turned to move out of the backpedal to run with Hunter, he essentially surrendered the outside lane. At last February's scouting combine Webster clocked a slightly faster 40-yard dash time than Hunter did. Webster came in at 4.34 while Hunter was at 4.36. That's top-shelf speed for both, but Webster negated his when he didn't maintain his positioning. Once Hunter got the step, Webster could not make up the ground. It's all part of the learning curve for the Broncos rookie and why quarterbacks have taken their shots at him as will Philip Rivers Thursday night. Webster has shown the kind of bounce-back ability that is a priority for a young cornerback, but he should be ready for action down the stretch and into the postseason.
- The Titans found some room to work in the run game against both the Broncos' short-yardage package as well as the base defense. The Titans scored three times against the Broncos short-yardage package -- one of the places defensive tackle Kevin Vickerson's absence will be felt -- and the Titans also converted a fourth-and-1 against. On the conversion the Titans put quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick on the move and hit running back Chris Johnson for a 25-yard catch-and-run around the right side. The Broncos got pinned inside and linebacker Danny Trevathan couldn't make up the ground to track Johnson down. On the next snap, against the Broncos base defense, Titans tight end Taylor Thompson fired out to get middle linebacker Paris Lenon and fullback Quinn Johnson pushed safety Mike Adams out of the play and Shonn Greene went for 23 yards. The Broncos have usually prevented, by virtue of their own high-scoring ways, teams from simply pounding away at their defense out of a power-first profile. Those teams who can hang in long enough to do it, could create some issues for the Broncos.
- Last season the Broncos special teams units had just one “illegal block above the waist,'' or block in the back as it is often referred to on game day. This season they have had eight, including three in Sunday's game alone -- by Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Steven Johnson and Webster. Webster's negated what would have been a 104-yard kickoff return for a touchdown by Andre Caldwell.
- After going 3-of-3 in fourth-down conversions Sunday, the Broncos are now 7-of-7 on fourth down for the season.
- After this weekend's games, there are 21 players who have scored at least 60 points this season. Five are Broncos. Kicker Matt Prater is second in the league in scoring with 119 points, Knowshon Moreno is 18th with 72 points, Julius Thomas and Demaryius Thomas are tied at 19th with 66 points while Wes Welker is 21st with 60 points.