Posted January 07, 2014

The All-22: How to beat the Broncos

Denver Broncos, NFL Playoffs, San Diego Chargers, The All-22
The Chargers were the only team to defeat Peyton Manning (top) and the Broncos in Denver this season.

The Chargers were the only team to defeat Peyton Manning (top) and the Broncos in Denver this season. (Dustin Bradford/Getty Images)

What does it take to beat the 13-3 Denver Broncos on their home turf? Just ask the San Diego Chargers.

On a Thursday night in Week 15, the Chargers headed to Mile High and took charge of their matchup with the eventual AFC West champs. They did so by (among other things) establishing a run game early, limiting Peyton Manning’s ability to stretch the field and exploiting some gaps in Denver’s pass defense.

There was nothing overly exotic in the gameplan — the Chargers took what Denver gave them in most cases, while constricting how the Broncos could counter.

For any team — be it the Chargers or a future foe — to knock off the Broncos this postseason, it will require a similar attack. So here’s a closer look at how San Diego went about its business earlier this season:

Let’s start with Manning, as most discussions do with regard to the Broncos. He fired four touchdown passes in a Week 10 win at San Diego, rather surgically slicing his way through the Chargers defense. The rematch was a different story: Manning was held to 289 yards, marking one of just four times he failed to reach the 300-yard plateau this season. (Denver finished 2-1 in the others, with wins over Oakland and Jacksonville and a loss to New England.)

MORE COVERAGE: Top potential Super Bowl matchups | Divisional preview | Schedule

But more important than the yardage total was how Manning reached it. He averaged just 7.1 yards per attempt, a full yard behind his season total of 8.3. And his longest completion of the day was a 22-yarder to Julius Thomas. Considering that Manning broke the NFL’s single-season passing yardage record this season, that constitutes a near-complete shutdown. Manning also hit on 48 passes thrown 20 yards or more downfield, per Pro Football Focus.

There were two key elements in how San Diego kept Manning from hitting downfield: safety positioning and disguised fronts.

San Diego played its safeties well off the line, often in two-deep schemes. Utilizing that setup in combination with relatively loose man-to-man looks at the line dropped the Chargers into a rather soft shell — one that corralled Denver’s passing attack into about a 15-yard window. The San Diego D also opted to prevent those deep passes at the risk of Manning dumping the ball off in the flat or underneath.

Example A, with both Chargers safeties providing help over the top and RB Montee Ball slipping out of the backfield uncovered.

Chargers 7

Manning dumped a pass off on this play to Ball for about a five-yard gain — nothing to sneeze at, necessarily, but far preferable for San Diego than allowing a bomb to Eric Decker or Demaryius Thomas. It was almost a prevent-defense approach, as San Diego forced the Broncos to play small ball rather than swing for the fences.

Though the Colts allowed 33 points in their win over Denver this season, they often utilized a similar approach:

Colts 2

That’s a trips formation for Denver releasing into four Colts defenders, with a fifth (the second safety) coming across the field to help. In this example, Indianapolis managed to flip the numbers advantage in its favor, from a coverage perspective.

San Diego pulled off a similar trick by flashing blitzes, then dropping multiple defenders into varied coverages. Case in point: This play pictured below, where the Chargers had six defenders in the box at the line of scrimmage. Only three came after Manning, with a fourth pass-rusher coming off the edge in a cornerback blitz.

San Diego also slid one of its safeties up into the middle of the field, leaving a Cover-1 deep … but confusing Denver closer to the line.

Chargers 9

Again, the numbers swung in San Diego’s favor. Even though the Chargers rushed just four players, the Broncos were forced to keep Montee Ball in as an extra blocker. That left Denver with four receivers out running routes against seven Chargers.

Chargers 11

Had the blocking not been there, San Diego would have succeeded in accomplishing yet another key against Denver: pushing Manning from his spot in the pocket. The result on this play, though, was that Manning had almost nowhere to go, short of checking it down to his right with Eric Decker.

Chargers 10

Instead, Manning tried to force one into coverage on the other side of the field — a decision that resulted in an interception.

Again, there’s nothing groundbreaking here, as the San Diego gameplan wasn’t all that different from what other teams have tried against Denver. The Chargers. however, executed in all phases.

That includes on offense, where the strategy was the same: create favorable matchups in personnel. Teams that run the option — either a traditional one or the read-option — operate under the same principles, in that the No. 1 goal is to outman the opposing defense. When Denver provided San Diego’s offense with those same opportunities, it took them, particularly in the run game.

Here, the Broncos had four defenders on the line, but just two true defensive lineman. The two players out wide were linebackers Von Miller and Shaun Phillips. So, San Diego ran between the tackles.

Chargers 1

Ryan Mathews ran away from Miller, thus allowing TE Ladarius Green to neutralize Denver’s top defender (who will not play Sunday due to a season-ending injury). To Mathews’ left, the Chargers’ linemen managed to get a hat on the defenders directly in front of them, leaving Mathews with a cutback lane up the middle and a wide option blocked only by safety Mike Adams.

Chargers 2

Mathews probably missed the real hole there — had he found the gap up the middle, he may have scored a touchdown. He picked up a nice gain outside, however, as Adams found himself caught in the muck between the hash marks.

One more case of creating the mismatch in the run game, from later in that Week 15 contest.

Chargers 8

This time, the Chargers negated Phillips (90, right) by running away from him, then used a pulling lineman and TE Antonio Gates to fill holes at the A- and B-gaps, respectively. Assuming the Chargers do not miss their blocks, who is supposed to tackle Mathews?

The principle concepts in San Diego’s Week 15 passing attack were the same, particularly in relation to WR Keenan Allen. Denver flashed a lot of man-to-man coverage; San Diego countered by doing whatever it could to get the football into its playmakers hands early, thus allowing them to thrive on the limited attention.

One of Allen’s touchdowns in the game came against that man-coverage. He lined up to Philip Rivers’ left, with two receivers and Gates to the right. RB Danny Woodhead set up shop next to Rivers in the backfield.

Chargers 3

Notice below how Woodhead comes out of the backfield to Rivers’ left and is immediately met by a defender. That’s a contrast to the photo earlier, which showed San Diego allowing Manning to use Ball as a check-down option. Committing to Woodhead left one less defender in the middle of the field, which in turn helped clear space for Allen to catch and run.

Chargers 4

Indianapolis’ Stanley Havili scored a TD versus Denver in a comparable manner — with his fellow receivers on the play running Denver’s man-coverage out of the way, freeing a huge chunk of the field.

Colts 1

Will the Broncos utilize more zone looks on defense this week? Softer coverages in the man-to-man looks? They might opt for a little of both, considering how Rivers picked apart their pass defense in Week 15. Denver really failed in its attempts to dictate what San Diego could do on offense, as it failed to adequately cover the Chargers’ receivers and did not have the strength up front to take away the run game.

One more play, and another glimpse of a problematic situation for the Broncos. This was a pass play out wide, but the Chargers again had a shot at controlling the numbers in the box had Rivers checked to a run — five linemen plus Gates against two DTs, two rush linebackers and a middle linebacker.

Chargers 5

Out wide, the Broncos were not in much better shape. A wheel route for WR Vincent Brown gave him a step on his man-coverage to the boundary, leaving Rivers enough room to fire him a pass before safety help could arrive.

Chargers 6

This was the fundamental problem for Denver in Week 15: San Diego consistently won head-to-head matchups all over the field, be it at the line or in the secondary. Couple that with the Chargers’ simple and conservative scheme — one that forced the Broncos out of their comfort zone, at least on offense — and you have a San Diego road victory.

Denver had an edge in talent on paper, just as it will again this week. The Chargers overcame those deficits by dictating situations on both sides of the football.

If they’re going to upset the Broncos for a second time, they’ll have to do all these things again.

49 comments
Dino C
Dino C

Wow reading the posts proves that the Chargers fans have a lot of bottled up anexiety probably because they have never won any thing.(SB) Should not even be in the game if the refs didn't hand them the season finale. Last week the Bungles forgot to show up, doubt that will happen this week.

GrogChe
GrogChe

I can cut through this garbage by keeping it simple.  Manning is the Broncos, and if Manning feels good he plays good.  He will have plenty of rest for this game, and to think Manning will be stupid enough to fall for the same strategy--we can only hope SD thinks he is...


This one won't even be close because Peyton will not stop after his fourth TD--he will make this another statement game just like TN and Baltimore.

daysofcoleco
daysofcoleco

Long article - should have just said:


"Let Peyton One-n-done play QB"

UnishowponyWherebeef
UnishowponyWherebeef

Ha ha ha!


I love these types of comments. People who cling to fantasies about anything.


Look to percentages for direction, not for predicting actual outcomes.


Here is the "likely" outcome of the Denver - Chargers game:


Denver wins a very close game.


Is this definitely going to happen? No. Can either team win big in a blow out? Yes.

J57
J57

And didn't the Chargers lose AT HOME to Manning and the Broncos?

J57
J57

So how many playoff victories do the Chargers have in the last decade? Or Superbowl wins? I was being generous when I said the Chargers would score 19.

David G
David G

If the Chargers do not win this weekend starting with Peter King the SI writers will have a lot of explaining to do. 

AdamNelson1
AdamNelson1

J57 give a friggin break man. Lets not forget the Cheifs were one and done, ahhh Chargers.....nope. The Chargers beat Denver in Denver, They beat KC in KC (against their starters), went into Philly beat them at home, they beat the colts........my point is they have a WAY ABOVE AVERAGE percentage against winning teams. Overrated I DO NOT THINK SO. Also Peyton Manning has faced the Chargers 3 times in the playoffs and he's put up a big fat ZERO 0 for 3 against them. Now McCoy who knows Denvers playbook and obviously his lack of beating the Chargers in the playoffs, IT AINT GONNA BE LAUGHABLE BUDDY. You ned to show respect where respect is due.

J57
J57

The Chargers are so overrated and don't even belong in the playoffs. And come Monday, the won't be. The Chargers could barely win their last game against a laughable opponent.

ModernSage
ModernSage

Gotta love the Broncos fans, they seem to think their team is invincible. They're not. The Chargers have won 4 of the last 5 at Mile High. Everyone left in the AFC playoffs has already beaten the Broncos, including the Chargers (SD 2-1, DEN 0-3). Anyone who thinks the Chargers will be a pushover is in for a surprise! Keep underestimating the Chargers. It really worked well for the Broncos last time...and there's more surprises in store for Denver this weekend, count on it! McCoy sends his regards...



Richard--Ramirez
Richard--Ramirez

Manning will choke in the playoffs as per usual. Chargers advance.

J57
J57

Yeah, I think the Broncos will just come out flat and uninspired because the article here says so. I don't think the Broncos will have any surprises or special plays for the Chargers. In fact, the Broncos may not even show up at Sports Authority Field... They're totally ashamed at a 13-3 record and home field advantage throughout the playoffs.


Broncos 42

Chargers 19

scoutxx
scoutxx

Why does no one mention the fact that SD played their absolute best game of the season that night, and Rivers had the best game of his entire career while Denver came out flat and uninspired with the division all but won? Even with SD playing their A+++ game that night, they still only won the game by a touchdown. 


I think the more revealing stat is how Denver has won 3 of the last four times these two teams have met. Combine that with the fact Denver has been waiting for this game for a year, and I think it's going to be a long night for the SD Sparklers. 

x72
x72

Just like Kaep is the Rodgers killer, Rivers is the Manning killer. SD gets the W.

jj55
jj55

@GrogChe Exactly the response I was expecting as I read the article. A detailed, analytically precise explanation of how San Diego beat Denver is countered by "Well, I cheer for the Broncos and they're really good and they'll win 900 to nothing because they will."

Donkey Fever. Catch it.


GrogChe
GrogChe

@daysofcolecoWhere were you churls after the Tennessee game when Peyton wasn't supposed to play in the cold--eating crow I suppose.  I guess we can expect to see you hiding come Monday after eating more crow--you churl.

boltmanlives
boltmanlives

@J57 Chargers did lose at HOME barely.... The Chargers if you haven't noticed play MUCH BETTER on the road, against big odds on national TV.  The fact that the QB is a Manning does not bode well for the home team.  Chargers will find a way to win this one.

Rexal Parshapswich
Rexal Parshapswich

For a 9-7 team that barely got in the playoffs, that beat an overrated cincy team, a team that lost to 4 of the 5 worst teams in the nfl this year, a team that almost lost to the KC scrubs, a team that has choked in the playoffs consistently, I'd say they are getting the proper respect.

ChrisDominiak
ChrisDominiak

@J57Right...overrated!  Who has overrated them?  They weren't picked to win the AFC, they weren't picked to make the playoffs, they weren't picked to beat Cincy.  That's not called "Overrated" so get your terms correct.  Then you make an asinine comment about the Bengals being laughable.  This is a team that beat the Colts and NE...both of which beat the Donkey's.  Get your facts straight before you spout off.

anon76
anon76

@ModernSage 

The Broncos also beat the Chargers, and the NE & Indy games were extremely close affairs in stadiums to which the Broncos will not have to return.

I don't think the Chargers are pushovers- they could easily have been 13-3 if they held on to 4th quarter leads against Houston, Tennessee, DC, and Miami.  On the other hand, they played extremely poorly in Oakland, and the fact that they gave up all those 4th quarter leads points to a team weakness- if the offense can not hold onto the ball at the end, the defense often gives up plays to lose the game.

The Chargers aren't a bad team, they're just not as good as the Broncos.  Given the Broncos' advantage in talent, home field, and motivation (both for the Dec. loss to the Chargers and last year's early exit from the playoffs), I fully expect that the Broncos will win.

Rexal Parshapswich
Rexal Parshapswich

The Chargers as a team have choked way more than Manning. He at least got a ring. How many does SD have?

brr man
brr man

@J57 ridiculous to think the Chargers, who have not come close to being blown out all year and are playing the best ball of the season, in a place they have already won, will lose by 23. 


Use your head.

SC1
SC1

@J57 Agree ... the Broncos will be "flat" and likely not show up. The altitude will be a non-factor as will the temperatures. The Chargers will be looking at basking in the San Diego weather for the rest of the season by halftime.

ChrisDominiak
ChrisDominiak

@scoutxxDon't kid yourself.  All the Mannings and high profile players won't win games in the playoffs.  Denver was physically dominated on the line.  I doubt it will happen again but If it does look for a Chargers win. 

ModernSage
ModernSage

@scoutxxThat was not their best game. You obviously haven't been watching the Chargers lately!

PalubaSD
PalubaSD

@scoutxx  Lol it's obvious that you're a DEN fan. You lied about everything on here & made excuses for their loss. 


"Rivers had the best game of his entire career." Hah, what a joke. He went 12/20 for 166 yards and 2 TD's,.. That's not even close to his best game, thanks.


Also, nice excuse for your Donkeys coming out uninspired. Manning wants to win every game. NFL players want to win every game. And no, they did not have the division won yet, so they were obviously trying to win. That's the worst excuse, seriously.


Lastly, the 2 games that we played against DEN last year are totally irrelevant since the Chargers have a totally different offensive & defensive system with a new HC. Chargers win again, 31- 28.. Boom!



DennyCrane
DennyCrane

@GrogChe@daysofcolecoHe is the king of one-and-nones. He holds the worst post season record of any QB in the history of the game despite being on the Colts "dynasty" teams. Tebow has more post season wins in Denver and he has as many SB rings as Dilfer. Getting personal stats in the season is easy when the league is busy handing them out but getting a win in the post season is real work. Something Manning has yet to prove for himself. Oh, and his little bro has more bling than him.

daysofcoleco
daysofcoleco

@GrogChe mention Mr. One-n-done and morons scream "he can too play in a regular season cold weather game!!!!"

nowhereman222
nowhereman222

@boltmanlives @J57    Barely?   It was 28-6 at one point before Manning fumbled on his own 11.  Sunday will be a great game, but lets not pretend the chargers had a shot in that first one.  


anon76
anon76

@boltmanlives @J57 


The Chargers lost in Oakland on Prime Time, so that doesn't really wash.  In fact, the Chargers were 5-3 at home (beating the Colts), vs. 4-4 on the road.  I'd say they were a better home team than road team (compare to the Eagles: 4-4 at home, 6-2 on the road).

And, as someone who actually went to the Broncos' game in San Diego, there was no "barely" about it.  The Broncos went up 28-6 just moments into the 3rd quarter- the few Chargers fans that bothered to show up were completely deflated, as was the Chargers team itself.  Broncos went into cruise control and the Bolts made the score look respectable, but that was not a "barely" win by the Broncos.  It was emphatic.

ChrisDominiak
ChrisDominiak

@Rexal ParshapswichLOL they've beat all the AFC teams in the Playoffs at least once where Denver has a big 0.  Lost to Indy, lost to NE, Lost to SD.  Good luck Donkey!

scoutxx
scoutxx

@Rexal Parshapswich More respect than they deserve considering SD lost to the Raiders and the Redskins. 


Since he's been with Denver, Manning has beaten the SD Sparklers 3 out of 4 times. One bad game means nothing except Denver won't come in over confident. 


This game won't even be close. It'll be over by halftime.


Denver 52

Sparklers 17

brr man
brr man

@anon76 @ModernSage this is a well thought out response. As a charger fan, i disagree with the outcome, but the Bolts are quite the underdog. 


I think one thing you are missing is the recent play of the Bolts. We resemble very little of those teams that blew leads late in games. This team is playing its best ball of the season. It should be a close game. 

UnishowponyWherebeef
UnishowponyWherebeef

@David G


Your comment makes no sense. No one is "due" anything.


Regression to the mean only works for groups, not for individual cases.

PalubaSD
PalubaSD

@SC1 @J57 Listen you Donkey-tards..


The Chargers played KC, DEN, and CIN on the road in temperatures from 20-40 degrees. Guess what?? We won each of those games. AND, the altitude in DEN didn't effect us only a few weeks ago when we spanked you scrubs.

The Chargers biggest loss this year was 10pts. No way the Broncos blow us out. 


Chargers win 31-28. Melvin Ingram, Donald Butler, and Weddle are going to pester Manning all night & lead us to the W. Maybe next year, hahaha.

scoutxx
scoutxx

@PalubaSD @scoutxx Blah blah blah… The Chargers almost lost to the Chief's bench warmers, and they needed a Bengal meltdown to win in the wildcard. 


As a Bronco fan, I'm not the slightest bit concerned about the SD Sparklers. They are the worst team in the playoffs, and this game is a gimmie for Denver. 


Denver 52

Chargers 17

Sportsfan18
Sportsfan18

@DennyCrane @GrogChe @daysofcoleco 



Denny, you said "He holds the worst post season record of any QB in the history of the game..."


Really?  How wrong you are.  There are 40 (that is FORTY) QB's who have a worse winning percentage in playoff games than Peyton.


As far as his individual stats, he has a higher QB rating than Tom Brady in playoff games, a higher completion percentage than Tom Brady has in playoff games and he is a lot closer than most people realize in terms of the number of INT's thrown in playoff games too.


Now, has Peyton played the way he wanted to in all his playoff games?  Of course not.



jj55
jj55

@anon76@boltmanlives@J57 I was there, too. Could have sworn San Diego had the momentum in the second half and lost by 8. Huh. Scoreboard says so, too. Imagine that.

Rexal Parshapswich
Rexal Parshapswich

Ironic considered Rivers is a hillbilly who hasn't closed the deal in a decade.

AdamNelson1
AdamNelson1

PalubaSD Thank you. these Bronco fans think they are invinceable. ANY GIVEN SUNDAY PAL, MANNING HAS NEVER BEAT SD IN THE PLAYOFFS UNTIL HE DOES I GIVE NO RESPECT TO BRONCO HILLBILLY FANS.

brr man
brr man

@scoutxx @PalubaSD yes, i am sure the "BENGAL meltdown" had absolutely nothing to do with the fact that the Chargers had massive pressure on Dalton and forced 4 turnovers. 


You know what, even Houston could have beaten Cincy, previously undefeated at home and pumped up to finally win a playoff game, last week. 


Sigh.

Long N
Long N

@UnishowponyWherebeef @scoutxx 


yes. i will.  i hope he runs crap out of the score. after watching the chief's drop a 28 pt lead.  i think denver should score as many points possible.  never let off the pedal.   

UnishowponyWherebeef
UnishowponyWherebeef

@scoutxx


OK. If your prediction turns out to be true. If Denver scores 52 points, will you be leading the charge against Peyton Manning for running up the score and padding his stats?



sk8tr024
sk8tr024

@scoutxxlol what do you think causes a meltdown? red hair? ugly unis? good defense, brah.