By Nick Shook
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The Los Angeles Chargers struck quickly for two first-half touchdowns and rode their ferocious defense to a 21-0 shutout win over the punchless Denver Broncos. Here’s what we learned:
1. When his career is over and he’s no longer making the two-hour trip up I-5 in his decked out Sprinter van, we’re going to miss Philip Rivers. Yes, his throwing motion is awkward and it sometimes produces some wounded ducks, but the quarterback consistently places the ball accurately, and he was as sharp as ever on Sunday. Rivers engineered an incredibly efficient drive in the second quarter, going 65 yards in nine plays and capping it with a touchdown pass to Austin Ekeler in the flats.
Rivers spread the ball among seven receivers, completing 15 of 26 passes for 183 yards and two touchdowns. The Chargers iced the game with a methodical, 10-play, 92-yard drive that ended with a 42-yard touchdown pass from Rivers to Travis Benjamin, securing redemption for their heartbreaking opening-weekend loss.
2. Denver will only as go as far as its offensive line allows, and after these last two weeks, that won’t be very far. The Broncos lost two right tackles in the loss to the Giants last week and were forced to shift Allen Barbre from left guard to right tackle. It did not work out.
Barbre was repeatedly smoked by opposing pass rushers, with Bosa beating him for a sack and Chris McCain sprinting around him twice for two sacks and two forced fumbles. Barbre wasn’t alone, though: As a group, Denver’s offensive line surrendered five sacks on Sunday. Siemian was anticipating pressure as a result, forcing him to scramble and heave prayers as a last-ditch effort, knowing the endless rush was coming for him yet again. Combined with an inability to run the ball (and a lack of trying to do so later in the game, as evidenced by Denver’s 19 total rushing attempts), Denver’s offense was the worst its been all season and was shut out for the first time since 1992.
3. The Broncos‘ defense performed admirably — Von Miller recorded two sacks — but they were on the field for far too long, thanks to a Denver offense that barely mustered a whimper. The time of possession numbers actually favored Denver, but anyone watching the game — including the broadcast team, which noted this in the fourth quarter — would also tell you that Denver’s defense could only do so much to keep the Broncos in the game. Two lost fumbles and an interception ended Denver possessions and brought the Broncos‘ defense back out much too quickly. Benjamin’s touchdown was the result of a designed pick play and a poor pursuit angle, which will doom anyone trying to catch a receiver with world-class speed like Benjamin.
4. With Siemian struggling mightily, Broncos fans might be calling for a new round of #Brocktober, but that might just make things worse. Denver’s main issue right now is an inability to protect the passer or open running lanes, and putting a slow-footed quarterback like Osweiler back there can’t bode well. As much as fans want to pin these struggles on Siemian, they should instead look to the offensive line and Denver’s thin receiving corps, filled with John Elway picks that haven’t produced. The group’s best receiver as of late has been Bennie Fowler, who was an undrafted free agent. That’s not exactly a good look for Denver’s front office.
5. Things looked bleak for the Chargers after multiple heartbreaking losses, but plenty of credit is due for Anthony Lynn’s team, which has won three straight and played its most complete game of the season. The defense was ferocious and relentless, the offense was effective and even the special teams unit accounted for a touchdown via Benjamin’s punt return. Perhaps most importantly, in beating the Broncos, Los Angeles dropped Denver to 3-3 and improved its own record to 3-4, bringing the Chargers within two games of division leader Kansas City and right back into the thick of things in the West.