BRONCOS

The Broncos game plan for beating the Chargers in Week 12

Nov 28, 2021, 9:17 AM
INGLEWOOD, CALIFORNIA - DECEMBER 27: Justin Herbert #10 of the Los Angeles Chargers scrambles durin...
(Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
(Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

The Denver Broncos were embarrassed in Week 10, the last time they were on Empower Field at Mile High. The Philadelphia Eagles ran all over them, Teddy Bridgewater didn’t make an attempt at a tackle after a late Melvin Gordon fumble and boos rang down from the crowd. After a bye in Week 11, it’s time for the Broncos to get the bad taste out of their mouths.

The Broncos have a high-powered divisional opponent coming to Denver on Sunday. The Los Angeles Chargers are coming to town for their first game against the Broncos in the 2021 season. They’re trying to prove that they’re not only the best team in the AFC West but in the entire conference. The Broncos are trying to prove they are better than the below average team they looked like against the Eagles.

How will the Broncos attack the Chargers on both sides of the ball? Let’s take a look.

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When the Broncos Run the Ball

I wish the Broncos ran the ball more. I wish rookie Javonte Williams was the starter for the Broncos. I wish offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur had more of a commitment to the best part of his offense.

It’s time for my wishes to become a reality. In fact, it’s past time for those things to happen – especially when the No. 32 rushing defense in the league is coming to town. The Chargers are the worst rush defense in the NFL, and the Broncos need to take advantage of that.

Hopefully Shurmur understands that his best chance to have a successful offense on Sunday is to run the ball early and often.

***

When the Broncos Pass the Ball

I wonder why the team has not used Courtland Sutton much in recent weeks. In Week 6 against the Las Vegas Raiders, Sutton was targeted a whopping 14 times and caught eight passes for 94 yards. Since that contest, Sutton has only been targeted 14 times in four games, catching 10 of those passes.

As ESPN’s Field Yates pointed out on Twitter, in four full games with Jerry Jeudy on the field, Sutton has been targeted on 18.8 percent of his routes. In all other games, Sutton has been targeted on 48.9 percent of his routes. It’s obvious that Teddy Bridgewater does have a better connection with Jeudy, but Sutton is too good to be ignored the way he has been over the last month.

With new contracts in hand, both Sutton and Tim Patrick could and should be more involved in the passing game going forward. Both are big and physical which makes them great targets on key downs to move the chains or in the red zone. The Chargers are one of the worst tackling teams in the NFL, so Sutton and Patrick can use their size to create larger gains after shorter passes.

Bridgewater has a ton to make up for in the eyes of the fan base after letting everyone down with his lack of effort on the Gordon fumble against the Eagles. He needs to stop focusing on Jeudy so much and spread the ball around to Sutton and Patrick more. It’s their first game back after the bye, but the Chargers pass defense is No. 4 in the NFL in passing yards allowed so make sure to nerf expectations for the passing game.

This is not the game to fill the air with footballs – unless you need to. If (big if) the Broncos run the ball it will keep the Chargers offense cold on the sidelines. If they fall behind because they don’t run and choose to pass more, then they’ll just pass even more – and that sounds like something Shurmur wants to do anyway.

***

When the Chargers Run the Ball

The Chargers feature one of the best running backs in the league in Colorado’s own Austin Ekeler. While he’s a compact runner who isn’t going to push the pile, Ekeler only needs a sliver of daylight to make a simple run play into a highlight reel. Ekeler has quickness and can break ankles in the open field. He’s also got the speed to attack a defense and can score from anywhere on the field.

Speaking of scoring, Ekeler is coming off a four-touchdown game against the Pittsburgh Steelers last week. He can get it done in a big way as a runner or receiver out of the backfield. Ekeler is strong for his size, and he can hide behind his offensive line as he picks and chooses where to go with the ball. The Broncos defense must play with discipline against Ekeler. If a defender gets out of his run fit, Ekeler will make you pay.

If you include short passing to Ekeler as part of the running game (think long handoffs), then you can see how difficult this team is to match up with. The Chargers won’t run the ball that much, but when they do the ability is there for them to gash the Broncos on the ground.

Oh yeah, don’t forget about second-year quarterback Justin Herbert as a runner. He’s sneaky athletic and can pick up plenty of yards with his legs. He’s coming off a career-high 90 yards rushing in Week 11 against the Steelers, and the Broncos had better be prepared for Herbert to take off and scramble if the play breaks down.

***

When the Chargers Pass the Ball

There’s not one but two star receivers on the Chargers roster. Keenan Allen and Mike Williams give Herbert some great options to throw to. Allen may be the most underrated receiver in the NFL and Williams is Herbert’s favorite target – and maybe the key to slowing down this passing attack.

Allen is not the biggest or the fastest receiver. However, he’s tough and a great route-runner. Allen can regularly get open and knows how to manipulate any defender tasked with covering him. If you commit two defenders to Allen, he knows how to find the soft spot in the zone and will come back to the ball.

Williams is big, fast and physical. He’s truly a physical marvel in a league full of elite-level athletes. Herbert loves keeping his eyes downfield when chaos is swirling around him. He constantly looks to find Williams on key downs and when it’s time to move the chains. When Williams has been quiet, the Chargers usually struggle to win – or just plain lose. When Williams goes off, the Chargers win big. Coupled with Allen, covering Williams and slowing him down is going to be problematic. In fact, only Williams can really slow himself down with drops and concentration problems that spring up from time to time.

Add in the tight ends, and the Chargers passing game is one of the most well-armed offenses in the league. Jared Cook is a super-sized wide receiver who was once compared to Hall of Fame receiver Calvin Johnson when he was in college at South Carolina. He’s going to be difficult for the Broncos linebackers to match up with.

Undrafted out of tiny Stetson University in 2019, Donald Parham bounced around the NFL and even had a stint in the XFL before finding a home with the Chargers. Like Cook, Parham has a nice size/speed combination and can fly down the deep middle seam of the field.

The Broncos are getting pass-rusher Bradley Chubb back this week, and they’ll need all the pressure they can muster against a quarterback like Herbert. The Chargers may be able to pass at will unless the Broncos can figure out how to stop them.

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The Broncos game plan for beating the Chargers in Week 12