BRONCOS

Three observations from the Broncos loss to the Chargers in Week 6

Oct 18, 2022, 6:43 AM
Dalton Risner and Cameron Fleming...
(Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
(Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

The Denver Broncos were so close to a victory yet again, going to overtime with the Los Angeles Chargers. However, they fell short in the end on “Monday Night Football” and lost by a score of 19-16 in Week 6.

Remarkably, the Broncos have been within three points in the fourth quarter of every game they’ve played this season. However, the Broncos have a 2-4 record after six games, and they must be one of the most disappointing teams in the entire NFL.

After the game, Broncos head coach Nathaniel Hackett shouldered most of the blame – again.

“This is very disappointing. We need to have a lot more urgency across the board. It starts with me as a coach, going to all the other coaches, then to the players. The players need to be more urgent. We had some opportunities there, and we have to execute at a higher level. We have to come up with some better plays,” Hackett said.

Here are my three biggest observations from the loss to the Chargers.

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O-Line Problems with No Solutions?

The Broncos are going to have an adjustment period for the new group of starting offensive linemen. They will be missing starting left tackle Garett Bolles for the rest of the season, and the right side of the line hasn’t been great either with injuries at the right guard position and a struggling right tackle as has been the case pretty much since Orlando Franklin was moved inside in 2014.

To replace Bolles, the Broncos pegged Calvin Anderson as the starting left tackle against the Chargers. He began the game at that spot, but Anderson did not finish the game there. Instead, the Broncos brough Billy Turner into the game and rotated him in with right tackle Cam Fleming when Anderson was out of the game. Quinn Meinerz was back at right guard, and that was a boost for the run-blocking but overall, this offensive line struggled to protect quarterback Russell Wilson against a Chargers defense that got creative to get after the veteran quarterback on Monday night.

The offensive line struggled when the Chargers brought more than four rushers at the quarterback – and they did that a lot. We saw “A” gap blitzes the Broncos failed to pick up, and there were overloaded sides where the Chargers brought more rushers than the Broncos had to block for their quarterback. Butch Barry is the team’s offensive line coach, and he’s not doing a good job with this unit. By moving on from Mike Munchak (who is not a zone-blocking coach), the Broncos made arguably their biggest mistake of the offseason in hiring Barry. The offensive line is bad, regardless of the combination of players, and Barry’s coaching is largely to blame.

Wilson needs to stay pressure free as much as possible. Even though he’s banged up, we do see glimpses of what Wilson used to be – and what he still can be at the pro level. The game started with Wilson not throwing an incompletion in his first 10 passes. That’s a great start, where he stayed clean for the most part. As the game went on, the Chargers were able to pressure Wilson more and the offense began to sputter because of it. The O-Line has serious concerns up front, and I’m not sure there’s much the Broncos can do about it right now.

***

Dulcich Difference

We saw a new tight end out there for the Broncos on Monday night. It didn’t take long for 2022 third-round pick Greg Dulcich to make an impact for the Broncos in his first game. Dulcich has missed most of his time with the Broncos due to a problematic hamstring injury he suffered early in the offseason. During training camp, Dulcich only practiced a handful of days, but when he was out there you saw glimpses of what he could do.

Against the Chargers, the Broncos declared former starting tight end Albert Okwuegbunam inactive and activated Dulcich for the first time this year. Dulcich worked his way onto the field, and on a crossing play with K.J. Hamler you saw the rookie get wide open for a 39-yard touchdown. For the game, Dulcich finished with two catches for 44 yards and one touchdown on three targets. It’s a great start, and there’s more to come from the rookie.

Dulcich was almost purely a receiving weapon in college at UCLA. He’s not known for being a blocker, and in this offense that’s the part of his game he’ll have to work on the most. If Dulcich can at least be a decent blocker, the plays will be plentiful for him as a receiving threat. In fact, there’s a chance Dulcich could quickly become a favorite target for Wilson.

While Dulcich continues to learn and grow at the position, I think he can develop into a weapon for this offense. It’s a tough position to learn, and I don’t expect him to fully grasp his responsibility until a couple of years from now, but Dulcich has the looks of a dangerous receiver in the NFL.

***

Mathis Getting Picked On as Expected

The Broncos defense is the best part of the team. However, injuries to the cornerback position set them up to get tested by Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert. Filling in for former starter Ronald Darby is fourth-round rookie Damarri Mathis, and he had a target on his back all night against the Chargers.

In one game, Mathis became the leader in the NFL in pass interference penalties. He had three penalties in the first half, and Mathis followed that up with another one late in the second half. Nobody else in the league has three such penalties, and Herbert kept going after Mathis when he needed to make a play.

I liked the pick of Mathis out of Pittsburgh. He’s a tough, physical competitor who does not back down from a challenge. There was a key play on a fourth down where Mathis was targeted by Herbert, but it was the Broncos rookie corner who came through with the big play. If he can build on those type of plays, and put all the penalties behind him, Mathis could one day be a good starter for the Broncos.

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