Chargers Dominate Broncos In Must-Win Game: By The Numbers
In their most meaningful game of the season, the Los Angeles Chargers took care of business and easily handled the Denver Broncos in a much-needed 34-13 victory.
Los Angeles now owns the No. 7 seed in the AFC Playoff picture after getting some help in the early slate of games with losses to the Baltimore Ravens and Miami Dolphins. The massive victory over Denver will set up a play-in game with the Las Vegas Raiders next week. The winner solidifies their spot in the playoffs, the loser will have its season ended.
After being embarrassed last week by the lowly Houston Texans, the Bolts responded exactly the way they needed to. With a dominant showing that will undoubtedly help build momentum towards a playoff push. Let’s dive into some of the more impressive numbers from the Chargers’ masterful win.
It is no longer a secret that the Chargers have unlocked an absolute superstar in quarterback Justin Herbert. In just his second season, Herbert has already established himself as one of the games best as he continues to break record after record. Against the Broncos, he completed over 70 percent of his passes (22-for-31) for 237 yards and a pair of touchdowns. With those two passing touchdowns, the former Oregon Duck now has THIRTY-FIVE on the year, the most in single-season franchise history. That’s an impressive feat considering the Chargers have had the luxury of seeing Hall of Famer Dan Fouts as well a future Hall of Famers Drew Brees and Philip Rivers all take snaps under center. The fact that Herbert threw for 33 touchdowns last year as a rookie, which is tied for third-most, leads one to believe this will be a record he will threaten to break every season.
One area the Chargers have struggled in for years has been their special teams play. The sometimes forgotten third phase of the game has gone neglected by the Los Angles front office for too long. The Bolts have ranked last or near last in special teams DVOA all year which put pressure on General Manager Tom Telesco to make some roster upgrades. All-Pro returner Andre Roberts and seven-year veteran Dustin Hopkins at kicker were acquired mid-season and have both made significant contributions so far. Along with the new additions, the Bolts have seen improved play from their coverage units which have allowed them to stick teams with unfavorable starting field position. Against the Broncos, the special teams play directly set up THREE touchdowns for the Chargers that proved to be critical in this game.
Since the departure of Darren Sproles in 2010, the Chargers have lacked a true difference-maker at the returner position. That all changed when they signed Roberts. Getting things started off right, Roberts returned the opening kickoff for 47 yards to the Chargers’ own 45-yard line to begin the Broncos game. The offense would capitalize seven plays later with a touchdown run from Austin Ekeler. Later in the fourth quarter, Roberts returned his second kick of the day for 101-yards and a touchdown, the first Charger to return a kick for a score since Michael Spurlock in 2012. Roberts would add a pair of punt returns as well and finish with 153 total return yards. For a guy who only touched the ball four times in this game, that is as efficient and productive of a performance you can have.
The Bolts did not have to punt a lot in this game but when they were forced to, their punt coverage team performed perfectly. Punter Ty Long put his leg into three punts in this game. Twice the Broncos were pinned back behind their own 20-yard line and the third time, Broncos returner Diontae Spencer muffed the punt. Cornerback Kemon Hall who was streaking down the field as gunner would recover the ball for the only turnover of the afternoon. The Chargers finished the following drive with a Keenan Aleen touchdown catch.
The Denver Broncos entered the weekend as the only team in the NFL with two running backs ranking in the top-15 in total rush yards. Former Charger Melvin Gordon III and rookie Javonte Williams combined for 199 yards in the first meeting between the two teams in which the Broncos won 28-13. On Sunday, Los Angeles defended the run with much better focus and production, holding Denver to 83 yards on the ground. The Broncos’ ball carriers were constantly meeting first contact behind the line of scrimmage which made it difficult for them to build momentum downfield. By limiting the explosive run, Los Angeles held Denver to THREE-POINT-ONE yards per carry. This marks just the fourth time this season L.A. has been able to hold teams under that threshold. The Chargers are undefeated in those four games when they do so. The two-headed monster of Gordon and Williams was contained for a total of 104 yards and no touchdowns.
Defensive end Joey Bosa is well known for his pass-rush prowess but is also an extremely capable run defender as well, which people tend to forget. In much of 2021, teams have negated Bosa’s run-stuffing abilities by running the opposite direction of where he lines up. On Sunday, Denver tried to disrespect the three-time All-Pro by running right at Bosa. The results led to one of Bosa’s most impactful performances of the season despite generating minimal pressure and not recording a sack. Instead, Bosa was aggressive in run defense, easily shedding blocks and aggressively setting the edge. Bosa tallied a season-high six tackles including three solos and a tackle for loss.