The Denver Broncos had a different look and feel during Sunday’s playoff win over the San Diego Chargers.
When the Broncos needed a play they went to the right arm of Peyton Manning. As they should. Denver didn’t make the same mistake as last year when they tried to run out the clock with Ronnie Hillman against the Baltimore Ravens.
They used their bread and butter when they had to have a first down, but throughout most to the game the Broncos looked tough.
A lot of Manning’s teams, including his two seasons with the Broncos, can be called soft. Their defense would do just enough to get by while the offense threw the ball all over and scored points with ease. The Broncos were not that team on Sunday.
Both sides of the ball were about the lines. The five guys on the offensive line (Orlando Franklin, Zane Beadles, Manny Ramirez, Louis Vasquez and Chris Clark) pushed around the Chargers on defense during the windy day at Sports Authority Field. Something they were unable to do during their Dec. 12 matchup.
“We didn’t know what the elements were going to be like,” Vasquez told the Denver Post. “It (the running game) was what we were emphasizing all week because of that, and we put it on ourselves up front to control the line of scrimmage. I feel like we did it the majority of the game, and the end result speaks for itself.”
And the push from the offensive line was the key to getting the running game going. While the yards per carry want not flashy at just 3.9, the amount of runs and the toughness of them was the focal point. Knowshon Moreno had 23 carries and Montee Ball had 10. Both were outstanding throughout the game and the Broncos even went away from the run at the end of the first half. If the Broncos ran a couple times on that last drive, it may have put the Chargers away.
Also, the Broncos did not allow the Chargers to get anywhere near Manning as San Diego didn’t record a sack.
As well as the offensive line played, and they were great, the defensive line was just as dominant. They harassed Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers and made his life miserable for most of the game.
The key was most of the pressure and all four of the Broncos’ sacks came from a four-man rush. Shaun Phillips had two sacks, Malik Jackson and Jeremy Mincey had one a piece. The sacks were nice but where the defense excelled was slowing down that Chargers running game.
In the dreaded Dec. 12 matchup, the Chargers took the air out of the ball and ran all over the Broncos defense.
Defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio changed the game plan and Denver stuffed San Diego by holding it to only 65 yards. A lot better than the 177 the Broncos gave up in December.
The secondary was also more physical until the fourth quarter. The Chris Harris injury will make it tough to duplicate that performance against New England.
The Broncos realized what they did wrong during last season’s loss to the Ravens. They never played physical in that game. Throughout most of the game, Baltimore was the tougher team, especially late. The Broncos learned the lesson that everyone had been talking about for a year.
If the Broncos play like they did on Sunday, the Super Bowl title dream will become a reality on Feb. 2 in New Jersey. They will have to play physically against the New England Patriots in the AFC title game and in the Super Bowl against either the San Francisco 49ers or Seattle Seahawks if Denver gets that far.
The win over the Chargers was a good first step in becoming a tougher team, but the Broncos need to keep it up to achieve their ultimate goal.
Chris Schmaedeke is currently the Assistant Sports Editor at the Daily Camera in Boulder. He has worked in sports journalism in Colorado since 2001 when he started at the Rocky Mountain News. He has covered the Denver Broncos for several websites over the past two years.
Follow Chris on Twitter at @ChrisSchmaedeke
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