3 up, 3 down: Defense and secondary shine, offense falls flat again

Dec 30, 2018; Denver, CO, USA; Los Angeles Chargers free safety Derwin James (33) pressures Denver Broncos quarterback Case Keenum (4) in the first half at Broncos Stadium at Mile High. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Sunday’s showdown with the Chargers was the last stand for Broncos’ head coach Vance Joseph.

Rather than going out with a bang, Joseph’s Broncos went out with a whimper, losing 23-9.

There were some positives, though. The defense was stout for the  majority of the game, not allowing an offensive score until late in the third quarter. Even then, it was set up by a turnover that gave the Bolts the ball deep in Denver territory.

The offense was less than lackluster, however. One could argue that it was the worst performance Denver’s offense has had all season, which is certainly saying something. The offense struggled to keep Los Angeles’ fervent pass rush at bay, the receiving core had a down week and quarterback Case Keenum limped his way across the finish line of his first season as a Bronco.

3 Up

1. Denver’s secondary came to play on Sunday against the Chargers. The unit, which had struggled mightily as of late, had its best game in Chris Harris Jr.‘s absence.

Cornerback Isaac Yiadom put on a bounce-back performance after having one of his worst games in Denver last week. The rookie out of Boston College had a huge interception of Philip Rivers in the first quarter of Sunday’s game.

Two drives later, the Broncos would strike again as Will Parks dropped off his man to steal the Broncos’ second interception of the first quarter. It was just the third time in Philip Rivers’ career that he threw two interceptions in the first quarter of a game. Over the span of his first ten attempts, Rivers went 4-10 for a mere 51 yards and two interceptions.

2. While Isaac Yiadom and Will Parks were holding down the back end of the defense, Derek Wolfe, Domata Peko, Shelby Harris, and Adam Gotsis were stout on the front end.

Wolfe and Peko bullied the Chargers’ interior lineman all afternoon long. They pressured Philip Rivers up the middle with the help of Gotsis, which certainly helped lead to many of Denver’s takeaways. Both of the big men were even able to knock the ball down at the line of scrimmage.

They also shut down lanes in the running game, with Gotsis coming up with a big third-down stop of Melvin Gordon early in the game.

The question now becomes, with the emergence of both Gotsis and Harris this season: Is Derek Wolfe a likely cut candidate this offseason? Peko’s contract also expires this offseason, making him a free agent.

3. Janooooooooooooooo!!

That was the chant throughout the stands Sunday afternoon, as fullback Andy Janovich caught the first receiving touchdown of his young career. He would finish the game with two receptions for 30 yards and the lone score. The catch marked his third over the past two games and his eighth on the season.

Not only has the recent uptick in his stats helped Janovich’s stock improve, but the change at head coach could help as well. Janovich was drafted for former coordinator Gary Kubiak‘s system, who — it has been rumored — may return next season as the offensive coordinator.

Such a move would see the stats of Denver’s favorite fullback improve, and make his roster spot a certainty.

3 Down

1. For as much as the Broncos’ defense impressed, their offense disappointed. No performance was more disappointing than that of Case Keenum’s.

The Broncos’ offense was inept on Sunday. Despite the defense coming up with four takeaways, the second-most this season, the Broncos offense was unable to move the ball, scoring just three points before the final ten minutes of the game.

As many times as Denver’s defense took the ball away, the offense gave it right back. The first turnover came on a poor lateral throw, which was scooped up by the Bolts and returned for six. Following the Broncos’ first and only touchdown, the team elected to go for two. Keenum’s throw to receiver Courtland Sutton was jumped by cornerback Casey Hayward and returned for the rare defensive 2-point conversion.

If you were to remove Keenum’s gaffes from this game, the score would either be 16-10 or 16-11. Although no one is expecting Case Keenum to win games for the Broncos, he simply cannot lose games for them with what he is being paid.

2.  Keenum made his fair share of mistakes to sink the Broncos’ offense on Sunday, but his weapons didn’t provide him with much help.

Courtland Sutton was expected to become the Broncos’ number two weapon in the passing game after the Demaryius Thomas trade, but he hasn’t seized the opportunity. Sutton appeared to have returned to his early-season form last week, but returned to his slump this week against the Chargers.

Tim Patrick hadbeen picking up Sutton’s slack but wasn’t able to this week. In fact, Patrick’s second-half fumble was one of the more costly Broncos turnovers, leading to the Chargers’ second touchdown. Patrick’s was the first of two fumbles made by Broncos receivers, as in the fourth quarter, River Cracraft would add one of his own on a kickoff return.

3. The last Broncos player to tank their stock on Sunday was second-year left tackle, Garett Bolles.

Bolles has endured a rough start to his Broncos career. The much-maligned lineman has struggled in pass protection and has been one of the most penalized Broncos during his stint with the team.

Bolles appeared to turn the corner over the second half this year, decreasing the number of penalties he’s caused while improving his pass blocking.

That was not the case on Sunday though, as Bolles was called for multiple holding penalties. Two of those came on back-to-back plays and one of those was a Devontae Booker touchdown run.

Bolles has flashed his sky-high ceiling this season but will have to continue to clean up the penalties if he wants to be a building block of the future.