3 Up 3 Down: Unsung heroes make waves on defense

Oct 6, 2019; Carson, CA, USA; Denver Broncos linebacker A.J. Johnson (45) stops Los Angeles Chargers running back Austin Ekeler (30) after a short gain in the 4th quarter at Dignity Health Sports Park. Mandatory Credit: Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports

Woohoo! It took five, long weeks but the Broncos will finally get to put one in the win column after defeating the Chargers 20-13 in Los Angeles.

That road division win couldn’t have come at a better time and it helps save the Broncos from their worst start in franchise history.

It was a huge game with no shortage of stars, and very few disappointments. That being said, let’s take a look at three that improved their stock the most and three that made costly errors.

3 Up

Unsung defensive heroes

Sunday’s game was a master class in defense from the Denver Broncos, despite many of the headlining stars having the impact you would expect. Rather than Von Miller, Chris Harris Jr. or Derek Wolfe making the big plays, it was Justin Simmons, Kareem Jackson, Alexander Johnson and Dre’Mont Jones.

Jackson and Johnson were all over the field on Sunday. The two finished first and second on the team in tackles and combined for 19 in total. However, their Sunday efforts won’t be remembered for swarming to the ball, but for the huge plays each made. Jackson forced a fumble on the last play of the first half that kept the Chargers scoreless, and Johnson made an endzone interception that accomplished the same.

Before those two turnovers, though, came Justin Simmons’ interception that the Broncos’ defense their first takeaway of the season. Meanwhile, Dre’Mont Jones, who may be the best rookie no one is talking about, came up with a huge block on the Chargers’ first field goal attempt and dished out pressure throughout the game.

Lindsay, Freeman win duel of top running back duos

While they were never on the field at the same time, one of the game’s more intriguing battles was between the newly-reinstated duo of Melvin Gordon and Alex Ekeler vs. Royce Freeman and Phillip Lindsay to determine which tandem is the best in the league.

The Broncos’ tandem emerged victorious today. They thoroughly outplayed the Bolts’ duo as Gordon never seemed to find his footing in his first game back.

On the ground, the matchup wasn’t even close, with the two Broncos gaining 137 more yards rushing and one more touchdown than their Chargers counterparts. In terms of yards from scrimmage, the Broncos’ backs outgained Ekeler and Gordon by 83 yards.

Courtland Sutton

The Broncos have found a serious outside receiver in Courtland Sutton and he continues to look more and more like Demaryius Thomas with each week that passes.

Sutton picked up Denver’s biggest offensive play of the season with a 70-yard catch and run touchdown that showcased his physicality and run-after-the-catch ability.

That 70-yard score carries extra importance as it continued to dispell the one concern around Sutton that forced him to fall in 2018’s draft. His speed and supposed inability to run after the catch.

3 Down

Special Teams

The Broncos finally got their first win, but it would’ve been by an even wider margin if the special teams came through consistently.

Yes, Brandon McManus iced the game with his second field goal, but the game would’ve been over much sooner had he connected on his second attempt of the day from 54 yards. McManus has been flawless from inside 50, but his consistent misses from beyond that mark is beginning to raise concern.

The biggest special teams miscue, though, came when Chargers’ returner Desmond King took a punt to the house. Up until this point, the Los Angeles offense was completely stagnant and the game looked one. Giving up that touchdown breathed life back into the Chargers sideline.

Offensive Line

The line played a much-improved game for the Broncos, but in a game with so many positives, the line’s glaring mistakes land them here.

The Broncos would’ve been up 24-0 at the half, but were nearly up just 17-7 thanks to the line. First, Broncos center Connor McGovern misfired on two snaps inside the Broncos’ 20. Both of which Flacco was lucky to corral in order to avoid a Super Bowl XLVIII flashback.

Then, Garett Bolles allowed backup Uchenna Nwosu to beat him off the edge, resulting in a strip-sack right before Flacco could unload the ball to a wide-open Noah Fant streaking down the field for a would-be score.

Lastly, in the second half with the offense ready to go for it on 4th-and-inches late, rookie stud Dalton Risner jumped early to back the Broncos up and force a punt.

Isaac Yiadom

De’Vante Bausby started the game for the Broncos at cornerback, but after taking a grizzly shot to the head from Alexander Johnson, Isaac Yiadom took his place.

Immediately Yiadom became a weak link on the defense and was targetted consistently by Philip Rivers. On the Chargers’ two-minute drill at the end of the first half, the strategy was clear, throw at Yiadom.

It was a good strategy as Yiadom gave up two defensive holding penalties that allowed Los Angeles to get in scoring range before Kareem Jackson came up with a huge stop.