The Denver Broncos are in the midst of a devastating two-game skid. Back-to-back close losses to the Cincinnati Bengals and the Las Vegas Raiders have the Broncos on the brink of playoff elimination. Clinging to their postseason hopes, Denver faces a division rival in the Los Angeles Chargers Sunday.
And if the Broncos want to win, Vic Fangio is going to have to out-coach his former staffer in Brandon Staley, the Chargers’ head coach.
Recently with his job on the line, Fangio has been out-coached and by Zac Taylor and Rich Bisaccia over the last two games. Neither coach is Bill Belichick, yet they both got the best of Fangio in two must-win contests.
The Chargers themselves are reeling from an inexcusable loss to the Houston Texans. Now both teams are fighting to keep their postseason dreams alive.
Regardless of their struggles defensively, the Chargers have a prolific offense and a good group of pass rushers.
For Denver to get their eighth win and play a meaningful game against the Kansas City Chiefs, Fangio must again out-duel Brandon Staley.
Task one: Frustrate Justin Herbert
The Chargers’ offense is led by Justin Herbert who has been phenomenal in his early NFL career. The second-year quarterback has been everything and more for the Chargers.
Through 15 games, Herbert has compiled 4,394 yards through the air with 33 touchdowns to 14 interceptions. What is even more impressive is Herbert’s 67.1 percent completion percentage on 7.6 yards per attempt.
The Chargers’ trigger man spreads the ball all across the field with confidence in his strong right arm and his team is big-play driven.
But it should be noted, the desire to hit big shots can lead to frustration and ill-advised throws. Earlier this season, Herbert threw two costly interceptions to Patrick Surtain II against the Broncos. One of the turnovers occurred in the red zone on a late throw, and the other on a tipped pass returned for a touchdown.
Patrick Surtain II 🏠📞 pic.twitter.com/6MsqeK0KmO
— PFF (@PFF) November 28, 2021
This week, Denver must continue to make Herbert throw short. The dink and dunk game has never suited the former Oregon Duck star.
Herbert showed last week he is still willing to take shots downfield when the look is questionable and burned by a poor Texans’ pass defense.
Jonathan Owens' first career interception — Herbert was looking deep for Josh Palmer pic.twitter.com/WYw57PgTe8
— Rivers McCown (@riversmccown) December 26, 2021
If Fangio’s defense can frustrate Herbert, he will likely put throws into harm’s way. The Broncos will again need to create turnovers to come out victorious on Sunday.
The Broncos offense must be more aggressive
It is easy to pile on Pat Shurmur for the Broncos’ inability to score points. His track record as a play-caller has been mediocre, to say the least.
What is missed in the equation is the philosophy Denver has played with all season limited the chances this offense takes.
Fangio chose to go with Teddy Bridgewater to start the season. That choice was by design. Fangio and his staff believed that a top-ranked defense could win games if the offense simply did not commit turnovers.
As evidenced by last week’s output, that is not the case.
The Broncos run game was non-existent and even Drew Lock’s solid performance could not generate enough points for a win against the Raiders.
Denver’s desire to play safe offensively has directly contributed to the Broncos’ eight losses. Averaging only 19.9 points per game, Denver’s anemic output has nothing to do with turnovers. Denver’s inability to create big plays coupled with a poor 3rd down efficiency put little pressure on opposing teams to score.
In their eight losses, Denver’s opponents average just more than 23 points per game. In those same contests, Denver has averaged around 13 points per game. With a margin of 10 points in their losses, the Broncos have failed to threaten their opponents.
To win in Los Angeles, the Broncos must be willing to change up their philosophy and be aggressive.
With several members of Broncos offense landing on the Reserve/COVID-19 list, look for utilization of tight ends Noah Fant and Albert Okwuegbunam. Lock’s relationship with both tight ends and Courtland Sutton should be leaned on throughout the contest.
Drew Lock drops an absolute DIME to Noah Fant.
— NFL on CBS 🏈 (@NFLonCBS) December 19, 2020
Fangio’s defense is good enough to limit the best offenses in the league. So, it is safe to say the team can weather an ill-advised turnover for the sake of creating opportunities for points.
Denver must come out early and get the lead. When the Broncos are able to get on top of their opposition, the defense becomes suffocating and can lure Herbert into poor decisions.
If the Broncos’ offense continues with their predictable style on offense, holding Herbert in check will not matter. Thus, the Broncos’ season will officially be over as will Fangio’s head coaching career in Denver.