ENGLEWOOD, Colo. --The defense's goal-line stand in the first quarter Sunday would have been a signature moment for the league's top-ranked defense if it had come in a win.
Unfortunately for the Broncos, it didn't, and by the end of the 21-0 loss, it was largely forgotten. Still, this was a key moment that branded the Broncos' run defense as the league's best, confirming what the numbers have shown for most of the season ... right?
"No," outside linebacker Shaquil Barrett said, smiling. "We already knew this was a pretty good run defense. We've been showing it so far this year. It wasn't anything that we didn't expect to do. We know our capabilities and Coach [Joe Woods] put us in the right position to execute, and everybody stepped up to make plays."
That matter-of-fact attitude says as much about the lofty standards of the defense as anything else. Turning back an opposing offense on four plays from the 1-yard line isn't something remarkable to this unit.
"It's just what's expected of us right now," Barrett said with a chuckle. "It's expected for us to get turnovers, so we've got to start getting turnovers again."
Here's how it happened, play-by-play:
A look at the Broncos' game against the Chargers in black and white. (Photos by Gabriel Christus unless noted)
Los Angeles set up in an I-formation, with Dan Feeney as an extra offensive tackle to the right side, flanked by Antonio Gates, and Hunter Henry as the tight end to the left.
The first key to the play is Barrett. Although he was not in position to make the stop, the tight end on the weaker side, Hunter Henry, effectively released Barrett. Henry was also misaligned and could not engage with Will Parks, who lurks in the end zone. Left guard Matt Slauson pulled wide to engage with Barrett as left tackle Russell Okung moved inside.
The hole was there for fullback Derek Watt to lead Gordon into the end zone, but Parks quickly stepped forward to fill it. Watt could not successfully block Marshall, who helped finish the job.
One down, three to go.
The Chargers used the same alignment: Feeney and Gates on the right and Henry, on the left, with an I-formation behind Philip Rivers. This time, Barrett defused the play. He attacked Henry at the snap and got his hands in perfect position, then quickly extended to get Henry off-balance and to the ground.
Gordon followed Watt to the left side as Barrett went low and began to close. At this point, Gordon's only chance would have been to quickly burst forward and try to burrow his way into the end zone, but that would have been difficult; four Broncos were closing on the thicket of Chargers blockers (and Adam Gotsis, who had penetrated into the backfield and lurked in the scrum beneath powder-blue jerseys). Gordon didn't have enough time to cut back to the right where a gap existed; Barrett had closed too quickly, and this was not the primary design of the play.
The run officially went into the statistical ledger for no gain, but in effect, the Chargers lost a half-yard.
Photos by the Broncos' photographers of Sunday's game against the Chargers. (photos by Gabriel Christus unless noted)
Los Angeles moved Feeney to the left side, and put Henry and Gates on the right flank before motioning Gates to the left side. Justin Simmons followed him on a parallel track in the end zone, then handled coverage as Gates began running a route into the left flat at the snap.
Meanwhile, the action took place up the gut on third down, instead of the left flank. Chargers right guard Kenny Wiggins pulled to the left, flashing in front of Watt and Gordon, and Watt followed Wiggins outside, attempting to block Marshall. All the while, Todd Davis was unblocked; he stepped forward to fill the gap and engulfed Gordon, who didn't have a chance to make it to the end zone.
As was the case on third down, the Chargers kept Feeney as an extra tackle on the left side and aligned Henry and Gates to the right, with Gates going in motion to the left, passing in front of Watt and Gordon in the I-formation. As Gordon takes the handoff from Rivers, the Broncos have already begun closing gaps in the middle; meanwhile, Parks burst off the edge and is already two yards into the backfield, even with Feeney, by the time Gordon accepts the football. Any chance of Gordon leaping into the line and using momentum to burrow his way into the end zone is squelched by Parks grabbing Gordon's left leg, so the third-year running back fails to launch.
Meanwhile, Davis closed the hole, as he did on the previous play. Defensive end Derek Wolfe bounced back into the end zone, then accelerated behind Davis to help finish Gordon, driving him backwards.
The orange-clad fans in the north end zone at StubHub Center went wild, but for the defense, it was nothing more than a task completed.
"We're going to most definitely do our job and do what we're supposed to do," Barrett said. "Getting stops is what we're supposed to do."